Jersey: Occupation Liberation Celebration

Before my recent and first-ever visit to the beautiful island of Jersey, I knew of its famous Jersey cows,  delicious Jersey Royal new potatoes, and stunning coastline. I also knew something of its occupation under Nazi Germany in WWII, but, and to my shame, I knew very little of its impact on the people of Jersey.  All that was about to change.

As I crossed the English Channel by Ferry with my mother on May 7th for our much-anticipated getaway, as soon as I caught sight of the delightful view from our hotel room some seven hours later, I knew we were in for a treat.

The next day – after taking in the surprising results of the General Election back home – we set about exploring.  And learning.

Although closest to France, Jersey has been part of the British Isles ever since William of Normandy’s invasion in 1066 ~

Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

Some 100  miles south of British mainland and only a mere 14 miles from the Bay of St Malo in  France, Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands despite its 14km by 8km (9 miles by 5 miles) size.

It is home to a varied landscape of lush valleys and fields inland, and unspoilt coastline of golden beaches, rocky coves and hidden bays, all with stunning views of the Atlantic.

Jersey boasts a 450 mile roadway made up of fast routes and rural lanes, so that whether driving, walking, cycling or even horse riding, anyone can explore this beautiful island to their heart’s content.

Take a drive - or walk, or bike or horse ride - with me along this delightful island of Jersey (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Take a drive – or walk, or bike or horse ride – with me along this delightful island of Jersey
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Corbiere Lighthouse shines its beacon of light for many a passing ship to warn of strong tidal waters and treacherous, submerged rock formations ~

Corbiere Lighthouse, Jersey (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Corbiere Lighthouse, Jersey
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Everywhere, the views are stunning ~

Rocque Point Jersey (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Rocque Point Jersey
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

(Rocque Point Lookout, St Brelade’s Bay & Elizabeth Castle)

Yes, Jersey is a little slice of heaven on earth, but it also holds a long, complex history and a dark past.

On 28th June, 1940, the Germans bombed Jersey killing 10 islanders, and by 1st July, the entire island had no choice but to surrender.  Invading German soldiers built lookouts, bunkers and fortresses to protect the island from British attack, but the attack never came as the war effort focused elsewhere.

No one could have imagined then that the German occupation of Jersey would last five years.

It was while walking through the Jersey War Tunnels that the full extent of the impact of those long years of occupation really struck me.  Also just how close Nazi Germany came to invading British mainland shores.

Spending a good two hours walking through the tunnels, which even on a hot day feels chilly inside those caves, takes you through a timeline from the day the Germans first arrived in Jersey to the time they left.

Throughout the Tunnels, stories of the very human side of war speak through written nuggets of excerpts from diary entries and letters, bringing home the deeply personal stories of everyday people, from both the islanders’ and the German soldiers’ points of view.  Each story is profoundly moving, telling stories of their reality as it was in those war years.

For the Germans, it occurred to me that they probably couldn’t belive that they had been given such an prime posting, and then I read this:

Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

Obviously, the islanders viewed the Nazi’s parading throughout their country as a very different thing altogether: all received notice to register for evacuation, with twenty-four hours to do so.

One day, living, eating, spending time with your family, and the next, your life is turned upside down, everything lost for good Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

One day, living, eating, spending time with your family, and the next, your life turned upside down, everything lost for good
Photo Sherri Matthews, Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

Nearly 50% of the islanders registered to evacuate, but some, once arriving at the quay and seeing so many people crammed in the boats like sardines, changed their minds and returned home.  Shockingly, some did so only to discover that looting had already taken place, their homes cleaned out, and for some, even the carpets removed.

Such is just one of the many devastating repercussions of war.

For those who travelled onward by passenger ship, mostly to Weymouth, their lives changed forever.  For those who stayed, an order from German headquarters arrived stating that those of Jewish origin, and all not born on the island, to be rounded up and deported to Germany, some to concentration camps.  Many did not return.

While the Germans at first felt like tourists in Jersey, bitterness, accusations, whisperings of betrayals and resentments surfaced, tearing local people and their families apart as some bartered for bigger rations and worse, befriended some of the German soldiers.

The Nazi’s brought in slave workers from Eastern Europe to work on the tunnels, building a safe hospital, amongst other things, for German soldiers.  The slaves worked under harsh conditions to say the least, but the tunnels were never finished.

Execution was the punishment for crimes such as trying to escape, keeping crystal radios after the wireless radio ban, and general acts of disobedience, as in the case of poor Louis Berrier, who released a pigeon with a message for England:

Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

One sad story particularly struck me of a young woman who fell in love with a handsome German solider which, of course, was an absolute no-no.  They made plans to escape, the soldier wanting to desert, but they were found out.

The Bailiff running the island (who had the near-impossible task of keeping relations between the islanders and the soldiers as amicable and as peaceful as possible, as per his instructions from the British Government), was able to intercede successfully for the young woman’s life, but not for that of the soldier, who was duly shot for desertion.

Another story was of a little girl (now a woman in her late 70s and still living on the island) given a bag of sweets by a German soldier, who told her he missed his little girl back home.  In such harsh times of severe rationing and going without, she was, of course, absolutely delighted, but her mother, disgusted that her daughter should receive anything from a German, threw the sweets away.

The little girl could never understand her mother’s actions and hatred of the ‘nice’ German soldier.

Then, at last, on 9th May, 1945, came Liberation Day.

By that time, food supplies were cut off and all, including the Germans, were near-starving.  At last the British Red Cross delivered food parcels containing items such as tea, coffee and sugar, the likes of which the islanders hadn’t tasted in years.

The Germans were given strict instructions not to touch the food parcels, and they had no choice but to eat limpets off the seashore and shoot seagulls and cats for food to prevent starvation.

The British landed on 9th May, 1945; the very first act by two Naval Officers was to rip down the swastika flag that had hung from the Pomme D’Or Hotel for five long years, replacing it with the Union Jack to the deafening cries of the jubilant crowds below.

And so it was that on 9th May this year of 2015, celebrating the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day as part of VE Day celebrations held across Europe, my mother and I watched enthralled, as the day’s reenactments took place.

The Pomme D’Or Hotel in St Helier as it was in 1945,  appears in a photo superimposed on a huge canvas draped across the original hotel (left photo below), the newer hotel standing next door (right photo).

On the balcony this May 9th,  stood military personnel wearing replica uniforms of the day, waving to the crowds just as they would have exactly seventy years before.  And now as then, the crowds cried out in joyous delight.

A sculpture stands in Liberation Square in St Helier’s to mark this occasion, and some ‘veteran’ wartime officials also turned out for the day’s festivities (including a Captain Mainwaring look-alike I thought…) ~

A parade of vintage cars and military vehicles, marching bands and troops left the Square which we followed all the way to People’s Park, where the Countess of Wessex took part in prayers and a ceremony to mark this special Liberation Day ~

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The ceremonies ended with the raising of the Jersey Flag.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t brilliant but at least the rain held off – just ~

Jersey Flag flys high to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day (c) Sherri Matthews 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Jersey Flag flies high to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Liberation Day
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Street parties, vintage teas, dancing and celebrations into the night recreated the thrilling atmosphere as it must have been in 1945, ending with a huge firework’s display from Elizabeth Castle, as seen from our hotel room (a bonus we hadn’t planned on) ~

Fireworks from Elizabeth Castle (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Fireworks from Elizabeth Castle
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Two things stayed with me: on the day that the German soldiers were at last shipped out of Jersey, the crowds fell silent as they stood on the quay and watched them leave, or as better described below (which I hope isn’t too small to read):

Jersey May 2015 (207)

Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

And the second was this: the footprint of a jackboot left in what was once setting cement – right at the bottom of an escape tunnel discovered deep inside the bowels of the War Tunnels.   There is only one footprint, and it’s facing towards the escape route.  Did the wearer escape, I wonder?  And if so, what happened to him?  One of life’s mysteries, but one from which so many stories could be told.

Jack Boot - Courtesy of Jersey War Tunnels

Jackboot footprint – Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

Jersey is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and the people so welcoming, friendly and charming.  They even have their own ale:

Liberation Ale (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

The deprivation and war-time suffering of people living under occupation by an invading force can never be underestimated; it is impossible for those of us who have never experienced it to truly understand the true impact of such a life.

But as long as future generations keep the message of liberation and freedom alive in their hearts, as do the people of Jersey, the hope remains of lessons learned and history no longer repeated. It was an honour and a privilege to have visited them and their home during such a momentous and historical time of celebration.  Thank you so much, dear Jersey.

I leave you with these poignant words:

Jersey May 2015 (149)

Courtesy Jersey War Tunnels

Thank you for sharing the view with me today and may your day be filled with
many minutes of happiness.

Posted in HIstory, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 91 Comments

London Calling: The Kinks, A Sunny Afternoon And A Newborn Princess

On Saturday, I walked almost 17,000 steps for a total of 161 minutes, covering 12.06 km and burned 644 calories.  How do I know all this?  Because I have a handy-dandy ‘S Health’ Smartphone App that told me so.  Welcome to a day’s walking in London and proof of just how far that can take anyone.

London called this weekend and we answered, deciding to drive rather than take the train not least of all because it was a Bank Holiday, three-day weekend, and typically, Waterloo Station warned of ‘major, disruptive engineering works’.  No surprise there.

Driving through London on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend is definitely not for the faint hearted, but it turned out good for me as while hubby drove, I managed to snap a few photos en-route ~

Driving through Trafalgar Sqare April 2015 (c) Sherr Matthews

Driving through Trafalgar Square April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

One of the many things I love about London is the eclectic mix of historic and contemporary architecture.  For instance, as you cross the Thames on Millennium Bridge (completed on June 10, 2000), St Paul’s Cathedral stands majestically, ready to welcome you to the other side of the river ~

View of St Paul's Cathedral approaching from The Millenium Bridge (c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

View of St Paul’s Cathedral approaching from Millennium Bridge (c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

After the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed most of London,  Sir Christopher Wren began rebuilding St Paul’s with the first stone set on June 21, 1675, giving us the Cathedral admired by so many today ~

View of St Paul's Cathedral from Southwark Bridge (c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

View of St Paul’s Cathedral from Millennium Bridge, Southwark Bridge in front
(c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

Iconic buildings stand side-by-side with towering, glass structures all along the Thames Embankment.  The Globe Theatre (built in 1997), which stands about 750 feet from the site of Shakespeare’s original theatre (built in 1599), shares views with The Gherkin (2004) and The Walkie Talkie building (2014).

Not forgetting, of course, Tower Bridge ~

Tower Bridge seen from the Millenium Bridge, Southwark Bridge in front. (c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

Tower Bridge seen from Millennium Bridge, Southwark Bridge in front.
(c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

But dwarfing all these buildings, old and new, looms a gigantic glass tower which looks just like, well, a shard of glass about to give the sky a nasty scrape if you ask me.  No surprise that this building is named The Shard, after its looks, naturally ~

The Shard, London (c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

The Shard, London
(c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

The Shard, built and completed in July, 2012, is a 308 meters high, 87-floor glass skyscraper with restaurants, offices, hotel and viewing platform. You can go all the way up to the top to the viewing platform if you are willing to pay £30 per person for the pleasure.

Needless to say, whilst I’m sure that the views of London are spectacular from up there, I stayed put and took these photos from the ground up ~

The Shard, London (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

The Shard, London
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Borough Market, one of the oldest and largest food markets in London and just around the corner from The Shard, provided a veritable feast for the eyes if not for the stomach, although I probably wouldn’t have fancied much of anything if I had gone up to the viewing platform, not being one for heights.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we wandered around the open-air market with Southwark Cathedral as the backdrop, news came in of the birth of Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, although we didn’t know her name until the next day.   It was exciting to be in London, so close to St Mary’s hospital in Paddington where the Duchess of Cambridge had just given birth, for this historic moment.

I am fortunate to have visited London many times throughout my life, but I was living in California in 1981 when Princess Diana walked down the aisle of St Paul’s to marry Prince Charles, bucking the usual Royal trend of marrying at Westminster Abbey. Like millions of others, I stayed up all night to watch her wedding on television and then went on to work having had barely any sleep. But it was worth it.

And then, tragically, only 16 years later in 1997,  I watched her funeral on television from my home, once again in California.

But on Saturday, there I stood, in the heart of London as happy news rang out with celebration and joy for Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge and their beautiful daughter who bears her grandmother, Princess Diana’s name.  How proud and thrilled Diana would have been…

A classic London Boozer – The Globe Tavern, built in 1872 – sits by the entrance to Borough Market.  It was used as the location for the 1992 film ‘Blue Ice’ starring Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins, as well as for ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ in 2001.

But our celebrations would have to wait until later.

London May 2015 (23)

The Globe Tavern (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

The Globe Tavern at the entrance to Burroughs Market  (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

The Globe Tavern at the entrance to Borough Market
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

The weather cleared and sure enough, the skies parted, gracing us with a sunny afternoon.  And not just any ‘Sunny Afternoon‘, as this happens to be the name of the absolutely brilliant West End show featuring the story and the songs of the 60s London rock band ‘The Kinks’ and the reason for our visit to London.

26147_fullAlong with his Beatles collection, my dad had a few of The Kinks’ records. One 45 I especially remember playing when I stayed with him as a girl in the 70s during the school holidays (along with more than a few great memories of playing air guitar with him) was this, one of our all-time favourites ~

By the time the show ended and we poured out into the streets, the rain had begun to fall.  Great crowds surged towards The Piccadilly Underground, only to discover the entrance was cordoned off.  Police cars and an ambulance whizzed by, sirens screaming,  and for a brief moment I wondered if ‘something’ had happened, or was about to.

But all was well and eventually, back on the endless stream of escalators taking us ever deeper into the bowels of the London Underground system, we made our way back to our lodgings, safe and sound.

And now you know how I managed to walk so many steps on Saturday.  If only I could manage it every day.

With all that walking, I need to take some extra steps to get back on blogging track.  This will be tricky for me until next week for one reason or another, but as always, I’ll do my best to catch up with you all as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, thank you for bearing with me, your visits mean so much.

After all…

London May 2015 (35)

Stand at Borough Market, Southwark, London (c) Sherri Matthews April 2015

…And you all deserve a Sunny Afternoon…

See you soon!  Love Sherri x

Posted in Family Memoirs, HIstory, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 112 Comments

A Walk With My Friend Oscar

Sometimes there is nothing better than a walk by the sea along a coastal path soaking up the spectacular views, especially when there is a comfortable bench on which to sit for a breather, while admiring said views.

West Bay Coastal Walk.  Memorial benches overlooking the sea April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

West Bay Coastal Walk. Memorial benches overlooking the sea April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

Speaking of views, some of you may recognise the house in the top right of the above photograph as the home where Charlotte Rampling’s character – Jocelyn Knight – lived during the second series of Broadchurch which aired on British TV in January.  Here’s a close up:

What a view!  West Bay Coastal Walk, Dorset, England A;pril 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

What a view! West Bay Coastal Walk, Dorset, England April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

But other times, you may just prefer to take your walk further inland around the magnificent grounds of a beautiful manor house; somewhere like Ston Easton Park for instance, which is exactly where hubby and I walked in March.

Ston Easton Manor House and Gardens Somerset, England March, 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Ston Easton Manor House and Gardens Somerset, England
March, 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

Ston Easton Park Hotel is situated in the Mendip area of Somerset,  not many miles south of Bristol and Bath. The Palladian Mansion itself rises up majestically from beautiful parklands which were designed by the celebrated 18th century landscape designer, Humphry Repton.  Once the home of the Hippisley family for centuries, Ston Easton is now a highly revered hotel and restaurant.

On the day of our walk, we had an unexpected walking buddy who, knowing the best places to walk like the back of his hand paw, happily led the way.

Meet Oscar, the hotel’s live-in Cocker Spaniel ~

Oscar (c) Sherri Matthews

Oscar. (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Isn’t he a beaut?

He knows the grounds inside and out and was more than a little keen to take us along a few of his favourite trails.

Just outside this greenhouse, Oscar’s ears pricked up upon hearing a rustle and he shot inside.

We followed, only to find these huge onions ~

Prize winners? (c) Sherri Matthews

Prize winners?
(c) Sherri Matthews

A brief flurry of activity inside, and out shot a cat right in front of us, racing up the tree behind the greenhouse. Oscar gave fast chase, but was outrun and left to jump up at the tree while barking at the cat, who, of course, was not going anywhere by that point.

Naughty Oscar (c) Sherri Matthews

Naughty Oscar
(c) Sherri Matthews

After that excitement, Oscar led us along a path giving us this wonderful view of the greenhouses and the kitchen gardens  ~

(c) Sherri Matthews

(c) Sherri Matthews

Ston Easton is a gourmet restaurant and grows all its own herbs and vegetables.  In March, there wasn’t much to see, but I hope to go back in the summer and see how different these kitchen gardens look.

Oscar continued to lead us down some interesting paths, stopping here and there to sniff for anything and everything ~

Including this bee hive which looked to need a little straightening ~

Crooked Bee Hive (c) Sherri Matthews

Crooked Bee Hive
(c) Sherri Matthews

He was particularly excited to show us the palm tree (albeit a short one in a pot) and the flowering hellibors and daffodils in the early spring sunshine ~

He was very keen to show us this pretty llittle bridge leading to a separate cottage where guests can stay if they wish to be away from the main house.  For a price, of course ~

On the way back, Oscar took us along the back of the house, past another small bridge across the river and showed us the open fields ~

Towards the end of the walk, Oscar disappeared, but it turned out he had already beaten us home and was waiting for us by the front entrance as if to say, “What took you so long?”

Ston Easton March 2015 Anniversary (53)Walking is a wonderfully healthy activity for mind, body and soul, but it’s important to bear in mind that no matter where we walk, we must always pay heed to this cardinal rule:

Minterne Magna April 2015 (14)

Minterne Magna, Dorset, England (c) Sherri Matthews

Litter or glitter, it’s never a good idea to leave it behind.

Thank you for joining me in this walk today, and thank you Oscar for leading the way.  You were the perfect host ~

For more walks, be sure to check out Jo’s weekly Monday Walk series (today she takes us for an envigorating walk to see the daffodils in Farndale, Yorkshire) and for a unique and beautiful selection of bench photos, check out Jude’s Bench Series, which for this month is benches with a view.  But hurry, it changes at the end of the month!

Posted in Travel, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 139 Comments

Back On The Slow Track

Keeping safe, keeping strong,  basking in the warmth and light of a new spring morning ~

Tulips in April 2015 (5) Edit

Somerset Tulip in Spring (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Finding sanctuary; breathing once more in the calm.

Tulips in April 2015 (8) Boost

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Renewal of joy, a message of peace found in the beauty of nature’s gifts to us, freely given and beautifully gift wrapped ~

Tulips in April 2015 (11) Boost

(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Thank you so much dear friends for your ongoing visits here, despite my recent, unplanned absence from blogging due to a family emergency. Each day since brings healing and a renewed calm, thank goodness, meaning I am slowly getting back on track, winding my way back to you with a major catch up as the week goes on.

Until then, have a great week and I’ll see you soon…

Love Sherri x

Posted in Current Affairs, Family Life, Garden Snippets, Nature & Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 94 Comments

The Black Dog, A Palm Tree And A Flash Fiction

Palm trees are so perfectly designed to survive powerful tropical storms, that even when bent so low as to touch the ground, they straighten up as the storm passes through, stronger than they  were before.

I was nineteen when I first laid eyes on the row of palm trees lining the road leading out of Los Angeles airport.  I had no idea then how many times I would drive along that very road in the decades to come, how many times I would look up at those palm trees, unconsciously thinking that I would need their strength when storms wreaked havoc in my life.

Antigua, Caribbean (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Palm Trees in Antigua, Caribbean
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

No stranger to upheaval, loss and grief in my early life, yet a stranger would have thought I had the perfect family life if they had met me in 2001:  three kids, two Labradors, a Chevy Suburban sitting in the large driveway of our dream home, in a family-friendly town surrounded by vineyards on the beautiful Central Coast of California.

But they wouldn’t have known what had gone on before: that we had rented for most of the 17 years we had lived in California and that we had lost our first home to foreclosure thanks to, a) the market crash, and b) the schizophrenic, gun-toting, drug-abusing madman who had made our lives a living hell.

They also wouldn’t have known that it had taken us many years to recover financially from the foreclosure,  and that we would live in our dream home for only two years before the house of cards that was my 22 year marriage collapsed, and my life in California was ripped away from me and my children.

They, and certainly not I, would have known that by 2003 I would be back ‘home’ in England, living as a single mother with my  eleven year old daughter and fourteen year old son with my mother in her home.

Despite regular visits back to England, returning to live in my home country permanently was a very different thing indeed. There was no record of me, it seemed: I couldn’t get a mobile phone or a bank account and I certainly couldn’t get a mortgage even if I had the money for a deposit, which I did not.  I was a British citizen born and bred, but I felt disenfranchised.

So many times I looked down and saw only dry, cracked earth, with no hope of anything growing there.

Greece? Arizona Desert?  No, a path along the West Bay Coastal Walk in Somerset, England April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Greece? Arizona Desert? No, a close up of a path along the West Bay Coastal Walk in Dorset, England. April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

But when I had the strength to look up, what seemed to be dead and barren was only a blip in the grand scheme of things, as an entirely different view brimming with possibilities spread out before me.

Coastal Walk between West Bay and Eype, Somerset, England April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Coastal Walk between West Bay and Eype, Dorset, England. April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

All I had to do was to keep looking ahead, but that’s not an easy thing when you are worn out and wearied by life.

Blue skies beckoned for my immediate future, however, as I found a nice rental, got a job, made new friends and, to my delightful amazement, met my husband.  He came alongside me, took my hand and led me into the sunshine.

We settled down into our safe and secure family life, but dark clouds loomed on the horizon still, not least of all my daughter’s traumas to come caused by her, as yet undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, leaving her mauled by an educational system that had no clue how to help a teenage Aspie girl, and me bewildered and despairing at my helplessness in trying to understand why she struggled so terribly.

The way ahead looks clear and calm, if we can just have the courage to push through the gate. West Bay, Dorset, England. April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

The way ahead looks clear and calm, if only we can muster the courage to open the gate. West Bay, Dorset, England.    April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

Then, one morning five years ago,  an ill wind raged.  Getting ready for work, I couldn’t find a pair of black trousers, a pair I wore often, and a fierce desperation took hold, coursing through me like white-hot lava.

I froze, glued to the ground, and wailed in panic as the bedside clock ticked relentlessly, booming louder and louder, taunting me with every tick: ‘You’re going to be late. You’re going to be late. Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock.’

I think it was then that I broke.

Climbing the wall isn't easy when it's covered and prickly brambles and barbed wire. West Bay April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Climbing the wall isn’t easy when it’s covered with prickly brambles and sharp thorns. West Bay April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

I didn’t go into work that day and when I returned, I handed in my notice.   I found another job, but was laid off after only 11 months when the boss sold the business.

The ‘black trouser incident’ had changed me, and when I walked out of that office for the last time, I knew that a different path beckoned.  I thought of the creative writing course I had paid for a year before, the materials of which languished on my bookshelf, untouched, because I was afraid.

Did I dare to take a different path, to do the very thing I had wanted to do all my life? Was this my opportunity, waiting for the taking?

Which Way Forward?  West Bay April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Which Way Forward? West Bay, Dorset, England. April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

So one cold, winter’s morning, I wrote the first sentence of my first assignment about a walk through some ruins in Crete.  And I kept on writing.

Yet still, when those dark hours strike in the dead of night, I hear the padding of the Black Dog as he sits in the shadows and I know he is watching my every move.

But now we laugh at the missing black trousers for they never appeared again.  In fact, I am convinced that my black cat Eddie stole them as I watch him slinking by in his fluffy pantaloons.

Green Hills and Blue Seas beckon as the path meanders onward. West Bay April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Green Hills and Blue Seas beckon as the path meanders on. West Bay April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

It is good to laugh and to share in the goodness of life even at such times. Like the palm tree, when storms crash through, I bend to breaking point, but, by the grace of God, I straighten up again when the storm dies to a whisper, renewed in strength and hope.

And I’ll stand tall as I walk on and let that Black Dog off his leash to fun free, as far away from me as possible.

 *******

Charli’s Flash Fiction challenge this week asks us: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a renewal story that proclaims, “This isn’t the end; I will go on.

She also shared a link to  Project Semicolon ‘which exists to encourage, love and inspire’, providing help and support for those suffering from depression.

‘A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to.  The sentence is your life and the author is you.’ ~ Project Semicolon

I cheated a bit with this week’s flash fiction, as I already wrote it for one of Charli’s prompts some months ago, but I didn’t publish it here.  I kept thinking about it for the renewal theme and so went with it.  I should also mention that it is a BOTS – based on a true story.

 Last Train Home

Settling in for the train journey, Jamie plugged in, metal guitar riffs screaming. An hour in, he turned and saw her.

Dark eyes met his, frozen in disbelief. Turning to her new man, she giggled as they sat down in the seats in front of Jamie.

She smirked, then swapped tongues with her man.

Jamie exploded out of his seat, leaping off at the next stop. He caught a glimpse of her staring blankly out of the train window, chewing her nails, looking ugly.

He kept walking, thinking of her boyfriend. Jamie smiled then.

Poor bastard, he’ll be next.

Posted in Asperger's Syndrome, Family Life, Flash Fiction, The Black Dog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 102 Comments

Cats of Crete And Holidays In the Rain

Waiting for me in the Summerhouse today was a queen wasp, crawling about the floor as wasps sometimes do.  Those who know of my mortal fear of these vile creatures will understand how I reacted to such a terrifying sight.

I have both doors wide open, you see, letting in all that wonderful fresh air as I type away.  Let’s be clear about one thing, however: I did not put a sign up saying ‘Wasps Welcome’.

We Brits do love to complain about our weather, but I don’t think many of us are complaining now,  basking as we are in glorious spring days filled with golden sunshine and warmth.  Think of all that Vitamin D coursing through our bones!

So warm, that even the cows in the fields are sunbathing ~

So warm, that even the cows in the field are having a lie down. Langport, Somerset, April 2015 (c) Sherri Matthews

Langport, Somerset, April 2015
(c) Sherri Matthews

Trying to forget about my earlier wasp horror, I think of a time when we took the kids to Lanzarote for a week one April a few years ago.   Fed up with the incessant cold and drab dreariness of the previous two summers, we  took ‘good’ advice from the travel agent and her sure-fire ‘guarantee’ of plenty of sunshine.

After all, “They only get a few inches of rainfall a year,” she said, winking (I’m sure of it).

Only a few inches, yes, but they fell during the very week of our holiday. Meanwhile, back in the UK, during a month that can still have frost and yes, even snow, they had a heat wave.

So there we sat, one Happy Hour, the kids with their ice creams and us with our cocktails, watching the downpour fall from the black sky, as we took refuge beneath the beach umbrellas.

Still, it wasn’t long before we were laughing along with the other holidaymakers, incredulous as we read texts from our loved ones back home reminding us: “It’s hotter than Greece here, hope you’re having a lovely holiday!”

Thank goodness for the feral cat who befriended my daughter.   She named him ‘Caramello’ and enjoyed sneaking pieces of ham to him, despite the many signs around the complex telling us not to do so.  No wonder he stuck around.

Caramello knows how to get what he wants. Lanzarote (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Caramello knows how to get what he wants. Lanzarote
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Feral cats have made their presence known whenever we’ve travelled abroad it seems; some of you may remember my post Cats of Croatia.  These savvy cats know how to get food and how to survive but sadly, they are often not looked after by anyone and are in very poor health. And of course, they go on breeding.

So it’s always a relief to find a cat, any cat, who has managed to purr its way into some kind person’s heart. Such as this beautiful little kitty we came across during our holiday in Crete in 2008: he took up a certain chair outside a cafe that we visited most mornings for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice before taking off for the day.

Adopted by the cafe owner’s wife, this adorable kitty was certainly very happy indeed ~

Beautiful Kitty, Crete  (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Beautiful Kitty, Crete
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

You can see how comfortable he was (or she, I can’t remember!) snoozing away on that same chair ~

Komfy Kitty, Crete (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Komfy Kitty, Crete
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

One of the many things I love about Crete is that you can hire a car quite cheaply and take off exploring all those side roads (although it helps if you are prepared for some off-roading since some of those roads dirt-tracks are more than a little dodgy to navigate).

Then, just when you think there is nothing at the end of it, you are rewarded with this ~

View of the Libyan Sea from a Taverna at Mochlos, Crete (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

View of the Libyan Sea from a Taverna at Mochlos, Crete
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

A tiny village filled with a handful of homes, tavernas serving traditional Cretan food and a tucked-away cove filled with golden sand where children can safely play, there is also a family of sea-kittens, as my daughter named them.

As we whiled away the evening in one of these tavernas, eating the most delicious Cretan food while admiring this very view, some naughty but oh-so-cute kittens and their mother paid us a visit.

Sadly, although Mummy looked in pretty good shape (and reminded us of our Maisy), she had a sore eye which concerned me ~

Mummy Feral, ever watchful of her kitties. Mochlos, Crete. (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Mummy Feral, ever watchful of her kitties. Mochlos, Crete.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

She didn’t let her babies wander too far as they explored their beach playground which also doubled up as home:

My daughter spent the entire evening delighting in watching this sweet cat family at play.  Sometimes the mother approached diners sitting at their tables, begging for food.  Most often she was given nibbles to eat, but some diners were not too happy and shooed her away.

Although it is lovely to watch these adorable kitties, I do worry for them and their future, left as they are to their own devices.  Thank goodness for kindly business owners who give them some measure of care and attention.

As for Maisy and Eddie, spoiled as ever, they are oblivious to the hard scrabble life of their foreign, feral cousins.

Maybe I should give them a job.  Wasp duty in the Summerhouse would be a good place to start. Maybe.

This post is linked to Michelle’s Weekly Pet Share.
For photos of more gorgeous pets and animals, click on the link below to check out Michelle’s beautiful compilation posted every Tuesday.

weeklypet

Have a great weekend everyone!

Posted in CATalogue, Travel, Weekly Pet Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 108 Comments

Desert Storm: 99 Word Flash Fiction

For this week’s Flash Fiction prompt, Charli asks us this:

In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the day the earth turned brown. How did it happen? What else might be going on? It can be dramatic or even humorous. It can be the greater globe or a localized occurrence. It can be an aftermath or a revival. Follow where the prompt leads you.’

What then of Ken and Muriel?  Here is the conclusion to their story (Part One, Part Two and Part Three) in 99 words, no more, no less:

Volcanic Fire Mountains, Lanzarotte (c) Sherri Matthews

Volcanic Fire Mountains, Lanzarote April 2009
(c) Sherri Matthews

Desert Storm

The Man With No Name sat motionless on horseback, his eyes squinting into the scorched, brown skyline as his horse pawed at the parched earth.

“I need fresh air,” gasped Ken. “I’m sick.”

Muriel smirked, as she followed him up to the deck. “I’ll join you, this film’s boring anyway.”

“I know what you’ve done Muriel,” yelled Ken, as he lurched towards her.

A packet of rat poison fell out of her pocket. “You idiot!” screamed Muriel as a gust of wind sent them both overboard.

Gun fire rang out from inside the boat as a vulture swirled overhead.

Posted in Flash Fiction, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 90 Comments

The Write Surprise

Good or bad, love ’em or hate ’em, we never know when a surprise is about to burst into our day, catching us completely off-guard.  Like the surprise I received on Tuesday morning.

For some time now, I have made a concerted effort to get dressed, have breakfast, and do a few chores before heading into the Summerhouse and start writing.

But it is so very easy to break this discipline and too often, despite knowing better, I think, ‘Oh, I’ll just have a quick check of my blog’ and three hours later I’m still blogging, the morning is lost and I’m still in my PJs.

Always a lovely surprise to find daffodils blooming on the riverbank (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Always a lovely surprise to find daffodils blooming on the riverbank.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Tuesday was such a morning.

Hearing a knock at the front door and realising annoyingly that it was almost noon and I was still typing away,  I wasn’t too perturbed, thinking it was ‘just’ the postman delivering yet another package for my daughter, and he’s seen me in my PJs too many times to count, I’m ashamed to say.

Except this time, it wasn’t the postman.

It was David Laws, the nationally known Lib Dem MP (Liberal Democrat Minister of Parliament and Minister of State for Schools for those unfamiliar with British politics) standing on my doorstep, greeting me by name with a hearty smile and a vigorous hand shake.

I recognised him immediately and all I could do was to smile weakly and hope the hole in the floor would swallow me up, even as he told me he was making friendly house-to-house calls as part of his campaign for the upcoming General Election, and wondered if I had any particular concerns.

Coincidentally, he had attended January’s meeting of the monthly support group I attend, run by our local branch of the National Autistic Society for parents of grown Aspie children. I hadn’t been able to make that meeting and I was bursting to ask him about funding for improved services for those with Autism in Somerset, but I didn’t dare.

In fact, I would have loved to have invited him in for a cup of tea and a hot cross bun if I had been properly dressed.  A golden opportunity lost for me, but a huge relief for him, no doubt.  So he said goodbye and that was that.

The road to publication holds many surprises on that uphill climb... (c) Sherri Matthews

The road to publication holds many surprises on that uphill climb…
(c) Sherri Matthews

A few days before this, I had received a very different surprise. Some of you may remember the short memoir competition I entered, deadline 30th January (and the trials surrounding my laptop issues).  I got my entry in, just, and waited, nervously, for the results, expected April 1st.

But last Saturday, an email popped up announcing the Fish Publication Short Memoir Prize Results.  What?  Were they playing an early April Fool’s trick on us?

I clicked on the link, hands shaking, and immediately saw the winner, second and third places and the seven runners-up. My name wasn’t there.  I didn’t think it would be, but there’s always that slight glimmer of hope isn’t there?  There has to be.

Hardly daring to breathe, I trawled down the short list.  Still nothing.   My heart sank as I scrolled down, and then suddenly I saw it: my name.  I made the long list!

Okay, so I didn’t win a prize and I didn’t make the short list, but I made the first cut into 197 selected out of 780 entries and for that I was ecstatic.  At least it meant that my story had ‘something’ if not everything that the judge was looking for at the time.

The next day, still basking in my long list glow and after almost two years, I at last was able to visit my dad at the halfway house where he has lived for the past four months.

Although more frail than when I last saw him, and a little unsteady on his legs, as an 82-year-old, lifelong alcoholic with a penchant for robbing banks (or trying to), he isn’t in too bad a shape.

Me & My Dad (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Me & My Dad
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

In fact, he walks along the prom, as he calls it, by the sea every day and is one of those people who gets a suntan just from poking his head around the door.  And the twinkle in his eye sparkles still, particularly when he tells me he is being a ‘good boy’.

On the way home, a twinge of sadness plucked at my heart for the lost years and all that could have been, all that our family could have shared if only my dad had managed to beat his alcoholism, but I also felt a deep sense of gratitude for the chance to spend this time with him, with the promise and the hope of more days like this to come.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, I received another surprise a mere four days later, this one through the letter box and not so nice: apparently we had parked a few minutes over our alloted time at the car park of the restaurant where we had taken Dad, resulting in a parking ticket: £100 or £60 if paid within 2 weeks.

My dad is the one on parole, but I think I am the one who needs reforming:  I have a sudden urge to go back to that car park and litter it with sweet wrappers.  Let’s see what the council has to say about that…

A week of surprises then, and I thank you all so much for wishing me well for the Fish competition.   I do regret one thing, and that is that I didn’t pay for a critique as I would have relished the feedback, being a little green when it comes to entering literary competitions (shhhh, don’t tell anyone).

Ultimately, making the long list has given me hope for my writing, and an armful of hope is something we all need.

‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul –
and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.’
~ Emily Dickinson

This beautiful 'Hope' flag arrived this week from my dear friend in California.   An American robin to say hello to his cousin Sweet Robin!   What perfect timing, bringing a reminder of the hope that springs out of the message of Easter. (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

This beautiful ‘Hope’ flag arrived this week from my dear friend in California, a wonderful surprise.
An American robin to say hello to his cousin Sweet Robin!
What perfect timing, hope through Easter’s message.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that we need to keep watch and be vigilant, ever ready for when those surprises jump out at us.  At the very least, we should be dressed. After all, you never know who might turn up on your front door step.

*******

I hope for you the best kind of surprises, and a very Happy Easter!
Love Sherri x

Posted in My Dad's Alcoholic Prison, Writing Competitions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 99 Comments

Ephemeral: Longleat Safari Park

Transitory; brief; momentary; passing; cursory; short-lived; fleeting; temporary. All meanings behind the word ‘Ephemeral’.

I think of all those times when I’ve attempted to photograph creatures great and small, specifically during a visit, a couple of years ago, to magnificent Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire:

A lioness stretching before settling back down with her pride for a lazy nap ~

Longleat July 2012 (22)A meerkat standing to order on the lookout, before scrambling
back down the earth mound to join his mates ~

Who's there? (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Who’s there?
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

This gorgeous tiger might look calm and peaceful, but seconds after I took this photo, he was off, sauntering into the woods until I couldn’t see him at all ~

All is calm...? (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

All is calm…?
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Just as well cute little chipmunk kept well away; she allowed me this close-up before darting off at light-speed to scratch about for food ~

Longleat July 2012 (35)

Hurry up and take your photo, I haven’t got all day… (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

And then not forgetting this brief moment when a few birds of the feathered kind took to admiring Hubby.   Once they got what they came for – food, of course – they took off, leaving hubby’s heart all in a flutter ~

Birds of a feather flock together... (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Birds of a feather flock together…beautiful parakeets
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Moments in time, captured in a snap.  Aren’t cameras wonderful?

This post is in response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge of “Ephemeral.”

Quote | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , | 86 Comments

Suspicious Minds: 99 Word Flash Fiction

Charli’s prompt for this week’s Flash Fiction challenge of ‘Juxtaposition‘ (see full explanation below) had me thinking, because it seems that a few of you would like me to carry on with Muriel’s story, which actually started out as Ken’s (evil water rat that he is). But Muriel seems to have taken centre stage.

She is not all she appears to be, most certainly not as innocent as first thought, although we don’t know why. Yet.

Continuing the story forward then (Part One, Water Rat and Part Two, Symptoms of Unrest) in line with the prompt, I hope I’ve managed it with Part Three, in 99 words, no more, no less:

Suspicious Minds

Time for a quick sail?  Norfolk Broads (c) Sherri Matthews 2015

Time for a quick sail dear? Norfolk Broads
(c) Sherri Matthews 2015

A counsellor? I tell that no-good doctor that Ken wants to do me in and he sends me where? As for nose strips, well, I know where he can put those…

“Home so soon dearest?” called Ken as Muriel barged in through the front door. “Guess what, I’ve booked a boating holiday!”

Muriel winced. All he ever wanted to do was watch crap daytime TV. Until she had reminded him that she couldn’t swim.

“I thought we could watch a film together later,” grinned Ken as he appeared in the hall. “You choose: ‘The Wedding Planner’ or ‘Jaws’.”

 *******

Charli’s Flash Fiction Challenge:

March 25, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a juxtaposition between the ordinary and natural worlds. It can be civilization and nature; an edifice and a nest or cave; a human act and a natural occurrence; acculturation and adaptation. Compare or contrast as the prompt leads you to write.

Respond by March 31, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Posted in Flash Fiction, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 78 Comments