Mister Wilfred: A Story For Children

This is a fictional short story, in 1475 words. It is my first attempt at a story for children. I have never had any children, so I hope it works. 🙂

Daniel and Tommy were best friends. They sat next to each other in school, and played together every day in the holidays. If one climbed a tree, the other would follow, and when Daniel learned to ride a bike, he helped Tommy when he got his. Every day when they rode home from school, they would always stop at the old house, the one with the driveway that was overgrown, and the funny windows sticking out from the roof.

“I think a vampire lives in that house. It looks dark, and the curtains are always closed”. Said Daniel. Tommy shook his head. “I think it’s not a vampire, but some other sort of monster. Maybe a demon”. Daniel thought about it for a while. “Well I say a vampire”. They rode off together, one shouting “Demon”, the other “Vampire”.

On Saturday, the boys filled their water flasks, and packed cereal bars into their pockets. It was going to be a long day, out riding in the woods, and around the lake. They tried to jump their bikes over logs, and fell about laughing when they crashed. Around the lake, they raced each other, building up great speeds along the paved path. Out of breath, Tommy panted. “That was so fast, I reckon we were doing at least one hundred miles an hour”. Daniel nodded, his face red. “Easily”.

It was still too early to go home, so they just cycled around the familiar streets, left, left, and left again. When they stopped to drink from their flasks, Daniel turned to his friend, a wicked glint in his eye. “Let’s go to the old house, and see if we can see the vampire”. Tommy grinned. “It’s a demon, but I don’t think that now is a good time. Maybe next weekend”. Daniel stood over the crossbar, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you’re scared. Not a scaredy-cat double scaredy-cat?” Tommy set his jaw. “I’m not scared, it’s just that there’s not time before we have to go home”.

Daniel sat back on the bike, and began to pedal in circles around his friend. “Scaredy-cat, scaredy cat, I double-treble dare you”. Tommy swallowed hard. A double-treble dare was not something he could overlook. If he refused something as serious as that, it might never be forgotten. He glared at Daniel. “OK then, let’s go”. When they got to the driveway, Tommy rode straight in. He was very scared, but he knew if he stopped on the street outside, his courage would fail him. But when he was close to the dusty front door of the house, he turned to see that Daniel was still at the entrance to the driveway. Pleased with himself, Tommy shouted, “Now who’s the scaredy-cat?” His friend rode slowly to join him. “I was just adjusting the bike chain”. They both knew it was a lie, but let it go.

The house had all of its curtains closed. Two old planters stood either side of the door, both full of weeds. The gravel drive was overgrown too, and thick dirty white paint was peeling off the stonework, hanging down like old bark on a tree. Tommy turned. “What now? What shall we do now?” Daniel smiled. “Well knock of course. Get off your bike, and knock”. Tommy gulped. He didn’t want to do that, but was afraid of getting another double-treble dare. So he jumped off and ran to the door, lifting the heavy black iron knocker, and letting it down hard. The sound echoed through the inside of the house, and sounded like a thunderclap.

Nothing happened, and the boys smiled nervously at each other. No vampire answered, and no demon appeared. Daniel feigned bravery. “Shall we look round the back do you think, Tommy?” Just as Tommy was about to reply, the door opened with a creak of the rusty hinges. Without waiting to see who was there, the boys kicked up their pedals and started to ride away fast. But Tommy crashed into Daniel, and they both fell onto the gravel. Tommy looked up to see an old man standing over them. His shiny head was fringed with untidy white hair, and his chin and neck were combined into one, wobbling like a turkey. Daniel stepped over his bike, intending to run away and leave it there, but the old man smiled, and shook his head. “Have you boys hurt yourselves?” His voice was harsh, like the gravel Tommy was still lying on, but his tone was kind.

“Are you a demon?” Tommy asked. Daniel put his hands on his hips, and shouted. “I think you must be a vampire”. The old man lifted his head back, his neck wobbling even faster as he chuckled. “I am neither of those, boys. I am just Wilfred”. Tommy stood up, realising there was nothing to be afraid of. Closer now to Wilfred, he could see that the man’s eyes were milky and wet, his back bent, and his nose and ears very large. “You have got big ears like a demon” Tommy stated boldly. Wilfred looked down at the grazes on the legs of the boys, which were studded with gravel. “Come on in, and I will let you clean up your legs. I might even have some orange squash for you. No demons or vampires, that’s a promise”.

Daniel walked forward, refusing to show any fear. So Tommy followed him inside. The wide hallway led into a huge room. It had a bed, a table and chairs, and two armchairs, all crowded together in one corner. Pictures hung from the walls, covering every inch, and more were stored in photo frames, placed on every ledge, and any flat surface. Tommy looked over at Daniel and wrinkled his nose. There was a funny smell inside, like nothing he had ever smelled before. Wilfred pointed at the armchairs. “Sit yourselves down boys, I will just be a minute”. They sat down, and looked around. On a small table next to Tommy was a row of medals attached to coloured ribbons, and a faded old photo in a wooden frame. It was of a young man in uniform, probably an army uniform. A larger frame sat on the side table next to Daniel. It contained a wedding photo, also black and white. A smiling young girl, and the same man from the uniform photo.

Wilfred came back into the room, walking slowly and carefully. He was holding a tin bowl, and had a towel draped over his arm. He placed the bowl on the floor between the boys, and had some trouble straightening up. Reaching into the pocket of his crumpled jacket, he produced a dusty-looking bottle, handing it to Tommy. “That’s disinfectant. Wash your legs, then rub some on those grazes. It will sting a bit, mind”. As the boys did his bidding, he sat himself on a hard chair, resting his arm on the table. “So what did you boys want, anyway?” They looked at each other, then Tommy spoke. “We were looking to see if a vampire or demon lived here. It looks like a house where one of those would live”. Daniel pointed at the wedding photo. “Is this you, Mister Wilfred?”

“Yes that’s me, a very long time ago. I went off to the war soon after, and my wife died having our baby. The baby died too. Since then, I have been alone here”. He stared down at his unlaced shoes, lost in his memories for a moment. Then his head came up, and he was smiling. “So, no demons, and not a vampire in sight. Just a tired old man, in a house that’s too much to cope with. How about that squash now?” The boys nodded, and he shuffled off to get their drinks. As they gulped down the cold orange and water, Wilfred told them something about his life. He had won medals, but returned sad and unhappy. He had worked as long as he could, but now spent his days alone. The woman who came into clean and get his shopping was unreliable, and most days he never saw or spoke to anybody.

Tommy and Daniel exchanged a glance, and Tommy nodded.

As they set off on their bikes on the first day of the Easter holidays, Daniel’s Mum called from the front step. “Where are you two off to today?” Tommy turned and smiled. “We are going to see a demon”. The lady smiled, and shook her head. As they rode away, she heard her son shout. “Not a demon, a vampire!

And the boys laughed.

Let me know if you think this works a a story for children. Any criticism will be welcome, as this was just an experiment. Thanks, Pete. 🙂

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Chasing Leaves In The Wind

Hard to believe now, but there was a time when I was attractive to women. Especially older women, but younger ones on occasion too. Unlike the good-looking boys, the sporty types, the football players, and the accomplished swimmers, all confident in their desirability, that came as a great surprise to me. A greater surprise was that they not only liked me, but lusted after me too, eager to do much more than chatting, or cuddling. Although their affections and desires confused me, I knew enough not to question their reasons. I accepted their favours, and their affections, with a sense of gratitude combined with wonder.

My mirror now confirms that this is no longer the case. I harbour no illusions these days. I am an old man, and perceived to be one. I live a life of relative contentment, and do not concern myself too much about things like passion and desire. But I still have many treasured memories of course. Snapshots of the past; fleeting moments that appear, sometimes when I least expect them to. Mostly, they are good memories of course. The excitement of a new partner, the hurried fumbling followed by mutual satisfaction. Sometimes, whole scenes play out in my head, as if they happened just yesterday, not almost fifty years ago.

As I get older with each passing year, the same memories appear to change, and for the better. Perhaps I am only searching my mind for complete positives, and that’s why. They have also decided to mainly appear when I am in bed, just about to fall asleep. As I lay with my eyes closed, they flood into my mind, and the feeling is a good one. Faces and names from the briefest of encounters, longer relationships, and previous marriages. They are happy faces, and I am happy too. But as sleep takes hold, those memories begin to fragment; they merge, and start to flutter away.

I want them to remain, so I feel as if I am chasing them, trying to hold onto the last second of time with them, as I unwillingly slip away into the arms of Morpheus. But they swirl around, elusive, one over the other, off back to wherever they came from. Until the next time.

It is like chasing leaves in the wind.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

This morning, I woke up thinking about catalogues, specifically those used for shopping, before the age of the Internet. When I was young, there were mail-order catalogue companies that were household names, like ‘Freeman’s’, and ‘Littlewoods’. Those things were huge, much larger that telephone directories, and very heavy for a child to lift. They used to arrive a few times a year, with the seasonal Christmas catalogue being the most anticipated, as it was packed with more toys than usual.

My Mum always had at least one of the two mentioned above, sometimes both. They literally sold anything you might want for the home, from a new bed, to a set of spoons. Clothing and shoes were featured heavily, from a wide range of suits and dresses, to underwear and hosiery. They didn’t sell foodstuffs, but the Christmas special would feature hampers stocked with luxury items, shortbread in tins, and a huge variety of sweets, sold in ‘selection boxes’.

The prices were always shown as small weekly payments, as these companies serviced the market of customers who could rarely afford to pay for something up front. They would employ collection agents, who would call at the house with a payment card, collecting the small amounts for anything from twenty-six weeks to sixty weeks, depending on the total owed. Those collectors became familiar figures around the neighbourhood, as almost everyone in our street used a catalogue for everything except food shopping.

As a child, it never occurred to me that the total cost of these goods from the catalogue companies was exorbitant. They simply operated as credit agencies, charging huge amounts for everyday items far in excess of what they would cost if bought from a shop with immediate payment. But for working class people on tight budgets, before the time of credit cards and other methods of payment, they offered the chance to own something that others took for granted, paid for in relatively tiny amounts, affordable from a weekly pay-packet. They accepted the criminal interest rates as part of life, and didn’t think too much about it.

As I said, I was unaware of this. To me, those wonderful catalogues with their appealing photos were like a Bible of consumerism. In those days, there were no supermarkets, and no dedicated superstores selling toys. To see all the items visible in that huge catalogue would involve visiting dozens of shops, all over London. But here it all was, in a huge book, which I could flick through at leisure. And flick through I did. Whenever a new one arrived, I would quickly check to see if anything new had been added, sometimes comparing it with the previous issue. The toys were generally at the back, so I would open it that way round, working my way through from the last page.

For at least a week, I would revisit my favourite pages. As my birthday approached, or Christmas was on the horizon, I would tear strips of paper, and write the item number or letter of what I liked most, slipping the paper into the relevant page. In this way, I hoped to give my parents a guide to what to buy me, without the awkwardness of actually having to ask them outright. It didn’t always work in my favour of course, but I used to greatly enjoy the process. What was sheer joy for me represented months or even years of debt for my parents, but I was oblivious.

Catalogues still exist of course. These days, many are much smaller, and only give some indication of what might be available on a website. Others arrive unsolicited in the post, and end up in the bin, unread. People still pay excessive interest rates to buy gifts for their children, though usually from shops that exist to offer the same weekly payment system, and they are few and far between. Modern day children can browse online, using laptops, phones, even Tablet computers.

But there is no longer the simple wonder of anticipating the arrival of a massive catalogue, filled with ideas and pictures that could delight you for months on end.

More Blog Trivia

I know that many of you couldn’t care less about stats, views, or most popular posts. However, such things fascinate me, especially where my own blogs are concerned. Fiddling around with the stats on a wet and dismal Saturday afternoon, I clicked on ‘All Time’, and waited for it to load. It presented me with a list of all posts that have had over 95 views, and the top ten didn’t really hold any surprises. With close to 200,000 views of my blog, these ten qualify as the ‘big hitters’ on beetleypete.

Archives. 49,973.
Whatever Happened To?: Jamiroquai. 3,595.
About Page. 2,247.
Dereham: A Norfolk Town. 1,605.
The Driest County In England. 1,375.
Whatever Happened To?: Jimmy Somerville. 1,349.
Beetley Village. 740.
Beachlands, Pevensey Bay. 665.
Birds Don’t Like Cornflakes. 636.
Ollie: A Dog’s Likes And Dislikes. 557.

Out of 2,155 posts, it seems that the most popular include the whereabouts of former pop stars, descriptions of a Norfolk town and nearby village, and what is the supposedly driest county in England. Many are interested in an unusual Art Deco housing estate in Pevensey Bay, and others are trying to establish if wild birds will eat cornflakes. At least my own biography and photo made it to number three, even if Ollie, the undoubted star of this blog, only scraped in at number ten.

So much for giving my all with short stories, and fictional serials. Hours spent trying to get relevant and informative photographs to entertain the readers. Personal stories of my 22 years as an EMT in London, and raking over the nostalgia of my youth in a very different London. I obviously need to write more about faded musicians, and towns and villages. Give the readers what they really want! 🙂

Some of you are aware that I also have another blog. A political blog called redflagflying.wordpress.com. Quite a few of you follow that one too, and I am grateful for that, as it has never achieved a very wide readership. On a good day, it might get eight views. But I don’t mind, as I don’t post that much on it. Whilst on the topic of stats, I decided to see what was popular on that one too. As it is much smaller, I only list the top five posts.

Archives. 2,102.
About Page. 153.
The Democratic Process. 148.
History Is Bunk. 143.
Goodbye, Postman Pat. 124.

This from just 140 posts, since 2013.

Two very different blogs indeed.

Time to start watching…

Christmas is coming, and our habit is to give out a list of presents we might like to receive, so we don’t end up with unwanted gifts like soap sets, or decorative items we have no room to display. My short list this year contained one non-fiction book, and fifteen DVD films that I would like to own. I already knew that I would be getting a new pair of my favourite sheepskin bootee slippers, so didn’t bother to include them on the list.

Thinking about the DVD films to add to my list, I generally only consider the cheaper ones, not the expensive brand new releases, or Blu-Ray editions. It seems presumptuous to request an expensive version of something that can be bought for half the price, or reduced significantly once the festive season has passed. As small parcels began to arrive, it soon became obvious that Julie has bought more than a few of the films on my list. And if she has passed on the others from the list to relatives, I might be lucky to get lots of new films to watch.

This morning, I had to get something from a shelf in my small office. I noticed the top shelf, which contains DVD films that I have yet to watch. Some of these are still wrapped in cellophane, and some are used copies, bought for next-to-nothing on Amazon Marketplace. The films are stacked two deep, with others on top of them, sideways on. I had a look through them, and was quite frankly startled to discover that there are over forty films I have yet to watch. Many were presents from last Christmas, and my birthday in March. Some date back to Christmas 2016.

I watch a fair bit of TV. I also watch films on TV. Since acquiring a streaming device, I have watched a lot of foreign serials on that, generally one episode after the other, until I have seen them all. But I obviously don’t watch nearly enough films on DVD.
I will have to set aside some time in 2019, and get watching.

Saturday Memories

For most people, it’s the weekend. Time for shopping, routine chores, perhaps a lie-in, after a busy week at work. For me, it’s just another day of the week now, one when shops will be more crowded, car park spaces harder to find, and staying at home is definitely the best option.

In the past, Saturday was the best day of the week, as far as I was concerned. My parents were usually at home, and my comics were delivered early on Saturdays too. I could read them in bed, delaying having to get ready to accompany my Mum to the shops. Men didn’t go shopping in my youth. That was something wives did, as a rule. The interiors of the cooked meat and cheese shop, the butcher’s shop, or the genial greengrocer’s display, such things were unknown to male shoppers. Their retail experience only extended to visiting the tobacconist, getting a suit measured, or popping into the barber’s for a haircut. And shopping involved walking, not driving. If a certain shop was too far, then we had to catch a bus to it.

Mostly, we walked to local shops, most only a few streets away. The owners of those shops were familiar. We knew their names, and the names of their children too. They might be invited to a family party, and shoppers would enquire about the health of their relatives. If something new was available, they would suggest my Mum might like to try it, and if she didn’t have the right change, or was short by a few pence, she could drop it in later, no questions asked. I walked around with my Mum, listening to the shop-keepers say things like, “He’s getting big”, or “What happened to his curly hair?” I stood patiently, as she gossiped for ages. They talked about local young men, away in foreign countries on National Service. They discussed people who had just had surgery, speculating on how they might, or might not, recover.

The climax of such Saturday shopping expeditions would be a visit to the bustling street market in Southwark Park Road, known as ‘the Blue’. Shouting stall-holders offering supposed bargains, people crowding around their gaudy displays, and the smells of everything from the jellied eel stall, to the overwhelming odour of frying from the fish and chip shop. After my duties as companion and bag-carrier, I would be rewarded with a doughnut from Edwardes bakery shop. This was usually a simple one, but would occasionally be a cream-filled split. I didn’t know the cream wasn’t real cream of course, and I didn’t care.

The string shopping bags would cut into my hands, causing me to keep swapping them from one side to the other, in the hope that would make some difference. I had to keep putting them down too, to pull up my long knee-socks, as they never wanted to stay up on their own, despite the elastic round the tops. When we eventually got home, lunch would be ham rolls, with fresh fragrant bread rolls bought at the same time as the doughnuts. My Dad would be watching TV, always sport, and I would be allowed to go out and play, if the weather was good. Otherwise, I would go to my room, re-read those comics, then take down a book, perhaps my World Atlas.

Saturday night was a big night for my family. The adults would all be getting ready to meet at the local pub, wearing their best clothes, and smelling of after-shave and perfume. I would have to go to my grandmother’s house, where all my cousins would congregate, awaiting the return of their parents from the pub. They came back happy and laughing, smelling of beer and cigarette smoke. Sometimes, I would already be asleep, and would have to be woken up to go home to my own bed.

Saturday was a long day back then.

Thinking about Shakespeare.

When I started secondary school at the age of eleven, I was concerned to discover that we would eventually be learning some Shakespeare plays. They were compulsory as part of the syllabus, if we wanted to go on to take English exams at sixteen. By the time I was handed copies of the books we would be studying, I had never read a word of Shakespeare, nor seen a play of his on the stage. But I had seen the films of Richard III and Henry V, both starring Lawrence Olivier. Other than that, I only knew that he was from Stratford-Upon-Avon, had been married to Ann Hathaway, and his plays had been performed in circular theatres on the South Bank of The Thames, close to where I lived.

For us working-class kids in a run-down area, Shakespeare was considered to be very ‘highbrow’. His plays were something that posh people paid a lot of money to go and see in smart theatres, with famous thespians spouting even more famous lines and quotes. I had read a lot of Dickens, but his world was one I could identify with readily, as it had hardly changed in the hundred or so years since he had described it. I had also studied History, so knew something of the wars with France, and the Wars of The Roses in England. But I couldn’t bring myself to consider how the style of William Shakespeare might improve my appreciation of British History.

The plays in question were ‘Macbeth’, and Henry IV Parts One and Two. At first, I struggled with the prose, and the frequent use of words and sayings unfamiliar to me. But I was soon fascinated by the characters, who were described so well, and spoke in ways that admirably suited their roles. Within a few months, I found myself reading them avidly at home. And not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Prince Hal is the young man who would soon become Henry V, hero of Agincourt, and a popular king. But in the play, he is a reckless young man, spending his time in the company of drunkards like Sir John Falstaff, and boasters like Pistol. I wondered how his apparently dissolute lifestyle could ever prepare him for his future, when I came across this famous passage, a speech by Prince Hal, out of the hearing of his companions.

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

I read it twice, realising that I had got it completely. The Prince was deliberately carousing with these people, in the hope that others would think badly of him. But he was pretending to enjoy himself, and not allowing himself to get drunk, despite appearing to be so. When the time was right, he would cast off these false friends, and become the brave Prince that England expected him to be. Because of these adolescent bad habits, his change of heart would be revered all the more, and his subjects would love him.

In this way, Shakespeare combines gossip with history, presenting his own version of what might have happened. He was writing about events that occurred over two hundred years before he wrote the play, virtually inventing the concept of ‘Faction’, a mix seen so often in today’s historical novels. In the same play, Falstaff fears he may be left behind, possibly even banished by the Prince. When he is described as ‘That villanous abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan’, he responds by describing himself, in his own defence. (Sack is the old name for Sherry, a fortified wine that Falstaff drinks in copious amounts)

But to say I know more harm in him than in myself,
were to say more than I know. That he is old, the
more the pity, his white hairs do witness it; but
that he is, saving your reverence, a whoremaster,
that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar be a fault,
God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a
sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if
to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine
are to be loved. No, my good lord; banish Peto,
banish Bardolph, banish Poins: but for sweet Jack
Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff,
valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant,
being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him
thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s
company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Long before I watched any actor say these lines in the stage play or film versions, I got that desperation; the fear of his exclusion, perhaps because of his drinking, his obesity, or his advancing years. In that short speech he summed up so many of the worries of a man past his prime, one who had attached himself to a Prince he thought might honour him, despite his misdeeds. A man who sees his dreams fading before his eyes, and resorts to little more than begging to retain his valued position.

In this play, Shakespeare does what the great writers do best. He shows us the faults of mankind, set in a time and place that seems pertinent, but could actually be in any time, past or present. The lust for power, the need to be admired and recognised, and the lamentations of those left behind when they expected to profit from their associations.

What I feared would be impenetrable prose, spoken by characters who were meaningless, in settings that were otherwise mundane, all turned out to be a treasure trove of perception, character description, and simply marvellous insight into human nature. If you have never read a Shakespeare play, I suggest you should. Any of them will do, as they are equally wonderful. But the ones I studied at school will have a place in my heart forever.