John Simpson, English foreign correspondent and world affairs editor of BBC News has set his latest novel in China. He draws on his many years of working in the country to provide the authentic background to ‘Our Friends in Beijing.’ My review is on the Book Review page, please click on the link.
My short story collection, ‘Disappearing Overnight,’ is available on Kindle from 1 December 2021.
Order on line from Amazon for £2.00, Click link below.
What readers are saying –
‘I loved the setting and variety of the stories. You are transported to these places with such ease, the descriptions and rich story telling envelop the reader to each of the story’s locations.’
‘It is hard to imagine how a story could end, but be ready for the twist! The various characters think and behave in an appropriate way according to the time and place the events occurred. I enjoyed the variety.’
My collection of short stories is published today.
Disappearing Overnight is an entertaining collection of diverse stories.
A scientist defecting to Russia has to use his secret to escape. – A solicitor down on his luck finds a new job and is shocked when his past turns up. – A man returns to the scene of his teenage crime with a good reason.- Out to avenge the death of his lover an accountant murders the one person who can save him from hanging – A brother and sister are brought up in different cultures then meet under tragic circumstances….and more.
Order on line from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwell’s, Hive or in store.
Welcome Writers & Readers too.
My stories have been published in Writers Forum, Scribble Magazine, on line and in audio form.
My articles have appeared in Evergreen Magazine, various small circulation publications and audio. I have written a regular column for the News Shopper newspaper.
I have contributed extensively to the construction press; Construction News, Building, Electrical Contracting News, Electrical Times etc.
The content of this website is covered by the authors copyright, 2018 – 2022, or as stated on the articles, and is intended for free reading only.
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Sitting at a table on Wetherspoon’s terrace with the News Shopper spread out, I sipped a take away coffee and looked up at the lifeless windows, recalling the days when they sold beer here. Then it was difficult to find a table among the crowd of chatting, laughing people. What a pleasure it would be, to sit and watch the world go by while enjoying the paper and a pint.
I caught sight of a few advertisements for barbers and hairdressers, offering home visits and a mobile phone number to ring. Instinctively I checked my reflection in a darkened window; glasses, baseball hat and Corona Crop sprouting out the sides. Ah, one day- a pint and a haircut.
My wife had waited eleven weeks for a hospital appointment, instead of the scheduled six. Understandable under the circumstances, part of the delay was due to the relevant clinic having moved to another hospital. This was to isolate them from the unit dealing with the Virus in the local hospital.
There were car parking spaces, amazing, as regular hospital users will appreciate the joy of finding even one. The foyer of this unfamiliar place was deserted, no guide to the multitude of floors and departments, except notices.
One on the lift doors stated that only two people were to use the lift at one time, an effort to maintain social distancing, but it was embarrassing when barring the door to the chap with the axe in his head. I hope he got the next one.
Two receptionists manned the clinic desk and pointed to the hand sanitiser. A line of chairs formed a barricade along the desk front to enforce distancing. Then a masked nurse took my temperature via my ear, although I was not the patient. Normal temperatures were allowed access to a corridor leading to the unit. A surreal, long and silent walk, unlike the usual lively hospital vibe.
In the waiting area scores of empty chairs lay vacant. Alternate yellow seats bore notices banning their use. They weren’t needed today; socialising could not exist in this abandoned place.
The appointment was over swiftly and the pharmacy produced the goods in minutes. The process was completed and more sanitizer applied, leaving the building even before the scheduled appointment time! It’s people that slow things down.
After 10 weeks, Thursday 28 May was the last clapping event for NHS staff and other essential workers. Annemarie Plas, who created the weekly tribute, thought it best to cease while it was at its peak, she also felt that it was becoming politicised.
13 May – Day 58
PM, Boris Johnson, has reacted to pressure from the business world to ease the lockdown rules, stating that workers who cannot function remotely, may return to work; a step toward resurrecting the stalled economy. Now the slogan, ‘Stay at Home’, has been replaced with, ‘Stay Safe.’ Politicos found confusion in the message and filled many hours of TV time, and column inches, with analysis and speculation. The relaxation didn’t fit with some medical experts either.
The consequences, for me, were most enjoyable. Easing meant that garden centres, could re-open, provided rules were complied with – social distancing and staff protection. Before the relaxation of rules, only garden centres selling food, such as fruit, vegetables and meat were allowed open to sell, those products alone.
At the Garden Centre one entrance was reserved for food purchases and the other for garden products. An area of car park was taped off to form the ubiquitous zig-zag queue lines. Free standing notices stated that a ‘social distancing policy,’ was in operation and showed figures with the two-metre distance arrows between them. Further restrictions stated, that the under 16s were unwelcome and that only two customers per household were allowed in. I joined the end of the long line and read a notice that estimated the waiting time from this point to be one hour. My recent extensive experience of queuing told me that this was a little pessimistic.
A caravan of gardeners leaving the store wore Alan Titchmarsh smiles, their trolleys loaded with; bags of compost, herbs, spices, trees and bushes in pots, barbecue equipment and garden furniture. It was like the sacking of Rome. Some had the, ‘second person in their household,’ pushing another trolley and shedding spoils along the way.
Inside a one-way system operated with computer printed notices to guide us. However, this did not stop me going down blind alleys into the clothing and books areas which were still closed.
My quest was to buy three bags of compost. I had plants to plant out, hanging baskets and pots to fill. The bags of compost and soil were stacked high and plentiful, it felt like winning a prize stacking them on my trolley, after doing without for so long.
Back at home, I stored the bags for use another day- there are sure to be plenty of those ahead to fill.
The next day was Thursday and the traditional handclapping evening to acknowledge the brave essential workers; NHS and care staff, bus drivers, supermarket workers, postmen etc. So many people who launch themselves into danger each day to provide the rest of us with medical care, food and services.
At 8pm front doors open and neighbours have the opportunity to chat across the gulf of the Close. Children gleefully bang spoons on saucepans, sparklers are lit and rockets soar from behind our houses.
Watching the children performing each week, I wonder how it will sound when they tell their own offspring about the pandemic of 2020. Hopefully the events will then, only be a distant memory.
7 May – Day 51
Today, as I tied the laces of my leather shoes, I realised that it had been some time since I had enjoyed the comfortable fit of ‘proper’ shoes. Most of the occasions that I have left the house over the past seven weeks, have been for one hour of permitted exercise. Feet have been shod in walking boots; they are also good attire for standing around outside shops.
For most people walking and cycling are now the normal way to get around, followed by running and last of all, driving. As one wit put it – ‘I’m getting 3 weeks to the gallon out of my car.’ The decline in driving has reflected in petrol prices. I’ve noticed prices as low as £1.06 per litre, compared with upwards of £1.25 before lockdown. The long-term effect of the pandemic on the world’s economy is now of great concern. The oil producing nations, are running out of storage facilities for crude oil and petrol. Recently the price of crude dropped to an historic negative value! In theory the purchase of a barrel would cost the buyer nothing and include a payment to them!
The restrictions on movement felt worse during the recent wet spell. Awareness of the length of time already endured and the uncertain future brought more clouds into ‘Virusville.’ The rain washed away the chalk drawings from the Church drive leaving a blank space like the one depicting our future.
There’s been a shift in the mood of the population. The new ways are getting tiresome. Friends living alone find their days tedious without human contact. The quiet streets have become dead streets. It’s not worth dropping into a shop for a single item, because of the extra time it takes queueing. This applies to all high street businesses; there are queues outside banks, pharmacies, DIY stores and even the chip shop.
The ‘chippy’ has adapted well, only two customers are allowed in the shop at any one time, but an assistant with a note pad takes the orders from the waiting customers and passes them indoors so that frying can get under way. So personal contact is kept to a minimum and food is bagged up and ready to go by the time customers progress indoors. Home delivery is popular and the queue are treated to some nifty motor cycle manoeuvres as the riders’ scramble to collect their delivery orders.
As I walk home swinging a bag of fish and chips an empty bus pulls away from the stop. Social distancing is hard to maintain on a bus, so there are fewer passengers, if any, these days. They are required to enter the bus from the middle door because drivers are more exposed from the front entry door, and many have contracted the virus. Nearer home now, a train rattles down the tracks sounding empty, or is it just me?
13 April – Day 28
The walk today took me past my barber’s shop. Empty chairs stood in line on a bald floor, opposite faceless mirrors. The familiar closure sign taped to the window. I reflected how timely it had been for me to have my haircut the day after St Patricks Day. The shearing was overdue, but if I’d not got in before lockdown, I would have five more weeks of growth now. Add that to the initial seven weeks and it comes to three months without a haircut. But lockdown is nowhere near over, so furriness will be the new fashion. Maybe we’ll have a hippy revival, but without all the touching this time. Make social distancing- Not war.
Helpful videos have appeared on the internet guiding us to cut our own hair. Trapping it between fingers to set the length, while juggling a comb and household scissors. The result is likely to be poor particularly as hairdressers cut with special thin bladed scissors unlike the ones, we use to cut up our old credit cards.
TV viewers have shown concern for the health of presenters and newsreaders, worried that they didn’t look well. It turns out that the stations have sent some staff home for their safety, including the hair and make up teams. So now those in front of the cameras are doing their own hair and makeup and not looking so good on it.
Folk with more time than usual have created a glut of email jokes and YouTube clips. One I received today predicts that; ‘over the next six weeks, 88% of blondes will disappear from the planet!’ It sounds like John Wyndham’s, ‘Village of the Damned,’ in reverse.
A lot of people can be seen; running, walking and cycling in the suburbs and the green spaces. The sunny weather has promoted the outdoor life. I prefer to go walking to starting another project, it could be that, although prior to lockdown, I blamed the lack of time for not doing jobs, the truth may be, that I didn’t really want to do them anyway.
People are being creative and spreading kindness. I stopped at a bench for a break and found a pebble placed in the centre of the seat. Looking closer, I saw the words, ‘Stay Safe,’ alongside a heart painted on it.
At the post box, a brightly coloured cover had been fixed to the top, covered with a brood of hand knitted Easter Chicks.
On passing the entrance drive to the local church, a lady called from a safe distance. ‘Go in there and have a look at what’s been done.’ I took up the invitation to find that the long driveway had chalk markings on it.
Intricate pictures had been drawn in coloured chalk. Easter scenes from the Bible; including the disciples washing the feet of Jesus. Beneath an appropriate slogan for the present time, ‘Let Jesus wash away your fear.’
6 April – Day 21
The working day is starting earlier for those in essential services. Possibly the policy is to get the job done before the streets are occupied and there is danger of contamination. Often the mail has been delivered and the dust bin emptied, before I’m out of bed. Rubbish and waste food collections continue, but recycling of paper and bottles has been abandoned to cut down on the personnel exposed to infection.
Today the postman delivered my monthly writing magazine. I was surprised on reading the editorial to find that it will be the last edition until the coronavirus outbreak is over. The decision was necessary because the newsagents are closed, so sales will be affected and also, the advertisers are not buying space. It is not economical to publish without these two revenue streams. Later, at my local station, I collected a copy of the ‘Metro’. It’s surprising that this free newspaper is being published when so many readers are not travelling to work in London.
I fixed the two remaining trellis panels to the wall, quite a straightforward job. Then the more pleasant task of tying the emerging rose branches to them in a fan shape, at a low angle to maximise the number of blooms. A job that may have been put off under normal circumstances is now completed.
A well-deserved walk took me past the recreation ground where a group of teenagers larked around a park bench. Their social distancing was verging on social closeness, but there was space between the ones playing frisbee.
Along the way families cycled together, Mother and father leading and the young children strung out behind. Sometimes with a dog in tow galloping to keep up. Others jogged together, clearly a new venture for some, who snorted like steeple chasers on the final furlong. A lone young man occupied a corner of a field. He’d brought his weights along to train in the fresh air.
My peace was disturbed by the squawking of a duck, nothing to do with nature, but my ringtone. I’m getting more calls and less texts now, as if folk want to hear the sound of voices beyond their own households. It was a friend who is living a similar life of walking and shopping and staying home, like everyone else. Interestingly he mentioned a mutual friend who sells ‘white goods,’ and recently sold one hundred freezers in a day. This cleared out the stock. So, there must be a lot of garages humming with extra freezers packed with panic purchases.
Passing the recreation ground again, the teenage crowd had reduced to a boy and a girl. Sitting on the bench in the sun and joined at the lips. Surely sixteen year olds can estimate two metres apart better than that!
1 April 2020- Day 16
The new can of preservative is empty and the three trellis panels have stood drying in the garage for a day or two, so today I started fixing them to the wall. Taking down the existing weather ravaged panels was easy, but I had to find storage space for them as the Council Tips are closed due to the lockdown.
My idea was to use the old panels as templates for the holes in the new panels. That way I could re-use the plugged holes in the brickwork to attach the new panels. Well, it sounds a good idea, but as the morning progressed and the job didn’t, I had to change my method. The accuracy needed to marry up the new holes in the timber to the existing holes in the brickwork was akin to assembling something at NASA, and beyond my skills.
So, it boiled down to new holes all round, this work on top of the aborted first plan, meant that when time ran out, I had fixed only one panel.
After lunch and a zinc tablet, I set off for my daily walk. Zinc reinforces the immune system, so it’s just in case. Without a blood test, I have no idea and it may be a waste of time, but perhaps it’s doing some good. Zinc was recommended on the internet to help combat the Virus – so it must be true.
There were others walking the country lanes but they swopped sides to pass me at a safe distance. People are greeting each other with a few words and knowing smiles. We’re in this together, the slogan of the World Health Organisation has spread too.
The massive reduction in road and air traffic has reduced pollution and noise. The trill of a skylark and the tic, tic, of robins were the only sounds. A small herd of Highland cattle grazed the lush grass, one lifted his heavy head to watch me… watching him. An idyllic setting and the beginning of what could be a glorious summer. ‘You wouldn’t think that anything was wrong, would you?’ called a voice from across the lane. I agreed. Nature is drawing us into a new season, regardless of our problems.
That night I took a break from writing and from a darkened bedroom looked out at the sky. Around 9.30 pm it was overcast but one star shone brightly. It was close and I decided that it was not a star but perhaps a planet. Back at the computer I discovered that it was the International Space Station, visible only by night.
I went outside to look at the dot and marvelled how man had created an environment where he could live, within a small bubble, orbiting over 200 miles above the earth. Clean and uncontaminated. Is this our future?
‘If you have a temperature or a cough, please don’t board the spacecraft.’
Surely such ingenuity can beat Coronavirus.
27 March 2020 – Day 11
Once it was a status symbol to have a German car or two lurking on the drive, but now it’s a garage insulated with toilet rolls and enough long-life milk to float an ark. I recall that the shortages in 1974 (related to the three-day week) included toilet rolls, but my recollection is that the hoarders were singing from the wrong sheet. The shortages were fuelled by rumour and panic buying, as they are today.
Arrived at the supermarket at 8am to use the priority ‘slot,’ for the elderly. I wasn’t expecting celebrity treatment and this was confirmed by the packed car park. Hi Viz jackets at the doors were restricting the numbers entering. This kept enough space inside to observe the social distancing rule of 6 feet between persons. (The distance is 2 m for those shopping after the ‘elderly slot.’)
The queue outside ran the length of the superstore. Shoppers stood like tombstones two trolley lengths apart. I made for the queue’s end, but on reaching the corner of the building, I found it went through a passageway – out onto a main road – down the road and into the hospital grounds next door. I was right about, no celebrity treatment.
There were few smiles, unless there were some beneath the occasional medical-mask, as we progressed in surges along the main road. It was a relief to reach a sunny spot and melt the coldness from the shadows. A mere 45 minutes later and we were welcomed by the Hi Viz staff and the warm indoors.
We trolleyed around in comfort, an improvement on the usual crush. There was some white laminate to groan at, but most things I required were there for the buying. I guessed that the ‘crazies’ were still in bed, but noticed certain tissue and long-life products were restricted to two items per shopper. Over the public address system came frequent reminders, to keep the required distance from other shoppers and to pay by card, as cash could carry the virus. Yellow and black striped tape was stuck to the floor around the check-outs forming boxes to stand in and maintain the distance rule.
While I was loading the car, a man choking on an Arsenal scarf stopped near me. ‘How long’s this going to last?’ He asked. My new specs must have given me the appearance of a virus specialist or maybe Harry Potter. ‘A few months,’ I tried to be cheerful.
He shook his head. Then asked, ‘Do you know where I can buy some table tennis bats?’
What? Are they panic buying sports equipment now? ‘The sports shop is still open,’ I said.
‘Oh good. You see I’ve got two sons’ home from university and they’re driving me mad, got to keep them occupied.’
So, the old pastimes are being revived now to fill time. An ironic outcome maybe, that the survivors will come out of this, fitter than before.
26 March 2020- Day 10
Ten thirty on a weekday, is a late hour for neighbour’s cars to be cluttering their driveways, but most people have been instructed to work at home. The schools have been closed since Friday 20th with the threat, or promise, depending on whether you play on an Xbox or not, that they may remain so until the September term.
I mused about the long-term effect that these measures will have on our lives and concluded that a lot of things would never be the same again. People’s lives will be changed for the period and not all of them will return to their previous routines. We received the news yesterday that even the 71-year-old Prince Charles has the Virus.
On a more cheerful note, I’d run out of preservative after coating one side of just two trellis panels. So much for skimping. If I can’t finish, then I can’t fix them to the wall and the job is in limbo for the duration.
I drove straight out of my estate onto a clear main road. The sky was free of vapour trails and tree blossoms had opened to the sun. It reminded me of Enid Blyton land and walking to school in the 1950s.
Only one DIY store had not posted its closure, so I drove the tranquil streets and was relieved to see the car park half full. The automatic front doors refused to open and that’s when I noticed the small and now familiar notice taped to the glass. ‘Due to the Coronavirus outbreak …store closed until further notice… safety of our colleagues and customers…’ A half-done job is always hard to go back to, I must find preservative somewhere.
A nippy drive and I found a DIY shop open. I pulled down the baseball cap feeling a bit conspicuous about going were I had not trod before. Somewhere within the tall racks crammed with supplies, I found just what I wanted. A sign announced that cash wasn’t acceptable, (filthy lucre) so I paid the gloved attendant by touch card.
So, the job went on.
In the evening our young neighbours delivered a three-line whip to the FWFs (Fogies without Facebook), to be outside at 8pm. Annemarie Plas a Dutch lady living in Brixton had promoted a nationwide tribute to the hardworking NHS and care workers- ‘Clap for Carers.’ Shadowy figures in winter coats greeted each other from a safe distance for the first time in days. Others stood silhouetted at their bedroom windows. It reminded me of long-gone New Year’s Eves, when neighbours took to the streets to sing in the coming year.
At 8pm a few clapped and cheered, then it spread along the Close and up to the open windows and they cheered. Across the Green came more applause and a bugle joined in. Then the explosion of fireworks took to the air from the next street. A very moving tribute and all down to Annemarie.