Stories and Such

The Handwash Juke Box

posted 26 Nov 2020, 06:24 by Fran Brady   [ updated 26 Nov 2020, 06:37 ]

At the start of the Coronavirus Crisis, we were advised to sing two rounds of Happy Birthday as we washed our hands, to ensure that we kept at it for the mandatory twenty seconds. After a few days and some twenty-five rounds of Happy Birthday, I was losing the will, if not to live, then at least to celebrate anyone’s birthday ever again.

I googled ‘twenty-second hand-washing songs’ and was instantly presented with three pages of possibilities, along with YouTube videos to play whilst carrying out the mandatory process. 

 It surely cannot be long before public conveniences are fitted with the modern equivalent of the old juke box. You will be able to select your twenty-second burst of song before you begin your ablutions.

You might walk five hundred miles to Africa or prefer to trust in the wheels on the bus

You might ask sweet Caroline: ‘what’s love gotta do with It?’ 

Any dream will do but, please, wake me up before you go (go)

In the circle of life, we know that spoonful of sugar can make all the difference to stayin’ alive

For Jolene, Jolene,  it’s a hard knock life when Mamma Mia tells her to beat it

We are a cosmopolitan country and the very flower of Scotland will happily consume a slab of an       American pie and do a reel to a Bohemian rhapsody, demonstrating our karma chameleon credentials


There has been a lot of talk about the good that can come out of the surreal experience we are living through. There was undoubtedly an upsurge in true community care, as people instinctively started caring about housebound, locked-down people, especially those living alone, elderly and/or vulnerable. Children drew rainbows to cheer us all up; millions turned out weekly on their streets to applaud our frontline workers in hospitals and care homes. On our daily permitted-exercise walks, we smiled across the two-metre gap at each other, wry smiles that said ‘we’re all in it together’; and we shared jokes about our dogs not keeping social distancing rules. The birds sang louder, the grass was greener, the rivers were cleaner. There was a kinder feel to the world.


For churches, there has been the encouragement that their buildings might be closed but their churches certainly were not. In times of threat and fear - like war, like pandemics - people remember that we are all spiritual beings, and many look for some spiritual input into their lives. Big city-centre churches have recorded thousands of ‘hits’ for their online Sunday services, and even my own village church recorded six hundred on Easter Sunday. Christmas will probably top these figures.


In spite of the doom and gloom around the economy, and the heartbreak of lives lost and people dying alone in hospital while loved ones grieve alone at home, there are some positives. Will the introduction of a Handwash Juke Boxin every public toilet be one? 

Blues Skies Over

posted 25 May 2020, 07:11 by Fran Brady

The BBC lady is willowy and well-mannered. She crouches down at the side of my chair as if I am a small child likely to be intimidated by adult height. ‘Please sit down,’ I say, gesturing abruptly to the opposing armchair. Harry’s chair. 


‘What a wonderful room this is,’ BBC says, widening her eyes as she scans the twenty-odd pictures and the clutter of ornaments and photo frames. ‘Full of your memories. Such a comfort to you.’


Does she imagine I am living in a state of perpetual mourning with no more purpose in my life than to be comforted by photographs of dead people? ‘A lot of them are still alive,’ I say, ‘and I prefer quite a few of them dead.’


She looks startled, uncrosses her skinny jeans, and re-crosses them the other way. ‘As I explained on the telephone, we are doing a programme to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day. We had planned to bring all of you into London for a victory parade down Pall Mall, past Buckingham Palace. But, of course, all that has had to be shelved on account of Lockdown.’ She makes those silly inverted commas signs. ‘So, we decided …’

She pauses to breathe, and I gratefully gasp a breath with her. She has that effect. 'We decided that if the mountain cannot come to Mohammed, you know.’ She beams and actually leans forward and pats my hand. It is my bad one, useless since my last stroke, or I would bat her away. ‘What I mean is …’


‘I know what you mean,’ I interrupt. ‘I know who Mohammed is and I heard about him and his mountain long before you were born.’ I am pleased with the snappy belligerence of my tone. 


‘Shall we have a cup of tea?’ she says brightly. 


‘Not unless you brought one with you. I don’t make tea these days. Too dangerous.’  I hold out my good hand so that she can see it shaking. ‘The care folk do it when they come; and they’re not due for another couple of hours.’


‘Not to worry, Vera, I can do it. Just point me in the direction of the kitchen.’


‘It’s Mrs. Lewis to you, and you’re not going anywhere near my kitchen.’ I glare at her, forward madame that she is. I haven’t been in the kitchen myself for months and I have no idea what sort of state the coming-and-going care people leave it in.


‘Well, never mind,’ says BBC, cheerfully. I have to give her marks for tenacity. ‘We can just do the interview now and then I’ll leave you in peace.’ 




Peace! It is the word on everyone’s lips today, just as ‘war’ was the word six years ago. We did not know then what ‘war’ meant, but we know now what ‘peace’ means. No more death dropping out of the sky onto our streets. No more life-changing, life-shattering telegrams. No more children living with strangers, far away from their own mums and dads. No more women doing men’s jobs. No more rationing, we hope. And for me, no more travelling around war zones, being welcomed like a saviour and cheered to the echo as I belt out ‘There’ll be blue skies over; The white cliffs of Dover.’ 


Those blue skies have been my ticket to stardom. Them and ‘We’ll meet again.’ It was so easy to tap into the well of homesickness and yearning in men far from home, not sure they would ever see the white cliffs or their wives and sweethearts again. And it was just as easy to aim the same songs at the home front, to mop up not only the longing for their menfolk and evacuated children, but also the dauntless patriotism and determined defiance.

But it is peace in our time for real now, hard won through six years of danger, death, destruction, and sometimes despair, although no one will talk of that now. We always knew we’d beat them. It was only ever a matter of time.We are basking in the glow of victorious hindsight. 


But what will a Forces’ Sweetheart do now, when the boys come home, and it’s blue skies instead of bombs over those white cliffs? 




‘What are your memories of VE Day?’ BBC is pointing something at me. It looks like one of these little phones everyone seems to carry in their hands all the time. 


‘Is that a phone call for me?’ I ask. ‘I’ll just take it.’ It may be one of the hordes of children that Harry and I seem to have generated. I find it impossible to remember all their names and whether they are grands, greats, or great-greats. But many of them phone me regularly for a two-or-three-minute chat. Little bursts of cheery chatter, occasional fireworks in the tedium of my days. 


BBC smiles patronisingly, and I know at once that I have made one of those errors that anachronisms like me make all the time. ‘I’m using my phone to record you,’ she says. ‘Now, your memories. How did you feel when you heard Churchill’s announcement?  Were you delirious with joy?' 


I smile patronisingly and hope she knows she has made one of those errors that whizz kids like her make all the time. ‘I was out of a job. How do you think I felt? I was downright blue.’


‘But you went on to have a great career in peace time. And you’re a national treasure now.’


‘I didn’t know that on VE Day, though. Did I?’


‘But you were glad all the fighting had stopped, surely? The bombing, the lives being lost …’


I do not reply. I am too old for pretence. All I can remember is a feeling of loss, of my life and purpose being snatched away, the jubilant crowds around me dancing on my grave. The silence lengthens. 


‘So …’ BBC is struggling. The interview is not going as she expected. ‘Well …mmm … What was the weather like that day?’


This I can answer. ‘Blue skies, of course,’ I say. ‘What else?’






Diary of a Galaxy Inspector

posted 17 May 2020, 06:57 by Fran Brady   [ updated 17 May 2020, 06:59 ]



As I float down through space, I can see that this planet is extremely well colonised and developed. My sensitive nose expects the unmistakable smell of civilisation: fumes from burning fuel, the bitter tang of rivers choked with waste from heavy industry, the thick, soupy smell of living beings compressed into small spaces. The air that rises to meet me, however, is not stale, overused and polluted, but remarkably clear and fresh. Surprised, I aim for a city where I can see that many of the buildings are amazing, some very clever, many quite beautiful, and a number with a stylish air of antiquity.




I descend happily. The residents of this world should be interesting, surely, and hopefully amenable to conversation. My last posting was so dull, the inhabitants ugly, their language mere nasal grunts. I could make no connection with them. I could not exactly fail them: they are doing no harm to their own planet or to the wider universe; they are steadily sustaining their way of life, neither over or under populating; they are mindfully preserving their flora and fauna; their politics enshrine peace and justice … and so on. But oh, dear! Sodull!




I land in a big square which is surrounded by buildings on three sides and bordered on the fourth side by a river. Facing the river, from the other side of the square, is an enormous, building with four huge stone horses rearing above its entrance. Along the other two sides, there are lines of small attached properties but each one is shuttered behind full-length metal blinds. There is no sign of the human life I have read about. Only birds, lots of them, large grey birds, strutting about the square, pecking ceaselessly between the flagstones but coming up with nothing in their beaks. 




I gauge the angle of the sun and calibrate it with the solar system in my galaxy chronometer: it is almost eleven in the morning. Surely the inhabitants should be up and doing long ago? The prevalence of these parasitic birds in such large numbers suggests that this square is normally thronging with people dropping or discarding food. It may be a national holiday, although nothing showed up in my preparatory research. Even if it is so, there would still be people, arguably even more than usual, congregating in this square. All I have read about the inhabitants of Planet Earth tells me that they are very gregarious, happy to be squashed together in large auditoria and crowded moving vehicles. But, as I stand perplexed amid the hungry birds, there is not one other being to be seen.





I am nothing if not patient. It has been my lot over the years to sit out some lengthy situations, to slow my own brisk natural pace down to that of the tortoise, a venerable, historic, animal but oh, dear! So slow! Now I settle in for the long haul. If they are hiding from me, they will tire before I do. They will find me waiting for as long as it takes, for whenever they choose to surrender. 




The days go by. I feed the birds from my rations and they become friends. I talk to them. ‘Where is everyone? Why are all the buildings closed? When will the people come out?’

They gobble the crumbs and crusts I provide but give me nothing back in return. I grow stiff from sitting still and take to perambulating around the square. Tiring of that, I venture into the side streets and see that channels of water flow everywhere with little bridges over them. In some places, the buildings rise straight out of the water and there are boats bobbing at their doors. It is on my third day, that I come upon a large poster nailed to the double doors of an imposing building, very old by the look of it, with a huge cross rising out of its roof. I feed the words on the poster into mysolar system translator: Stay at Home. Anyone leaving their house without permission will be prosecuted. At the top of the poster, there is a picture of a bright orange ball stuck with red pins; at the bottom, three words run repetitively, without spacing, along the border. It takes me a few moments to work out what these are and what they translate into: beatthevirusbeatthevirusbeatthevirus ….



I cannot get back to the square quick enough to collect my belongings and activate my teleporter. Now I know where all the inhabitants are. They are cowering in their homes, isolated from each other for fear of contamination and the spread of the vile Corona Curse. It is known and feared throughout the universe. Our galaxy has been clear of it for several millennia now. It is the stuff of legend. People say it is just a folk myth but, even if it did once exist, it will never again be found in our galaxy. We are far too advanced and sophisticated for anything so primeval. 


Or so we thought … 

The Gift

posted 25 Oct 2019, 13:29 by Fran Brady

Lynn sits by her father’s bedside, holding his papery old hand, waiting for him to die. The hours drag by; her back aches from the angle created by sitting perched on the end of a low padded chair; and her resentment simmers. Why was she the only one keeping this vigil? Why was she always the only one doing anything? They aren’t a big family: her mum died years ago; there are no aunt or uncles; just her brother, Peter, and herself, and the three grandchildren. Peter’s twin boys are in America, one in the frozen north and the other in the deep south. No one seems to have heard from them for some time, including Peter and his wife. Her own child, Bryony, does better by her sparse family, and she has always been the only person in the world who can get, not just a smile, but an actual grin and a chuckle from her grandfather.  


Bryony was here yesterday but, instead of relieving her at the bedside, she simply told Lynn not to expect her home that night after all. “I’ve got an idea!’ she said, and Lynn snorted. The time for ideas is long past. The doctors have had plenty of those and have even tried a few: the cancer in her father’s body simply pays no heed but marches relentlessly on. Lynn shifts in her discomfort. Her father’s frail hand is like a vice. 


‘Mum! Wake up! You’re almost falling off the chair.’ Lynn’s eyes slowly focus, and she sways back and forward. ‘Look out, Mum. You’ll pull poor Grandpa off the bed.’ She is still holding - or being held by - that frail, bony hand. She straightens her body and looks up to make eye contact with her daughter. To find that there is someone else in the room, a slightly built, middle-aged man. A complete stranger. What on earth is Bryony thinking of? Bringing a stranger into this room, this situation?


‘This is Mark,’ says Bryony, ‘the pastor from the church I’ve started going to. You remember I told you about it?’


Vaguely, Lynn recalls some unexpected Jesus talk the last time Bryony was home for a rare weekend from the ‘Yoonie’ where she seems to be blissfully happy, certainly happier than she ever was at home. She had not paid much attention, being too busy processing the large bag of laundry and filling a big box of groceries for the girl.


‘We believe in the Gifts of the Spirit,’ says Bryony. Mark says nothing, although he gives Lynn a quiet smile. ‘So, I thought Mark could come and pray for healing. That’s one of the Gifts.’  


‘Oh, yes?’ says Lynn. ‘The only gift I want right now is a cup of what passes for tea from that vending machine in the foyer. Go and get me one, Bee, will you?’ She expects them both to go but Mark only stands aside from the doorway to let Bryony pass. Once she has gone, he closes the door and comes over to the bedside. He lifts up the old man’s wrist and holds it, almost as if he is taking his pulse. Lynn thinks she sees his lips moving, and she feels her father’s vicelike grip begin to relax. Slowly her own hand slips out and she flexes her fingers gratefully.  


‘Would you like me to pray for healing?’ asks Mark. 


Lynn looks from him to her father. Anyone less like a ‘healer’, and anyone less like someone who can be healed, she has never seen. Mark looks like a stockbroker with a dog collar; her father looks like a corpse attached to wires and tubes. Mark takes her shrug as consent and kneels down slowly at the bedside, never letting go of that old hand. A silence falls, the only sound being that of the monitors attached to the tubes and wires. 


Bryony comes back with her tea and beams when she sees that Mark is at work. She nods encouragingly at Lynn, as if to say, ‘Well done for letting that happen.’ Lynn shrugs again. It seems to be her only response at the moment. Her feelings are blunted from the monotony of waiting out this agonisingly slow death. How like her father to milk it for every last drop! 


‘God help you if anything ever happens to me and you’re left to his tender mercies,’ had been one of her mother’s frequent refrains. She can remember it from quite an early age. Well, something did happen to her mother, breast cancer and death at the age of thirty-five. Lynn and Peter came to know their father as self-centred and uninterested, hugging his grief to himself, giving no comfort or attention to his children. They had both grown up self-sufficient in practical matters, deficient in emotional matters. 


She sips her tea, wriggling her stiff fingers, watching the strange little tableau. Bryony has gone to the other side of the bed and knelt down as well, taking her grandfather’s other hand. What do they expect to happen, she thinks, derisively? That the comatose old man will suddenly sit up and start talking to them? That he will throw back the covers and walk out of the hospital room? ‘Take up thy bed and walk’ she thinks, hysterically. Maybe he will pick up the bed and carry it out into the corridor. 


She closes her eyes and leans back. She is beginning to feel sleepy. No, not sleepy. Relaxed, calm, and light, as if a burden has rolled off her shoulders. She feels at ease with herself, a hard knot inside her is dissolving. Her head fills with childhood memories: Dad chasing her along a sunlit seashore, catching up with her, and swinging her off her feet, as they both laughed and laughed. Dad reading her bedtime stories, one after another as she commanded, until he fell asleep himself. Dad showing her what lay under the bonnet of his old car, unlocking the mysteries of engines, sparking plugs and carburetors. Memory after happy memory floods over her. 


When she opens her eyes at last, the room is empty save for the very still figure in the bed. The monitors have fallen silent and his frail old hand, lying on his chest, is tightly clutching a small wooden cross.

Writing fun

posted 17 Jul 2017, 05:05 by Fran Brady

This is the kind of thing that turns writers on: take a word, any word; write it longways down the side of. page; now think up a noun, verb, adjective and adverb beginning with each letter and create a grid of words. 

Like this:

NOUN                          VERB                           ADJECTIVE                 ADVERB

MADNESS                    MEANDER                   MISTY                          MEANINGFULLY

INDIGO                         IDOLISE                       IDEAL                          INDOLENTLY  

DELIGHT                      DESPAIR                      DUSTY                         DARINGLY

SOLSTICE                    SOOTHE                       SINGLE                         SORROWFULLY

UNDERWORLD             UPROOT                     UPPER                          UNDERSTANDABLY

MISGIVING                   MOLLIFY                    MILD                            MURKILY

MORTIFICATION          MOULD                      MUTINOUS                  MOISTLY

ENDEAVOUR                EXPLAIN                    ELEPHANTINE             ELEGANTLY

RELATIVITY                 ROUSE                        RUSTY                           RIGHTFULLY



If Madness chose to meander

Down the path of misty years

She’d never say a word that would

Fall meaningfully on the ears


If Indigo chose to idolise

Plato’s pure ideal

She’d sadly sit at Socrates’ feet

Indolently scorning what’s real


If  Delight ignored the despair

That lurks in dusty cloisters

She’d waltz through life oblivious

And daringly live on oysters


If Solstice did not soothe

With a single sunlit dawn

She’d never save us from ourselves

We’d be sorrowfully gone


If Underworld knew how to uproot

Death’s powerful upper hand

She’d take out a patent to protect

An understandably precious brand


If Misgiving could not mollify

That doubt, though mild and small,

She’d surely lose the battle and

Crawl murkily under a knoll


If Mortification tried to mould

That mutinous streak so cranky

She’d be left to lick her wounds

And sniff moistly into her hankie


If Endeavour could not explain

Her elephantine ego

She’d never find a spouse to wed

Even elegantly in Rio


If Relativity chose to rouse

Einstein’s rusty old theory

She’d be turning happy cartwheels

And be rightfully tapsulteerie 

Resurrection Joy

posted 11 Apr 2017, 05:49 by Fran Brady

Easter morning. Again. Father Joe mentally castigated himself for that ‘again’. Not so much the word as the inflection his tired brain put upon it. Where was his resurrection joy?

It had been a long haul since Christmas: every sermon interrupted by bouts of coughing; umpteen home visits to the frail elderlies, housebound by the icy pavements and arctic winds; umpteen hospital visits to the ancients, wheezing their last in overheated wards; his own health undermined by the temperamental heating system in the ramshackle Priests’ House and the stodgy food dished up by their housekeeper, Sister Mary Bernadette.

The added burden of Holy Week services on top of daily mass had felt like the last straw, particularly on Good Friday. His shoulders had been aching after an hour and a half of propping up the big wooden cross on a chair for a stream of parishioners to plant slobbery kisses on the plastic feet of the crucified Christ. No better way to spread disease, except possibly the Protestants’ dubious practice of the common cup. 

The Saturday night vigil had never seemed so long, nor the stroke of midnight so welcome. He had wreathed his round face in smiles as he wished the small band of the faithful “Happy Easter; Christ is risen.’ Some had wanted to linger, probably to make sure that their presence had been noted. There wasn’t much doing good by stealth in this congregation.  

Now it was morning - well dawn anyway - as he yawned his way back along the path between church and house. There was a fine smirr of rain falling from an overcast sky and a chill breeze taking liberties with his cassock. Just his luck to draw the short straw, the first mass of the day at six o’clock. Father Brian would do the eight-thirty, and he would be back on at eleven. They hadn’t yet decided who would do Benediction at six in the evening. His colleague had an unerring instinct for remembering an urgent pastoral visit when he wasn’t in the mood for ‘dressing up’. There was no doubt that it was a royal pain putting all the vestments back on again after tea. After six weeks Lenten frugality, Easter Sunday tea was eagerly awaited by the priests. There would be Simnel cake: that rich, fruity marzipan sandwich would be the first sweet taste either of them had had for six weeks. They would shamelessly over-indulge, feeling they deserved it. After that, a snooze by the fire would be much more attractive than trudging over to the church and struggling into heavily brocaded vestments. 

But he was fourteen years’ junior to Father Brian who never missed an opportunity to remind him of this and take advantage of it. ‘Humility, dear boy,’ he would say. ‘Humility and obedience.’ Then he would rock on his heels and intone sanctimoniously: ‘Watch and pray, Father Joseph. Watch and pray.’ Joe had to work hard at not allowing himself to retort, indeed not even to think the words. Resentment of authority was always the first sin when he made his weekly confession. 

His curmudgeonly musing had brought him to the door of the church. He took the big key from his pocket and winced as it made its customary yowl in the lock. The cocktail of old incense, candle smoke, rising damp and wet wool seemed especially disgusting this morning. The vestry was clammy, the stale air bitter with lingering cigar smoke. He forced open the one small window: even the drizzly morning air was better than the residue of Father Brian’s tobacco habit. As soon as he had disrobed, his senior colleague must always light one of his thin, pungent cigars. Why could he not wait until he was out of the church? But that was just one of many repressed, unasked questions. 

He began the ponderous process of robing up for mass: the unchanging order in which each garment must be donned; the particular prayer that must be said over each one before putting it on; the kissing of certain garments. Always hefty, this morning the complete ensemble felt like a stone shroud. Drearily, he made his way from the vestry, along the short corridor to the sanctuary, muttering the last of the ritual prayers. There would probably be no one else in the church. There rarely was at the six o’clock, except one or two devout souls and they had all been at last night’s vigil. Even they would feel justified in sleeping on and coming to a later mass. Besides, everyone wanted to share the exuberant joy of Easter, after the slog of Lent, with fellow-believers. Everyone wanted the big show, the soaring organ music, the roar of voices uplifted in praise. 

However, early mass must be said, every day, whatever the day. He prepared himself grimly for the task. Uninterrupted by participants, he could breeze through it and be back in the warm kitchen in no time. Twenty minutes was his record but he reckoned that today was going to beat it. He pushed open the sanctuary door, grimacing as he remembered that he had – once again – forgotten the oil for its hinges. The blast of heat and the dazzle of light stopped him in his tracks. Had someone forgotten to put off the lights and the heaters last night? 

Swelling chords of music cut through his startled thoughts. It sounded like the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. No: even more rousing that. And what was that scent? It was at once powerful and delicate. He wanted to go on smelling it for the rest of his life. He could almost taste its sweetness, its glory. The heavy vestments slipped off, noiseless and unnoticed, and he began to glide forward, the rubber soles of his boots seeming to float just above the wooden floor of the long centre aisle. He reached the altar in seconds and saw that the Lenten purple shroud had already been removed from the big crucifix above it. That was to have been one of his jobs this morning after mass. He stared up at it and was filled with fear. The cross was empty, the Christ-figure gone. Only the small clips that held the wrists and feet remained. The figure must have fallen off. Hesitantly, he searched the altar and the floor but there was no sign of it. Meanwhile the music continued but becoming gentler now; the fragrance and the bright light also abated a little. 

He was just about to look behind the altar – there was a small gap since the wall curved – when he heard a voice: ‘Why are you looking for him? He is not here. He is risen.’ 

Father Joe turned and caught the swirl of an iridescent white robe as it moved down the central aisle and was lost in a dazzle of blinding light. With it, went the music and the fragrance. And with it, went Father Joe’s reluctance, his dreary exhaustion and sense of grievance. He was filled with joy - purposeful, excited joy. Resurrection joy! 

stones before the ocean

posted 8 Jan 2017, 08:38 by Fran Brady   [ updated 8 Jan 2017, 09:26 ]

I have had the honour of appearing in a worship anthology, called 'Stones Before the Ocean', alongside such venerable names as Charles Wesley (And Can it be?) and John Newton (Amazing Grace). Here are my three published poems in it:

1.    This poem came to me while I was sitting in a communion service on the Thursday of Holy week. As Jesus prepared himself for the death that awaited him the next day and the disciples continued to be as obtuse as ever, did he have doubts about the success and lasting efficacy of his short mission on earth? Or was it always intended to be just the beginning . . .


three years was all he had

to reveal the infinite ages of God

walking distance was all he had

to cover light years of knowledge and truth

simple, illiterate folk

to teach the complexity of His plan

arrogant, hostile scholars

to teach the simplicity of his love


 when they nailed him to the cross

did he hang there wondering

is it enough? It is finished -

but have they really grasped it?

that was when he knew that

revelation could not end


Christianity is not a finished product

to be analysed, preserved and taught

it is a living language always evolving

like modern Italian to classical Latin

so our living faith to old texts

the goldmine goes on giving

2.   This poem came to me at a ‘spiritual creativity’ conference about three years ago. The room was full of artists and I felt inadequate. How could anything I might write possibly compare with the beautiful artwork I could see evolving around me?        I took my feelings to God:

already given

fill me up , Lord; empty vessel, me

colour me pretty, Lord; blank canvas, me

mould and sculpt me, Lord; potters’ clay, me

light me up, Lord; space of shadows, me

delight my ears, Lord; silent and deaf, me

open up my life, Lord; limited, shuttered me


what is this empty, colourless lump of clay?

what is this shadowy, silent, closed-up box?

I do not know it or recognise

its place in my creation

I have poured out my spirit upon you

I have shone forth my power upon you

I have lit you up with the colours of love

I have sounded out my clarion call

a vibrant drum roll

to shatter your shutters

and rupture your limits

I have planted eternity in your heart


why go on asking and asking?

I tire of your demands

for the already-given

now listen to MY demands:

be full

be bright

be shaped

be lit up

be full of music

be open wide

live the life

for ME


3.  This poem expresses my sadness that the thrill I felt when I first found Jesus has somehow been commuted to dutiful routines and even boredom; but also my realisation that God is as sad as me about this as I am. He is still offering the thrill; why am I turning away from it?


remember first love?

remembering to breathe

forgetting to hide

aching void that filled up with a rush

and emptied back fast into pain

counting the moments till the next rush

not wanting to tell of it

not able to stop with it

carrying a fire so deep that it charred

my innermost innermost


how did it happen?

how did it become normal,

blunted into routine?

wonder turned into duty

toil verging on tedium

watching the clock, awaiting escape

nothing to talk about

no news to share

dousing the smouldering ashes 

in my innermost innermost


can I find it again

that breathless first love,

recapture the first careless rapture?

He has no need of my love

why would God almighty need me?

But He wants it, He yearns for it

offers new kindling for the ashes

pure gold for base metal

red-hot love for cold duty

why not take it? why not?

what is it I am afraid of

in my innermost innermost?

The anthology is over 200 pages of inspirational writing of all kinds, stretching across centuries and continents. You can download it as an ebook for free or buy it from various bookselling sites. Find out about it and read the introduction from its curator at


Touch and Go

posted 8 Dec 2016, 11:56 by Fran Brady


Today is the slowest day ever. I feel like there’s a sharp smell in my nose, a smell I want to follow, breathe in and taste. Like chips and vinegar in the street when someone passes with a hot greasy handful of newspaper. It calls out and draws you in but it slips away just as you reach it. I am asking questions and getting answers that are no answers. Wait and see. That would be telling. I am catching glances between Mummy and Daddy as they bat a secret back and forward with their eyes. But when I catch the secret mid-flight it dissolves and runs through my fingers. I turn quickly to look but the bats have turned into eyes again, blank eyes that smile and tell me nothing. I am watching the clock. The big hand is like old Mrs Clancy next door who walks so slowly that she takes all morning to get from her door to her gate. The little hand is stuck, frozen maybe like the window that Mummy couldn’t open this morning. I have been watching the clock for hours and hours and it has only changed a very little.


It must be bedtime, surely. The window has gone black and I can see the moon. It is like a big silver penny. I go to my bedroom. I take off my clothes and put on my pyjamas. I do it as fast as possible because my room is so cold. There is ice coming on the window again, same as last night. Mummy will have to scrape it off in the morning.

The morning! Christmas morning! I get into bed. It is like sinking into a snowdrift: soft, white and very cold. The moon lights the room, silver streaks and grey shadows.

‘What are you doing?’ Mummy comes in and switches on the top light.

The moon slips out of the window quickly and lets electric yellow have its way. I sit up blinking and blinded. ‘Is it morning? Can I get up? Has Santa come?’

‘It’s only tea-time, you silly thing. And get out of those freezing sheets. You’ll get your death. You know I always put a hot water bottle in long before you go to bed. Come on, tea’s ready.’

I can’t believe it. Only five o’clock. Another three hours till bedtime and the whole night to go before the morning. Today is the very slowest day ever.


I am in the sitting-room on the rug in front of the fire. I have had a bath and my hair has been washed. I have to sit here and let the heat from the fire dry it. Mummy and Daddy are in their bedroom and I can hear them laughing and talking. I am not allowed to open the door or to go through to them. The smell of the secret is seeping out under the door of their bedroom, down the lobby and in under the door of the sitting-room. I can see it swirling into the room. It is like the pretend fog that we saw at the pantomime with Granny. It is so thick that I can taste it. It is driving me wild. I get up and grope my way to the door, breathing in its fumes. I press my ear to the door and I hear Daddy say: ‘Touch-and-go. She’ll love it.’


Mummy is brushing my hair, tugging the knots, ouching my head.


‘Yes, pet?’

‘What’s a touch-an-go?’

‘A what? ‘

‘A touch-an-go.’

‘Oh . . . well . . . it’s when something nearly doesn’t happen. But then, at the last minute, it does. Why are you asking that?’

‘Is Santa bringing me a touch-an-go? Will he nearly not bring it but then bring it at the last minute? Will it get here in time? Will it be here when I wake up?’

‘Silly! A touch-an-go isn’t a thing. It’s just a saying.’

‘But I don’t want a saying from Santa. I want a present.’

‘Well, you’ll better come and get your cocoa now. Your hot bottle’s been in your bed for an hour so it’ll be nice and warm. The sooner you sleep, the sooner you wake . . .’

‘The sooner it’s Christmas Day?’

‘That’s right, pet.’ She is walking away from me.

I panic. ‘But I don’t want a touch-an-go!’

‘Your cocoa’s ready. Come through to the kitchen and get it.’


I am in bed for real now. Mummy says I must not get up before the little hand is at seven.

‘How many hours is it till seven?’


‘Is that a big lot? How long will eleven hours take?’

‘No time at all because you’ll be sleeping.’

If there is no time when I’m sleeping, how does the clock move its hands? How will Santa know when to come? Will he really come down the chimney? Will he burn his feet in the hot cinders? How does he know which house to bring my present to? What does a touch-an-go look like? What if it’s too big to get it down the chimney?


How can I go to sleep when I have all these swirly things in my tummy? They keep coming up into my chest and then into my throat. I have to swallow them back down and then they start swirling again. I think I’m going to be sick. I am so worried about this touch-an-go thing. What on earth can it be? Santa must have got me mixed up with another little girl. I never asked him for such a thing. How could I? I’ve never even heard of it. I decide to close my eyes and do some imagining. I imagine up the best present in the world as I snuggle in my snowdrift that has turned into a cosy igloo, imagining and imagining and imagining . . .


I am running very fast through a cold, white tunnel. Santa Claus is chasing me and shouting ‘Go! Go!’ and I have to touch the white walls of the tunnel as I run. As long as I keep touching, he won’t catch me. But I am getting tired and he is getting closer. My fingers are so cold because the walls are made of ice. Now he is shouting ‘Touch! Touch!’ I stop running and sit down on the ice floor of the tunnel. I face him and shout ‘GO!’ Then I start screaming very loudly.


I wake up and I hear squeaks coming from somewhere. It must be a mouse. Then I realise they are coming from me. My sheets and blankets have almost fallen off the bed. I am shivering. It is pitch dark. I am afraid and I am sad. I don’t want Santa to come any more. He is a horrible, chasing person and he shouts at me. I pull the covers back over the bed and huddle down. My teeth are chattering. I hate Christmas and I hate Santa Claus. There! I’ve thought it. I say it out loud. Then I cry a little.


‘Goodness, pet, what have you been up to last night? Looks like you had a wrestling match in your bed!’ Mummy is here and there is bright light poking round the edges of the curtains. ‘It’s a beautiful morning. Freezing hard but very sunny. We can go for a lovely walk later. But first, don’t you want to come down and see if Santa has brought you a present?’

‘I don’t like Santa.’ I sit up slowly. ‘He’s horrible. He lives in a tunnel made out of ice and he chases you and shouts at you if you go in.’

Mummy is getting my woolly knitted dressing-gown off the back of the door. ‘Now what have you done with your slippers?’ She finds them and holds them out. ‘Come on, sleepy-head. Wake up. You must still be dreaming.’

‘No I‘m not. I saw him. He was . . .’

Daddy bursts in, crying ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Where’s the girl that couldn’t wait for Christmas morning?’

They both have big smiley faces, like the ones I draw on the sun when I am doing sunny-day pictures. They look really excited. And I can smell the secret again, very close now. I suppose it will be safe enough if they are with me. Daddy is bigger and stronger than anyone in the whole world. He won’t let nasty, chasing Santa catch me.


We go along the lobby three abreast, hand in hand, with them swinging me off my feet. The sitting-room door is closed. Daddy tells me to wait before I turn the handle to go in. He and Mummy are hopping about like the baby bunnies we saw in the park in the summer.

‘She’s going to love it!’ says Mummy.

They clutch each other and hop some more and then Daddy flings open the door and stands aside to let me go in.

The room is still dark because the thick velvet curtains have not yet been drawn. All I see is a little house in the corner with its two front windows lit up and a tiny lantern shining down on the red door. I stare at it. Can it be what I think it is?

‘Go on, pet,’ says Mummy. ‘Go and see what Santa brought you.’

I lift up the roof of the house and look down on four little rooms, all full of perfect little furnitures. Just like I have been imagining for so long but so much better.

Curtains on the window, cushions on the chairs, pots and pans in the cupboards, fork and knives on the table. Even a bathroom with a real toilet. I pick up the tiny clock and see it has a big hand and a small hand. I touch the kitchen cabinet and the drawers go out and in. The teeny family are all wearing clothes that I recognise, a shirt made out of material from one of my old summer frocks, a jumper knitted from wool left over from my new cardigan. The baby even has a tiny nappy, made out of my old hanky. I pore over every detail. And after a while I remember to breathe again.


Later, Mummy makes me come through to the kitchen for breakfast. ‘Before it’s too late and it’s dinner-time,’ she laughs.

I can’t believe how late it is. This is the fastest day ever.

I eat fast too and wriggle into my clothes, impatient to get back to my doll’s house. I decide to forget about nasty Santa. There must be two of them and thank goodness it was the nice one who came to our house.


In the afternoon, visitors come and sit around watching me playing. I tune into bits of Mummy and Daddy talking.

‘. . . went down to the workshop every Saturday morning for weeks.’

‘. . . got offcuts of wood from the joiners and scraps from the carpet shop.’

‘And the clock . . . so fiddly . . . littlest things took the longest.’

‘. . . nearly ran out of time. It was touch and go.’

I smile as I set the table for my little family and turn the hands of the clock to teatime. I have decided that a touch-an-go is a great present. I am going to ask for one every year from now on.

word path challenge

posted 23 Nov 2016, 15:08 by Fran Brady

The words: rambling; orchard; glass of milk; strawberry jam; grandmother's cupboard; bell ringing; the path; paddling; fox; the school-bus; echo; dawn chorus; take my hand; over the fence; panting; shoe polish; tightrope; meadowland; card trick; bedtime; mugshot; haircut; water lilies; rail crossing; fishing; under water; shooting the rapids; billiard room. 

The challenge: write a short story using all of these words in order. 

The story:

William is rambling through the orchard, a glass of milk wobbling in his left hand, a chunk of strawberry-jam cake, stolen from his grandmother’s cupboard, in the other. In the distance, he can hear the local bell-ringing group practising for Whit Sunday.


Where the path forks, he hesitates. If he veers left, he will reach the pond for a few minutes’ paddling, although it will be cutting it fine if he is to be back in the house for three o’clock, as he promised; if he veers right, he may just catch a glimpse of the fox, and even of the vixen and her cubs.


Amanda, his sister, who always gets there first, has seen them. She has shown him a photograph, taken with her smartphone. He doesn’t have a smartphone yet. Daddy says that the price of them is ridiculous but it is really because he is afraid William will access porno and gaming websites, or that he will be groomed on a social network site by a paedophile. So, for the moment, he has to use other boys’ phones on the school-bus.


The decision is made for him by a sudden high-pitched squeal. Its echo hangs briefly in the still, warm May afternoon and William sees a large bird soar into the sky, its vicious hooked beak silhouetted against the sun, a small animal dangling from its claws. He loves birds and often sets his alarm to wake him up in time for the dawn chorus, especially in this month of busy nesting, hatching and teaching fledglings. Yesterday, he had sat at his bedroom window for half an hour, watching a stern blackbird father showing one of his chicks how to hop from an overhanging branch onto the bird table. The chick had been timorous, wobbling and pleading: ‘Take my hand, Daddy, please.’ At least, that’s what William had decided it was saying to its implacable father.


He takes the right fork, buoyed up with a sense of purpose. The winged predator may have spotted the vixen and, having polished off the field mouse as a starter, come back for a main course of tender fox cub. He puts the milk and cake down on a crumbling bench and sets off at a run, vaulting over the fence, planting his feet very firmly on the other side to regain his balance in time to tackle the narrow ridge round the slurry pit. Its depths are shiny, like black shoe polish. He imagines he is a tightrope walker and flings out his arms very straight on either side.


He reaches the short stretch of meadowland safely and breathes again. That was a good trick, he thinks, just like the card trick his Uncle Joe taught him last summer. Daddy disapproves of Uncle Joe and he forbade him to teach William any more such ‘decadence’.   William’s protests that he likes decadence – whatever that is – and Uncle Joe’s cries of ‘old stuck-in-the-mud’ had made no difference. Daddy had remained unmoved, so they had resort to clandestine lessons by torchlight at bedtime. Then Daddy had discovered them one night and there had been ructions. Daddy declared Joe would end up in prison one of these days, with his mugshot on file and his wild, afro haircut reduced to a shaved head.


The vixen’s lair is easy to find now. William knows the smell – his dog, Grainger, often comes home, stinking and self-satisfied, after a long, delicious roll in fox-poo. Past a pool of stagnant water, the ugly result of an abortive archaeology ‘dig’ last year, but now redeemed by a clutch of water-lilies; past the disused rail crossing; past the short stretch of river where Granddad likes to play at fishing; past the mini-waterfall where William and his big brother almost drowned themselves one summer, having been under water for several minutes before being hauled out by a big hook. There had been an unholy row about that. Their explanation - that they were just shooting the rapids like they had seen on television – had not been well received. The boys had spent several boring days, grounded, confined to the library by day, not even allowed in the billiard room.


And, suddenly, there she is: Mrs. Fox, barring his path, arching her back, baring her teeth, emitting a low, menacing growl . . .

Auntie Rose

posted 6 Nov 2016, 12:58 by Fran Brady

Auntie Rose lived far, far away. It took us two days of travelling in my father’s pride and joy: a 1933 Hillman, bought with his ‘demob’ money, polished every week and parked proudly outside our prefab.  
Auntie seemed impossibly glamorous to my sister and me. She had enormous amounts of clothes, three coats and five pairs of shoes. She had the most beautiful bedroom. It smelt of spicy flowers and had three mirrors on its dressing table. I sneaked in one morning and perched on the satin stool looking from side to side through endless corridors of images of myself. It was the first time I had ever seen my profile. I pouted and winked and smiled and frowned. 

Auntie had no children so she was free to go off each morning on a train into London to ‘the office’. It seemed incredible to me that anyone would ride on a train every day. Train journeys were for holidays and special days out. And the very word ‘office’, spoken in Auntie’s hybrid drawl, belonged between the covers of a book. No one I knew back home in Scotland worked in an office. Factories, shops, mines and building sites, yes. But not an office. 

Auntie’s hands were beautiful, soft and white, fingers long and very slim, nails perfect-pink with delicate white half-moons. I had thought all grown-up women’s hands were chapped, seamed with soot lines, sore with winter hacks. Her makeup was a wonder. I had only ever seen a slick of vanishing cream and a daub of powder. Occasionally a smear of hard red lipstick like tomato ketchup. I preferred Mum without it. 

Mum’s beauty routine took about two minutes. She did it standing up, peering into the mirror above the fire. Auntie settled down at her dressing table and spent more than two minutes considering her strategy before action began, turning her head from side to side, appraising the multiple images, fiddling with strands of hair, pinching cheeks, pouting lips, wiggling eyebrows. 

Then she would open the small top drawer on her right hand side and consider its contents, rummaging lightly among them. Finally she would nod slowly and extract the first pot or tube and it would begin. I would sit glued to the performance, eyes wide, breath held. Before my eyes her thin, pallid, slightly greasy face would become warm and iridescent, cheekbones lustrous rosy, eyes deep in shadow, brows arched in black, lashes thick and heavy, lips rosebud glossy. She would finish the performance with several shots from the cut glass bottle, pointing the nozzle at her throat and pumping the gold cloth ball with unerring aim at the base of her throat and behind her ears. The scent was intoxicating. I swooned and once I almost toppled to the floor. I longed for just one shot from that perfumed weapon. It would be, as Dad said of a man who fell into a vat of whisky and drowned, a great way to go.

It became our annual summer pilgrimage: Dundee to High Wycombe. They came to us for New Year. Auntie was not yet anglicised enough to stand being out of Scotland for Hogmanay. Uncle Roy, English to a fault – he had been one of ‘the few’ in the Battle of Britain and one of the even fewer who survived – went along with all the traditions enthusiastically. He had a way of making everything seem like a kind of charade, a ‘wizard prang’ he called it. I thought he was wonderful – straight out of Biggles.    
Theirs was a wartime romance, one of those brief encounters that miraculously survived the turmoil of men missing in action, women and children wandering through refugee camps and the blustery panic that passed for military action. It was the late summer of 1940, about three months after the Dunkirk evacuation. He was going home to High Wycombe for a short leave before returning to his airbase near York.  She was returning from leave in Scotland to the ATS unit she was stationed at, near Peterborough. She got off the train at Crewe to make a phone call to her unit, to tell them the train was running very late and it looked like being nearer ten o’clock than seven before she could report. She had been assured by the guard that she had plenty of time. But the queue for the only public phone box in the station was long and she eventually gave up and turned back towards the platform just in time to see the guard slamming shut the doors and the first puffs of steam appearing. Frantic, she raced down the platform, alongside the already moving train, until she found a door not quite shut. She managed to jerk it open and throw herself inside, landing at the feet of a handsome young airman who leapt up gallantly to close the door and help her to her feet. 

The compartment she had catapulted into was full but the train was crowded, as all wartime trains were: there was no point in her setting off to hunt for a seat. Thanking him for his timely assistance, she asked demurely if he would mind if she sat on his kitbag which was tucked into a corner of the compartment, the luggage racks being both full to overflowing. RAF men were renowned for their style and polish, never more in evidence than when a lady was present. He assured her that he would not dream of such a thing and ceded his seat to her, assuming the position on the kitbag himself. 

They began to chat. The train obliged by stopping several times in the middle of nowhere and maintaining, when it did move, an average speed of no more than twenty miles an hour. By the time it meandered into Peterborough, they knew a great deal about each other and liked what they heard. Home addresses were exchanged as being the most reliable. The process of letters going to their homes and being sent on to wherever they were at the time would slow the correspondence down but it was the best they could do. Neither of them voiced or perhaps even thought of the fact that one or both of them might be dead soon. The threat of invasion was in everyone’s minds and the task facing the navy and the air force to defend Britain’s huge coastline was urgent and desperately dangerous. The blitz had already begun in London and no centre of population was safe. But they were young, neither of them yet twenty, and they were falling in love. That seemed much more real and exciting to them as they reluctantly parted in the September sunshine on Peterborough platform.

Over the next five years, they would see very little of each other: snatched twenty-four hour passes spent in rundown guesthouses somewhere close to where their paths happened to be crossing; missed opportunities when letters went astray or were delivered too late; crackly telephone lines that permitted only short, half-heard conversations. Only twice in all that long war, the chance to spend a few days together with time to linger over cups of tea in a forlorn seaside café, huddle together on a stormy winter beach, walk and talk dreamily of the future they hoped to have together – when the war was over, when the boys came home, when bluebirds instead of bombers flew over the white cliffs again. By the end of the war, they were engaged. With victory in Europe assured at last, it seemed safe to make the public announcement, a testament of hope which would have seemed too much like tempting fate before then. 
They married in 1947. He used his wartime experience as flight engineer to land a job in the Rolls-Royce aero-components factory near his home town of High Wycombe. It came with a house – a coveted perk in the post-war years – a simple ground-floor flat in a hastily erected housing estate. 

My earliest memories are of a black and white photo of Rose in a swimsuit, sitting on a mat, looking over her shoulder at the camera. Her shoulder blades were as sharp as axes, her back a scrawny cedilla, the buttocks on the mat no bigger than the cabbages my father dug out of the garden. She remained pin-thin all her life and often deprecated her figure but only with a coyness that belied any real concern. She wore her thinness with elegance, even in the era of the full-busted and curvy-hipped Hollywood stars of the fifties. Of course, in the sixties, she was made. She said the advent of Twiggy as a supermodel showed there was a God and prayers do get answered.  

Other early memories, predating those of actually meeting her, are of ‘brown paper packages tied up with string’, just like in the song. They came with red blobs of sealing wax and bold black writing on both sides. I have no clear memories of what was in those parcels, only the excitement of seeing them delivered and helping to unpick the string and roll it into little balls to put in the string tin. String had been a wartime luxury and possibly still was in the fifties. The brown paper was smoothed out and folded to be stacked away in the sideboard. Mum would start some new knitting soon after the arrival of a parcel so probably wool, pins and patterns featured a lot. There might have been food items, I suppose, but I was never much interested in food as a child. In return, Mum rolled up the Dundee Courier and the Sunday Post into a tube and posted them off to Rose every couple of weeks.  

It was not until I was seven that the adventure of driving down to see the fabled source of the parcels, the stick-figure of the photograph, was mooted. Mum and Dad argued for hours about it. Mum imagined all sorts of disasters in the old car, at the very least freezing to death since it had no heater and let in rain at most of the windows and ‘muck and gutters’ up through the floorboards, Dad hotly defended his beloved ‘old jalopy’ which he declared would never let us down. 

They were both right. We did make it over the switchback Roman road through the Yorkshire moors and down into the heart of England, through endless picturebook-pretty villages without a flushing toilet to their name. And we did almost freeze to death one night when a mist came down and we could not find our way. Dad turned the car into what he thought was a lay-by, switched off the lights and said we would have to wait till morning to see where we were. As the cold, damp night progressed, we all became aware of a dreadful smell. At first, it was presumed it was Dad – it usually was. He denied it but wound down the window to let the smell escape. The stench immediately intensified. We choked and begged him to close it. In the morning, at first light, we could make out a huge pile of steaming dung right in front of the car, touching its radiator. Dad had mistaken an open farm gate for a lay-by.

It was but one of many traveller’s tales that our trips to see Auntie would spawn over the years. 


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