Hand Me Down Stories

I thought I’d reblog this after recently talking to someone about the power of storytelling-and the ghost of Annabella.

City Jackdaw

When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.

Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.

What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.

But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.

My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always…

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A Dialogue Of Doubt

My daughter Millie was on a school trip this morning, but I wasn’t sure where it was she was actually going to.

“Where are you going?” 

“I don’t know, but it’s Science Week, so it’s somewhere  to do with science.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll ask some of the other parents at school.”
Seemed logical enough, yes?

Here are a selection of answers I obtained from the other Mums and Dads. 
“Evie told me it’s Lancaster.” 

“It’s somewhere in Rochdale.” 

 “It’s Manchester.”  

“The Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester.” 

“The Police Museum in Manchester.” 

“What trip?”
I thought I’d be better off asking the teachers.
Teacher #1 (who was actually going): “I think it’s Manchester University.”

 Teacher #2: “Preston University.” 

Me: “Is there a university in Preston?” 

Teacher #2: “Maybe it’s Lancaster.” 
Last resort parent: “I’m not sure where it is, but it’s somewhere to do with DNA.” 
There you go, Millie. Enjoy your time on Jeremy Kyle. 

*It turns out that they went to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.


When my Dad died in 2003, I found in his wallet a cutting from my primary school magazine. It was of a few lines that I had written way back in 1980, when I was eight years old.

I had no idea he had kept it.


Of course I don’t remember writing it. It made me wish I had kept all my old books and jottings I made all those years ago.

In that same school I won a Halloween story-writing competition, where we had to write a story and present it in a self-designed cardboard cover jacket. I do wish I still had that one.

All I can remember about it now is that it was a werewolf story, based in an English country village setting, somewhere out in the sticks, and as usual, I had left it until the night before it was due in to write it. I rushed ahead with it until I approached the end where the werewolf would be shot and its identity revealed. I hadn’t yet decided who it was going to be, (for in effect I was making it up as I went along), and I had a great idea.

The hero of the story, an outsider who was a new resident of the village, had been given a gun and the required silver bullets, by one of the old locals. What if that very local guy was the werewolf-wanting to end his own shape-shifting torment in a suicide-by-cop scenario? That would be a great reveal.

I flicked back through the preceding pages, and damn! The man had been present when the werewolf had crashed through a cottage window in an earlier scene. I had no time to rewrite it. (I still haven’t learned that lesson.) I had to finish on the ineffectual revelation that the lycanthrope was some bloke that worked in the village pub. How lame is that?

The story, coloured-in cardboard cover and all, is long gone, along with every other juvenile tale that I used to while away the hours creating, lost to time and numerous bedroom clear outs.

After that school magazine-published dwarf description, the earliest example of any surviving creative endeavour of mine is a poem that I wrote about a vampire (werewolves and vampires-that’s the kind of kid I was), when I was fifteen years old.

I include it here for posterity. Please go easy on me, you harsh critics, for I was but a wee, pimple-faced bairn, scribbling away in my den as I listened to the Top Forty.

Union Of The Night

He heard a tapping at the window,
A scraping sound of dread.
He looked to see her waiting,
calling him from his bed.

She filled his heart with terror,
but with a longing, just the same.
He was afraid, but strangely attracted.
She called him by his name.

He was entranced by her beauty.
Her face so pale, so white.
She said:"I will make you as I,
and we shall share the night."

After she had seduced him,
yet left him oh so cold,
she soundlessly vanished,
into the night so old.

And soon he also followed,
and joined her for all time.
Two lovers who frolic together,
when the midnight bells do chime.


On Books And Obsessions

So today is World Book Day.

The school run this morning consisted of me taking a wild, red haired Merida (from Brave-I was given the Death Stare for mistakenly calling her Meridian), and a gun toting Woody along the usual route, turning heads before we merged into a colourful sea of Mad Hatters, Supermen, and Wicked Witches at the school gates. We were greeted at the door by a grown up Hungry Caterpillar.

It was like something from a surrealist’s dream, or a drug taker’s confessional.

My contribution? Well I didn’t dress up. I know, I’m such a bore. But let’s face it, a guy who won’t use his daughter’s Frozen umbrella when it’s pouring down is not going to skip to school as Pennywise the Clown, is he?

No, my book themed contribution was to call at the local library on the way home to pick up 1984. Somehow, I have made it to forty-three without reading any Orwell, which I’m going to remedy after reading Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms.

imageLike all good book lovers, I have a backlog of stuff to get through, and this one is next in line now that I’ve just finished Norman Mailer’s Marilyn.


 This is now the last Monroe biography I’m going to read. I tend to get fixated on a subject, read two or three books on it, then move on to another temporary obsession.

Marilyn is brilliant writing from a double Pulitzer Prize winner. I shall leave you with the moving, closing words of his book, which, appropriate for this day, also name checks another great author:

Once, across the years, she sent Rosten a postcard with a colour photograph of an American Airlines jet in the sky, and on the back, in the space for message, she put down, ‘Guess where I am? Love, Marilyn.’

Rosten wrote:’I have my own idea but am keeping quiet about it.’ Let us not hope for heaven so quickly. Let her be rather in one place and not scattered in pieces across the firmament; let us hope her mighty soul and the mouse of her little one are both recovering their proportions in some fair and gracious home, and she will soon return to us from retirement. It is the devil of her humour and the curse of our land that she will come back speaking Chinese. Goodbye Norma Jean. Au revoir Marilyn. When you happen on Bobby and Jack, give the wink. And if there’s a wish, pay your visit to Mr.Dickens. For he, like many other literary man, is bound to adore you, fatherless child.

Let’s Make A Hillfort

I often walk the dog on the site of my old primary school. The sports field, scene of many acts of personal triumph, now lies overgrown and wild. To the side is a round wooden construct, made long after I left the school, for the then pupils to sit on when playing outside in rare good weather.

In its ruin, nature is claiming it. Whenever I see it, it always reminds me of the way ancient hillforts look to us, now. How our man made markers are consumed over time, leaving us but hints and traces.

This is our own Maiden Castle, in microcosm.


Getting Blood From A Schoolboy Stone

Well we’ve finally had a breakthrough in getting some information out of my son since he’s started school. He’s a lot more taciturn than his three sisters, and bats off questions set by his anxious parents with shrugs and mumbles and general indifferent evasiveness.

How was your first day then?” 


“Did you enjoy it?”

A nod.

“Did you make any friends?”

A nod.

“What are their names?”

“You don’t know them.”

Okay then. Subject shift. “What did you have for dinner?”


“Wow cake!” Overplaying it a little I know. “And what did you have before it?”


“No, before your dessert. The hot meal?”

A lot sharper: “Cake!!”

Deciding to come at him from a different angle: “What did you have for your morning snack?”

(Much louder) “CAKE!!!!!”

I must assure you all that his school really does have a healthy outlook when it comes to eating and food, so we must take his answers with a pinch of cake. I mean salt.

During yesterday’s round of questions he finally began to open up. I went through the accustomed routine, not really expecting to get anywhere. “So what did you have for dinner today?”

“I had chicken….”

I jumped on this to encourage further disclosure.  “Chicken! Chicken is lovely!” Im vegetarian-this was purely tactical.

He went on. “Yeah chicken…and egg….”

Chicken and egg?  “Nice.”

“…and mushrooms….”

“My favourite.”

“…and a fish head.”



Food Fight

Well it had been two weeks since the kids all returned to school after the summer holidays, and now it was time to apply for any after-school activities that your child wants to do.

Or, rather, apply for ones that they don’t want to do-on their behalf.

Millie, my six year old daughter, was adamant that she didn’t want to join any club.

Millie, you say this every term. You say you don’t want to do them, but when it comes around to it you really enjoy it. Now-for Year Two there is cookery and there is craft club.”

She screwed up her face. “No I don’t think I will do them.”

I persevered:”Come on, it is first come first served. All the places will go if we don’t take this in tomorrow. I will tick both boxes for you.”

I don’t think I will like either of those clubs.”

Listen, I will get an extra forty-five minutes for both days before I have to pick you up. You will like them. You will learn to love them.” I ticked the boxes.

Of course I had her best interests at heart. All that social bonding, learning new skills. For forty five minutes.

Guess what? She got in both clubs.

Yesterday was the day of her first activity-cookery club. She could barely reveal, I mean conceal, her excitement.

After a luxurious three quarters of an hour of extra time, I got her three year old brother ready and went to pick her up. Stood outside with the other huddled, leisure plagued parents, I wondered which Millie would come out. The happy, smiling girl, skipping along with a warm baguette tucked beneath her arm, or the scowling, sweaty headed creature covered in flour, snarling “Never again!”

The door opened, and there she was. A great, beaming smile lighting up her young face, a pizza held triumphantly before her on a paper towel. “Dad-I made pizza!”

James’ eyes became like saucers.

It looked like there was a bit of everything on it. Sweetcorn, tomato, pepperoni, pineapple. Not a charred bit anywhere. I idly wondered if she could teach her Mum her secret at the weekend.

We began to walk home, fastening up our coats against the wind that suddenly seemed to spring up from nowhere. How foolishly I ignore the omens.

Can I eat it on the way Dad?”

I said that she could, and to watch where she was walking. Pizza doesn’t taste as nice when it is squashed flat between your face and a lamp post. She had barely had a nibble when James piped up “Me too? Me have some?”

No James-there’s not enough” big sister replied, immediately holding the pizza higher.

Awwwww!!!” A great, drawn out cry of injustice. “Pizza! Dad!” The instant tears started, seemingly in tandem with the hard, cold rain that suddenly, unexpectedly, opened up on us.

Millie give him some,” I said as I attempted to force the hood of her coat over her head.

She refused repeatedly, stamping her feet. James wailed, stamping his. The rain came down harder. I used all my Kofi Annan diplomatic skills to finally get her to let her brother have a nibble. A little nibble. You can imagine the line I took:show your brother how great a cook you are/see if he likes it more than mummy’s/hurry before the rain makes it cold/just give him some and don’t be so tight.

It was like a switch had been thrown. As soon as the pizza was lowered to three year old height, James’ tears stopped. “Just a little bite James,” she instructed.

It was like a dog with a frisby.

You know when they latch on, breathing out of the side of their mouths?

No James, just bite a bit off. James….no…Dad tell him to let go!”

Then he was like a bull terrier with lock jaw.

She tried pulling it away, but he resolutely clung on. She swung it from side to side, he kept his teeth clamped onto it, eyes fixed defiantly on her.

I tried to intervene but they span away from me, Millie squealing “James! James! Dad….my pineapple is falling off…”

Then: “His nose is running!…HIS..NOSE..IS..RUNNING!!!!

Then he made his move-reaching out to take the pizza with both hands, a rapidly becoming soggy pizza, which began to split down the middle.

In desperation,unexpectedly, Millie let go with one hand.

Who would have thought an umbrella could be an offensive weapon?

The rain continued to come down. What a lovely walk home it was. Tuesdays are going to be so much fun from now on. But to be honest, it is the Thursdays I am worried about.

Craft club.

All those sharp instruments and flammable liquids. There will be gallons of blood and snotty noses.

And that is just the teachers.