I want to be a Train Driver – by John Barber

Standing on the platform wide

We watch the people sat inside

She holds my hand against the throng

It belches steam but hasn’t gone.

Is this our train, is this the one?

She pats my head, be patient son.

The wheels so big, how do they move

Stay on the track between the grooves?

Why does it smoke and let out steam

Who cleans the paint and makes it gleam?

The guard is ready, flag in hand

The driver waits for his command.

Oh how I want to drive this train

No car for me, no ship ,no plane.

To stand upon the footplate proud

To wave at any passing crowd.

It starts to shunt, it gathers pace

I bet he’d win in any race

The rhythm of its belching smoke

Increasing with each piston’s stroke

The boiler working overtime

Creating steam for every climb

Up hills and inclines through the snow

What e’er the weather it must go

I stand in awe of what I’ve seen

That grand leviathan of steam

Now in the distant puffing still

Its whistle faint, its pitch quite shrill

My mother gives my hand a squeeze

Here he comes, she looks so pleased

And waving from the lofty cab

The driver, yes, you’ve guessed, my Dad.

The Elephant in the Room – by John Barber

My mother has always had a thing about elephants. There isn’t just one elephant in the room, there are hundreds. They are everywhere – wooden, pottery, porcelain and brass, almost anything you can think of. Even on the walls there are images: photographs and paintings, some with her in them or other members of the family, but mostly ones she has bought over the years.

The whole family have encouraged this habit. Every birthday and Christmas: elephants in every guise – scarves with elephants on, slippers with a trunk, bedspreads with the head of a big bull elephant, magnificent and majestic.

Now she has dementia. It’s odd but this once obsession now gives her turmoil and angst. “What are all these things?” she will shout on a bad day. The television, the vases, the furniture, the dog are never the subject of her distress, just the elephants in the room.

Over the past two years we have removed them, one by one, to try and help her. Now we are down to one large elephant that no one seems to want. She still complains, but no one has the heart to get rid of the one elephant in the room.

Solitude – by John Barber

He had been on his own for some hours now.  She hadn’t turned up, she said she would, no text, no phone call, nothing.  He sat brooding.  What had happened?   Had she changed her mind, had an accident?  Something more important?

He felt bereft.  This had happened only too often.  Promises, promises.  In his job he had always kept appointments, never been late, but today no one seemed to care.  He spent far too much time alone.  It worried him – this solitude.  There was only so much he could do to occupy his mind.  He would get out if he could, go to clubs, try and meet people. Television was banal, he needed the stimulus of conversation.  It had been the same in the hospital, confined to a side room for hours and just a head round the door saying you OK, then disappearing.

What would he do now?  He couldn’t go out, the jigsaw was finished, the TV was rubbish, he had finished his book.  Thank god for the radio, but it didn’t talk back to you when you shouted at it. He needed conversation, he needed interaction. How much more of this solitude could he take?  

The tears came as they often did.  He lay on the bed thinking, listening for the doorbell, hoping, but nothing.  Another hour passed.  The large bottle of paracetamol looking inviting.  It would put a stop to this loneliness, this solitude.  It had become so much worse as he had got older and his hearing deteriorated.  He felt more isolated.  Even nature that seemed to speak to him once was almost too quiet to be heard.  He was alone and he knew he always would be.  He shuddered at the thought, as he did many times each day.   No children, no wife no family.  He felt the world had rejected him.  

Perhaps this would give him the freedom he sought.  He reached for the bottle.  She stood on the doorstep panting perspiring, she was late.  He’d understand.  Her last patient had passed out, she could hardly leave him, could she?  As she entered the house with the pass key he downed the last tablet from the bottle.

Writing inspired by random famous lines of poetry – by John Barber

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows”

I’m a fraud

Nothing is for real

I hide behind a cloak of kindness

I am outwardly their friend

I will do almost anything

I am good old John

He will help me

There’s no one else to ask

There’s always John

He has the time

I hate it all

I am no longer young

I want time to do what I want

Why do they keep asking me?

Take me here, fetch this

Are you free, can you please?

It’s always yes

It should be no

Go away leave me alone

I have my own life

The curl of my lips”

Can give me away

Oh if you don’t want to don’t worry

But there is no one else

I’ll do it

I’ll resent it

That is the deepest secret nobody knows.

Writing inspired by random lines of famous poetry – by Richard Ince

She was a village lass, unschooled

Worked for the farmer as a maid.

She heard the pipes one summer’s day,

Coming louder down the valley.

And then he appeared, dressed in green.

He smiled and her heart stopped.

He sang his song and made her weep,

I have to go now” , he said. “I will return”

I can promise all my heart’s devotion” she cried.

He did not return, and soon she heard,

He had been forced to fight for the king,

And died for his country.

But his tune is heard on a distant hill.”

Writing inspired by random lines of famous poetry – by Emma Tringham

On a glorious July day…”

My daughter was born

That was the first time I heard the word ‘close’

To describe the atmosphere

In that stuffy maternity ward

I lay on the high bed afterwards

Small, red cherub wrapped in a (wrongly) blue blanket

In a goldfish bowl, beside me

I marvelled at the translucent softness of her skin

White crusted forehead

Lying there I became myself

Newborn as a mother

Scared, proud, shocked

I was exhausted but aflame

In that white, hot room my spirit rose up

Hope is a thing with feathers…”

I stood like Icarus on the precipice

Afraid of flying too close to the sun

But I did rise to the occasion

Maternal love burst from me like red steam

And funnelled out along the corridors

It was the beginning of everything

And, at seventeen, the end of my childhood.

Power, Beauty and Soul – by Richard Ince

Cleopatra came straight into my mind. She had power, yes. She had beauty, yes. Did she have a soul though?

What is a soul? When I first heard that word it was probably in a Divinity lesson in school. I think they call it Religious Knowledge these days. So for a long time, I believed that I would one day fly to heaven. I believed in a God until I was about sixteen.

However I still loved the word “soul”. To me it means the real heart of a person. It doesn’t matter what people look like, what job they have, how much money they have, how famous they are.

What I‘m looking for is not exact. I think compassion is part of it. A sense of humour that doesn’t hurt other people is another part. I find it in the Centre often.

How to spend the time between 2am and 5am – by Emma Tringham

Washing up’s good

Close the kitchen door

Mindfully scrub and stroke

Stretch it out

Make it a masterpiece

Or doing my nails

Nice and quiet

A focused, frivolous task

A neat result

Added sparkle to make up for my lack of lustre in the daylight

Put headphones on

Listen to the radio

Get lost in ‘Book At Bedtime’

‘Woman’s Hour’

I drift in and out of sleep with Jenny Murray’s rich tones in my ear

Jolt suddenly awake at the cooking segment

As the chef turns on the blender

Perhaps chat to people, online

There are so many insomniacs out there

Or people from other time zones

There’s a strange camaraderie

I am unexpectedly moved by the kind words of advice

From across oceans

But writing… here’s a real escape

Just letting the words pour out

Or dribble, splutter, drip onto the page

Now it’s 5.26am

Not long to go

I can do it

Face the day

Well, until lunchtime at least

Then I’ll crawl back here again

Cocooned

And enjoy the solitude.

On the Road – by John Barber

I had been driving for hours. I was tired and thirsty, it was getting late. I was beginning to think when I got to my destination I would be unlikely to find a hotel for the night. The thought of a night spent in the car was hardly appealing. As I approached a right hand bend a car came straight at me, completely on the wrong side of the road. I am still unsure how we missed each other. After I had stopped swearing and gesticulating and had got far enough round the bend, I could see why the other driver had ventured onto my side of the road.

They were just lying there, hundreds of them strewn across the road – multi-coloured, in various sizes. I stopped, got out of the car, walked back and just stared. How the hell did they get there? Had they come off the back of a lorry? That was the obvious explanation. Had someone deliberately, dumped them, surely not? A bend would be perfect if you wanted to cause an accident, but then why not a tree trunk if that had been their intention?

The more I thought, the more I was sure they were a lost cargo. Lorries travelled much too fast in my experience and loads were often not secured. I once had a tailor’s dummy bounce off my bonnet, Christ that was scary. But who the devil would want so many of these? I know Norfolk is weird – well that’s the general perception – but a couple of hundred? I couldn’t decide whether to move them to the side of the road, or purloin them and put them into my boot. Although, what was I going to do with them? Maybe eBay or Amazon I suppose.

The fresh air had woken me sufficiently so I set to moving them to the side of the road, praying nothing would come too fast round the bend in either direction. I had just about finished my task when a low loader appeared in the distance, headlights on full, bats and hell came to mind. As it approached the bend it slowed, I guess the driver having seen my car. He came to a stop. The driver got out and looking around, turned to me and said, “Are you alright mate?”

Yes thanks,” I said. “Can I help? Have you lost something?”

Yeh, I’ve lost a load off the back of my wagon. I wondered if you’d seen it?”

It might be them over there. What did you lose?” I said, pointing to the verge.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say.” He walked over to the side of the road. “Yes, that’s them,” he said.

For the Men in Charge of Change – by John Barber

Why are men always in charge of change? In my experience, men are the last people that should be in charge of anything. I have lived on this planet long enough to be governed by successive governments dominated by men, and seen the education system deteriorate and the NHS improve not one jot. From McMillan to Cameron it’s just promises, promises.

Work has been no better. Never had a female boss but the change in procedures, policies, rules, regulations – I could never see the point to any of it. If it works, don’t fix it and it usually did.

Give me a woman any time. One with common sense, compassion to see what is needed, the drive to make it happen. Perhaps a head of Government, that would be good. Oh shit maybe not, Thatcher!