Watford Area Arts Forum (WAAF) 2023 Arts & Literary Competition is now ready for you to choose your winner!
VOTING HAS NOW CLOSED
The theme was ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ (GYBR), to mark the 50th anniversary of the album’s release. Many thanks to everyone who entered. Please review the entries below and then cast your vote at the bottom of this page.
1. Mike Lansdown – Gone
A few days after Dave left me – disappeared, just like that, twenty years, without a word – Yvette, the police family liaison-officer, turned up at the house.
“Interesting place you’ve got here, Janet. Victorian?”
“Late Georgian. It’s got character, but isn’t the easiest place to maintain and…” my voice died away.
“No, I can see,” she said taking in the floorboards and antique rugs, the panelling, and the weeks of cobwebs and dust. “Anyway,” her voice dropped an octave, “how are you coping?”
So, for the next hour we discussed what had happened, how he’d just gone, vanished into thin air. Any reason you can think of? None. Ever done anything similar before? Never.
“Look,” she said, as the grandfather clock struck three, “here’s the card of someone who you might find useful. He’s a therapist. I’ve heard he’s very good.” She placed the card on the coffee-table, promised she’d be in touch, and left.
She never did get back, and my friends…well, they fell away too. Didn’t know what to say, I suppose, and one actually crossed the street – saw something interesting in a shop selling power-tools. Really? I don’t think so.
I could feel myself sinking lower and lower, so I did what I always do: spend. The house’s Georgian vibe – old furniture, heavy drapes, draughty floorboards – that was all Dave really. I prefer something more twenty-first century, like to kick my shoes off without a fear of splinters, so it was out with the rugs and heavy curtains, in with the fitted carpets and Venetian blinds. For a while it raised my spirits but it didn’t last. Yvette did pop in, briefly, late one afternoon: commented on the new décor, looked at her watch, then said she had to dash.
I picked up the card and dialled the number…
“Okay. Let’s try something else. A bit of art therapy.”
Duncan, my therapist, smiled, then placed a sheet of paper and a tub of felts in front of me.
I nodded dumbly.
“Draw a house and then, wherever you feel comfortable, add whatever you like, to try and express what you are feeling. Don’t think too much about it. Just draw…”
“So, Janet, what’s this -by the open window?”
I’d drawn a bird, a dove maybe. It was flying towards the sun.
“That’s Hope,” I explained. “It’s left the house. It’s gone. It’s never coming back.”
“And this?” he pointed to a large black cloud.
“The Future. It’s dark. It’s cold. I think a storm is coming.”
“Very good, Janet. I think we might be getting somewhere. And this?” A flight of steps snaked downwards from the front door. At its foot, a stickman lay on its back. “And this red patch -is it blood?”
I didn’t meet his eyes.
“Yes. That’s Love. It’s bleeding. Bleeding to death.”
I heard the door click shut.
“Yvette? Duncan. That missing guy. Dave something. How old’s the house?
Search the cellar…”
2. Ian Welland – Mrs. Siddons
(Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785)
My name is Mrs Siddons
You might remember me?
But you can call me Sarah
Whatever to please.
I was once the talk of the town
On the stage for everyone to see
At Royal Command or for Mr G
But never for free.
A voice of a nightingale
Fine dresses with fleur-de-lys
Crimson taffeta and fur muff
A lady, don’t you agree?
A tall fur hat
My gown as blue as the sea
Complexion of porcelain
Though nothing twee.
A sweet painted lady
The critics announced with glee
Sophisticated and tempting
But I didn’t plea.
Waiting in the shadows
Or beneath an old oak tree
The curtain has now lowered
And now it’s just me.
3. Patricia Simpson – The Butterfly
She sat at her dressing table, staring through the mullioned window towards the sea-washed horizon. The swell was deep and the white foamed waves became fang-filled mouths, hungry for the flesh of sailors foolish enough to challenge the night’s storm. The sun set behind lowering clouds. The House would be busy tonight with the merchant ships and the naval ships remaining safe in the harbour.
She shivered, her loose robe slipped from one shoulder to reveal a butterfly tattoo in rich colours, a painted lady, just like her. Using a spill, she lit the oil lamp. The warm glow of the flame illuminated the moisture blurring her green eyes. Except for her sailor boy, who would not visit again. Her William happy with his new bride. Impatiently she swept away her tears and pinched her cheeks to bring back their rose. He had never asked to know her name. Never wanted to know it, just called her his painted lady when they were together. And yet, her train of thought took a turn, he had usually waited for her to be free. There had always been that single golden guinea along with the fee for sharing her bed when the dawn light signalled their parting. She shook her head slowly, neither had spoken of love, only shown it with soft satisfying caresses as they lay together.
The rising wind rattled the window frame, filled the room with the scent of the sea. “I knew your name, William,” she said softly into the silence, then caressed the exotic shell he had brought her from the South Seas that first time. “And, for your generosity, I thank you and wish you well in your new life.”
With a sigh she slipped out of her robe and stepped into her dress, low-cut, easily unlaced, perfect for the night’s trade. William had asked her once how it felt to share a bed for money. She had given no answer, simply smiled, not daring to say how it was different with him. Emma, another of the girls had spoken of love to her sailor who had turned his back and walked away forever. Now Emma drank strong liquor to forget and few men wanted her attentions.
She caught the rumble of footsteps on the wooden stairs and turned towards the door as Jenny dashed into the room.
“So sorry! Oh, you look beautiful!” Jenny caught her shin on something, “Ouch, what’s that?”
“Sorry Jenny” she said lifting the heavy valise onto the bed.
Jenny’s eyes widened and her lip quivered, there was a husky note in her voice when she spoke. “You meant it then? You really are leaving.”
“Yes, one last night, then we will leave at dawn,” she walked across the room to where her baby lay sleeping peacefully before collecting her cloak and embracing Jenny. “Take care of little William for me this last time.” She slipped a golden guinea into the girl’s hand and walked out of the door.
4. Karen Bennett – His legacy to me
I’ve finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road. Through twists and turns, I headed down another path. Blindly moving forward and denying all I had known before; change was thrust upon me. I had little choice. I was fearful, angry at the injustice, and physically and emotionally overwrought. Two years, two months, three weeks, and four days ago, I became a member of the club that no one wanted to belong to. My new status relegated me to ticking a box at the bottom of forms that told the world that not only was I now categorized as “single” but added a constant “sting” over and over, reminding me that my partner had passed. I was now a “widow.”
My husband had a long, drawn-out illness, and despite the anticipatory grief I experienced in the months leading up to his passing, I was left blindsided by his absence. Little did I know that his life and death would profoundly affect me in the way it did. He changed every aspect of my existence. In ways, I couldn’t have anticipated.
Being his constant companion/hospice caregiver afforded us precious time together—perhaps not quantity, but quality. Nothing was left unsaid. When words gave way to deafening silence, I would gently kiss the top of his head while cradling his face in my hands. These were our moments of tear-inducing intimacy. This was love in its purest form. His passing was peaceful. A beautiful death as they say.
In the following months, when his scent no longer lingered on his clothes in the closet, I continued running my hands over his belongings: a watch, comb, favourite CDs of seventies music, and a well-worn black leather wallet. I wanted desperately to connect with any trace of his touch or DNA embedded within random objects. Imprints and energy he might have left behind on this earth so that I could reconnect with him again. But most of all, I collected memories of what he loved, what made him laugh, and the moments he shared with me—stored not in photos, but in the recess of my brain. Etched in my head for eternity.
I became friends with death and dying by embracing it, knowing I was not alone in my despair. The price of love is grief, and the prescription for my sorrow was honouring his memory and carrying it within me in all I did going forward to become a better person -in my thoughts, words, and actions. I learned to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other by being loving, compassionate, empathetic, and patient. Inspired to live an extraordinarily abundant life with my finite time, joy and meaning now unfold each day through simple pleasures. My wounds opened endless possibilities, and experiences. The power for me to do anything and everything was within me all along. I just never realized it.
The darkest years of struggle are indeed the most beautiful.
5. Elizabeth Shaw – The tale of the horny back toad
The horny-back toad had never felt comfortable in its warty skin.
“I just don’t know who I am!” the toad complained to its swampy friends.
“Don’t ask us” said the tadpoles, “we don’t even know from one day to the next how many legs we are going to wake up with.”
“Well, I’m going to find myself” said the toad defiantly, setting off down the yellow brick road towards the Emerald City.
Meanwhile, high in her penthouse in the Emerald Palace, Princess Harmony leafed lazily through a book on herpetology. As the princess of Emerald City she was supposed to be interested in all things green, and as her mother the Queen pointed out, she was going to have to kiss a lot of frogs before she found her prince, and so the more she knew about frogs the better. She sighed. She loathed the idea of finding a Prince Charming and she was heartily sick of the colour green. She looked down at the emerald ring on her finger and longed for the multi-coloured sheen of an opal. Somewhere over the rainbow was a future full of vibrant colour waiting for her. She wandered out into the palace gardens for some fresh air and sat in a cool shady arbour.
Looking down, her eyes were drawn to a toad, its cool wet skin glowing faintly in the gloom, like a slick of oil on a puddle of fresh rainwater. The Princess picked up the toad and gazed into its large liquid eyes that shimmered with the light of swamp will-o’-the-wisps, like candles in the wind. Lost in each other’s gaze they were so still that a butterfly landed on Harmony’s hair. Instinctively, the toad’s tongue flicked out to harpoon the butterfly and in passing, lightly brushed the Princess’s lips.
The Princess’s skin tingled all over and her heart beat wildly. She dropped the toad. The toad shuddered and shivered, its shape dissolved, frothed and fizzed. From a cloud of glitter, like a phoenix, rose a tall and elegant figure, dressed in a mohair suit and electric boots that sparked all the colours of the rainbow.
“Hello” thought the horny-back toad, “this is weird and it’s wonderful! It appears I am a girl!” and she looked deep into the sea green eyes of the astonished and delighted Princess. “Allow me to introduce myself” said the transformed toad, “my name is Alice.”
In the distance the frogs of society howled.
6. Chris McDermott – The Transformation – The Ballad of Danny Bailey
(Including all the 17 song titles from the ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ album)
Danny Bailey was 18, but life had not been kind to him. His father had died when he was six, old enough to understand what death meant, but still believing that, one day, his father would return. Danny had a loving mother, but she had to work long hours to support Danny, and he joined the wrong crowd. The gang was Bennie and the Jets, led by Bennie Baker. They believed that to be ‘a real man’ you ignored any talk of inner frailties, which Bennie referred to as a social disease. ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for fighting’ was Bennie’s rule. He lived on the infamous Yellow Brick Road.
One night the Jets had been out drinking, and a fight ensued. Alice, an innocent bystander, was, tragically, stabbed, leading to her death. Her family’s world was shattered. Alice was not a member of any gang, but had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Danny attended her funeral, where Alice’s best friend, Norah, said, in a tribute, that ‘All the girls love Alice’. This was, indeed, a funeral for a friend, a very dear friend. Alice was truly a candle in the wind, but one that had been extinguished long before she should have been.
Later, as he was standing alone, Danny’s eyes met Norah’s. There was an immediate attraction. ‘My favourite film’s Roy Rogers’, said Norah, in a manner that made Danny’s heart leap, rising from its sea of sadness. ‘I’ve seen that movie too,’ he replied. ‘Maybe we could watch another one together.’
But Bennie heard about the date. ‘You’re going to go out with that dirty little girl,’ he said, sneering. ‘She’s no more than a sweet painted lady. Still, she’s probably just about right for you, you Jamaica Jerk Off!’ he shouted bitterly, revealing a racism that referred to Danny’s heritage.
That was a moment of epiphany for Danny. He looked Bennie in the eyes, and, turning on his heels, retorted, ‘Goodbye yellow brick road.’
‘Your sister can’t twist,’ yelled Bennie in revenge, making a jibe against Danny’s sister, who had previously rejected Bennie’s advances. Danny didn’t know if the jibe was about his sister’s ability to dance, or something more salacious, but he didn’t care.
Danny was falling in love with Norah, and was changing as a result. He had written a song to express his feelings. ‘But this song has no title,’ he said.
‘You’ve written a song about me, and I want to write one about you,’ said Norah. ‘It will be called ‘The Ballad of Danny Bailey’ as a sign of my true love. Leave those Jets and join us, the Grey Seals. I am a Grey Seal, because I believe we should bring together black and white, people like you and me. The Grey Seals believe in ‘Sensitivity, Emotion And Love’, not hatred and racism like Bennie and his Jets.
At that moment Danny found harmony in his life. It was a new road, but it was not yellow.
7. Andrea Neidle – My Road
When I was young
The sky was blueThe world was greenAnd all was new.
The people I loved
Were always there
And I grew up
Without a care.
There was freedom to play
And parks to roam
I stayed out till dark
And then went home.
I skipped to school
And skipped off school
I didn’t like work
But wasn’t a fool.
And boyfriends went
I always knew
Their real intent!
I left school
At sweet sixteen
My parents thought me
A difficult teen.
But I didn’t do drugs
I didn’t drink
I loved to read
And write and think.
I found a job
Or it found me
I did the typing
And made the tea.
Folk clubs, jazz clubs
I felt my life
Had just begun.
I left home
Tried life in a commune
But felt alone.
I wondered what
Life had in store
Was this it
Or was there more?
I soon found out
And to my joy
I gave birth
To a baby boy.
Didn’t want to know
My parents too
Told me to go.
I moved away
And lived by the sea
I had my son
My boy grew up
And made me proud
Although he played
His music loud.
He grew into
A fine young man
A musician and
An Elton John fan.
The road I took
Had many bends
But along it
I made lifelong friends.
Right up to this day
I’ve always worked
Hard at my job
And never shirked.
The road’s been long
But it’s been fun
I love my life
And I’m proud of my son.
My parents they
When their grandson had
His first born child.
I never did
I may be old
But life is sweet.
8. Sumi Watters – Aeroplanes and Electric Boots
The lady with the brown bag is visiting for the third day in a row. She doesn’t speak to me. She just nods and pats my head before Daddy takes her to see Mummy. Daddy says I mustn’t disturb Mummy when she’s here. He pours me a bowl of Rice Krispies, sits me at the breakfast table, and tells me to be a good girl. Yesterday, the lady left before I was finished eating.
She’s staying for longer today.
‘How about, just this once, you have your breakfast in the front room?’ Daddy says, setting a bowl on the counter. His hands tremble as he pours the milk.
‘Can I watch cartoons?’ I ask.
‘I don’t see why not.’
He leads me to the lounge, sets up the TV tray in font of his favourite chair, and tells me to sit. ‘Now, Jenny,’ he says, crouching beside me. ‘You must stay in this room and be especially good today, okay? Can you do that for me, poppet?’
He tousles my hair then walks across the room to switch on the telly. ‘Oh, look! The Flintstones! You love this programme!’ Fred’s Yabba-Dabba-Doo cry fills the room. ‘I’ll come to check on you soon,’ he says, turning to leave. He shuts the door behind him.
Fred is banging on the door and shouting for Wilma to let him inside when I hear Mummy’s muffled scream from down the corridor. I move the TV tray to the side, hoist myself out of Daddy’s chair, and turn off the telly. I’m nearly at the door when Daddy rushes in panting. Beads of sweat roll down his forehead.
‘It’s finished,’ I say. ‘Can I play Sindy in my room now?’
Daddy shakes his head. ‘I’m afraid not, Poppet. Let’s stay in here just a little longer, shall we? How about some music?’
He stands in front of the music player and looks through the records. He holds one up. It has a gorilla eating cake on the cover. ‘How about this one?’
I shake my head.
He holds up another just as Mummy screams again. Louder this time.
‘This one?’ he asks, glancing towards the open door.
‘What would you like to listen to, poppet?’
‘The one with the aeroplanes and electric boots,’ I say. ‘It’s yellow.’
Daddy scratches his beard then grins. ‘Got you.’ He pulls out the record Mummy gave him for his birthday. ‘I love this one, too.’
He places it on the turning thing and moves the magic wand. Loud piano music comes through the speakers. He shouts, ‘It won’t be long now. I promise,’ then leaves me again.
I take out my crayons and notepad from under the coffee table and begin drawing a picture of a princess on a horse. I’m nearly finished colouring—in the lines, like Mummy taught me—when Daddy comes through the door smiling.
He takes my hand. ‘Are you ready to meet your baby brother, Poppet?’
9. Helen Spisak – What’s next down life’s road?
Judging by the world events and climate change, I am not so sure if there will be any road ahead, but if there is: will there be any options of forked routes to decide which to venture down and explore?
An idyllic road ahead in life should be a coastal route in a dazzling dawn, with eager steps bathed in its watery yellow hues. To one side are sunflower fields paying homage to the golden rays, and to the other: a mesmerising azure, teal and green seascape. This road is full of optmism and positivity in abundance. The excitement of not knowing your destnation but with the reassurance of a well-stocked backpack over your carefree shoulders, and of course, waterproofs. Well, it is England.
The above is obviously for all those stress-free, goals-reached, lucky people of the world who dreamed the golden dream and turned it into a reality of their own making. No doubt hard working along the way, or opportunities bounced down their road ahead like a gigantic 1970s kids’ space-hopper, and all they had to do was grab both rubbery ears and enjoy the ride.
Well, you may be saying to yourself after reading the above: if I have reached my goals in life why do I need more – just enjoy them. But goals achieved need maintenance: fed and watered; as well as structure or flexibility. You need to get on that yellow golden road to find your freedom of mind. Lets’ face it: we are all bricked in by our own thoughts and even our physicality sometimes.
There are people who have thoughts so deep and disturbing they have no road; only a bridge to scream from. Too terrified to cross after reaching halfway and then to turn back to where they started, with no friendly face to greet them, just a social disease, and a funeral for a friend.
My own life journey has taken me to my current destination not as fast as a jet plane, nor by car or train. I would not even say by boat. I need the solid brick beneath me to move and not shifting sand or claggy soil.
Unlike a Jet Plane: I do not have a future destination in mind to reach so swiftly.
Unlike a Car: I never wish to rely on people to drive safely. Most fail.
Unlike a Train: I do not want to be amongst a sea of bobbing ear-podded grey seals transfixed by their smartphones. Never noticing someone in need.
How About a Boat? Its ok to drift along for a while in life, laying down in a wooden boat, hearing the ripple of a slow meandering river, but too long and you stagnate, like most world rivers; polluted with no life.
So, I will have to say goodbye to my yellow brick road for now, as my destination is here for a while. I hope to walk again someday. I just hope the world will still be there waiting for me.
10. David Elliott – The ninety-two club
Lunchtime and the White Lion was heaving with Hornets of all shapes and sizes. All communing with pre-match pick-me-ups and superstitions.
‘Uncle Ted, how come you’ve never been to the Vic before?’
Ted shrugged. ‘One of life’s mysteries Phil.’
‘Come-on, the Vic is your ninety-second. That’s every ground in the country, the last piece of the jigsaw.’
Ted laughed. ‘And a few more beside. I’ve worked at many clubs that dropped out of the football league too.’
‘As a bookmaker. Before you were a twinkle in my sister’s eye, grandpa’s side of the family ran a dodgy book from their front room. Grandma hated it. When I took the business legit, I ploughed my own furrow. One of societies dogs as grandma would say. Trouble was; my old girl’s howls cut deep. I moved up North; a cast out mongrel, tail between my legs. Never returned.
Phil shivered. ‘Why so many family secrets?’
‘Sup up!’ Ted shrugged. Finishing his vodka and tonic, he pointed at the monkey barrel collection of pint-pots. ‘Beer ’ll need taping-off. You’ll miss a goal.’
Phil laughed. ‘With Watford’s attack; who are you kidding?’
A trail of footy scarfs led through town.
Ted was flummoxed. ‘Goodness the pond’s changed. It’s not all iced-buns and feed the ducks before Saturday-morning pictures anymore.’
Phil smiled. ‘Don’t forget the terrapins and shopping-trollies. “In the Pond” is Watford’s goodtime cry. Cousin Joe jumped in after the first play-off final. He ended up at Vicarage Road, only next door at the A&E with a broken ankle.
Uncle Ted paused where a monstrosity of newbuild flats stood. Their penthouse overlooking the dead-centre of Watford.
‘Used to be the print-works, where your Auntie Peggy worked the switchboard. I’d hang-around outside for hours, all for a sniff of walking her home.’
Across the newly laid forecourt, golden sand cascaded towards the haze of onion-breath outside the petrol-station. A workman swept and the gritty gilt vanished into the gaps of the red brick pavement.
‘Goodbye yellow sand road.’
Phil groaned. ‘We saw Elton last summer. Mum thinks he’s a bit shouty these days, but it was like the cup-final. He totally rocked The Vic.’ Phil threw a salute to Graham and joined the chant of, ‘Elton John’s; Taylor made army,’ as they were jostled towards the allotments.
‘Open up those golden gates,’ echoed through the turnstiles. Phil held his phone to the scanner and they were whisked through on a tide of yellow and red.
The atmosphere inside the Vic, was a damp squib. A reflection of this season’s sacked managers and rubbish results.
Phil pointed over the manicured grass. Ted’s face filled the giant screen.
Watford FC welcomes Ted Southgate.
Newest member of the 92 Club.
Ted beamed as the Z cars theme reverberated.
‘Phil, here’s the sting. This old owl is offering three-to-one odds on a fighting Watford win.’
Phil howled. ‘Sorry Ted, no future there.’ He pulled his pockets inside-out. ‘Not a penny. Spent it all in Pryzm on Saturday night!’
11. Pam Reynolds – The Yellow Road to Freedom
As a young wheelchair-bound person with limited travel opportunities in late 1973, I frequently fell asleep listening to a recently released song called “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, imagining where the road would take me. Over the years I’ve had many dreams about it. In one dream, I met “Daniel” and we journeyed together. We discovered an airport and boarded a plane as “Passengers” heading for “Philadelphia Freedom”. On landing, “Nikita”, a “Honky Tonk Woman” with “Blue Eyes” greeted us. She seemed to be singing “Sad Songs” and said she recently attended a “Funeral for a Friend” and the “Song for Guy” was written in his memory.
Suddenly, sadness turned to joy. Disclosing she was getting married that day, she invited us to the wedding. When we arrived, there she was, dressed beautifully, looking like a “Sweet Painted Lady”. She and her fiancée “Roy Rogers” exchanged vows. Rapturous applause followed as US serviceman Roy announced in a Herculean voice “I Wanna Kiss the Bride”. As they exited, Elton John’s Taylor Made Army formed a guard of honour.
Our next stop was the reception. Musical entertainment was provided by “Benny and the Jets”. A few wrong notes were heard. The culprit pleaded “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player”. A “Tiny Dancer” did a thing called the “Crocodile Rock”. Somebody shouted “Your Sister Can’t Twist” ‘you are better than her at dancing’. This comment offended the sister who was also present. She screamed “The Bitch is Back”, showing jealously towards her sister even though she herself was good at Rock and Roll. A heated argument ensued. Eventually things calmed down and “Harmony” returned. However, no apology was forthcoming because “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”. Meanwhile, a Congratulations banner could be seen waving in the breeze like a “Candle in the Wind” as the wedding couple smooched to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”.
That evening “Daniel” and I headed to an outdoor sports arena for a “Wonderful Crazy Night” watching a boxing match between “Grey Seal” and “Jamaica Jerk-Off”. After all, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, isn’t it? Whilst seated, darkness began to fall. I thought to myself “Don’t Let the Sun go Down on Me”. We were having a wonderful time and I did not want it to end. We rode the “Big Dipper”, visited amusement arcades where I quickly became a “Pinball Wizard” and concluded the night by “Dancing in the End Zone” before retiring to sleep in a “Candlelit Bedroom”.
The next morning “Daniel” said it was time to return home. With a “Cry to Heaven” I wept “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. I did not want to leave. Waking from my dream, I realised that although still wheelchair-bound, “I’m Still Standing” as I was in the dream and have since discovered dreams can become reality as, like the “Rocket Man”, long distance travel is no longer the barrier it was. Today “My future lies beyond the Yellow Brick Road”.
12. Kay Hall – Home
‘Please come,’ the nurse had said, ‘he’s been asking for you. I doubt he’ll last the night.’
My heart had chilled as I heard those words. My love, my lover, soon-to-be father of our child. I’d not seen him since I told him we were pregnant. That had not gone well; ‘too young to be lumbered with a child’ he’d said; he wanted nothing to do with us.
I hardly recognise him in the hospital bed, so injured he is. He’s lapsing in and out of consciousness, multiple tubes keeping him alive, for the moment. I reach out to hold his hand, caress it softly, and he rouses.
‘Look after our child, my love…’ he whispers, closing his eyes.
He is so nearly gone. He rouses once more, his voice even fainter now. I think I hear ‘goodbye, yellow brick road’? Is it a dream, a memory? He smiles, and… my world crumbles.
He has breathed his last; he’s gone.
Just one more to be added to the crime statistics of our town; youth, aged 19, fatally stabbed on the street, last Saturday night outside the club, perpetrators unknown.
He has no family left, except for us. I and a few friends gather together to say goodbye to him in a simple ceremony. We play his favourite song.
It’s been a week. This morning I saw the solicitor. My love has left me his father’s farm.
I have nothing to keep me in town. I cannot stay here, where bitter memories overwhelm me. I pack my meagre belongings into my backpack and take the bus.
It drops me off deep in the countryside.
‘It’s down there,’ the driver says, pointing to an old wooden signpost, ‘but the place is deserted now.’
In the distance the farmhouse beckons. I trudge slowly alongside the rutted track, on a rough path of bricks, edged with tall waving grasses and wild flowers. I’m sad, tired, so unsure of my future, fearful of how I will cope. It’s nearly night and the heavy clouds above bear down on me. Birds begin singing their twilight chorus as they meet and gather for the night, and now a lone owl joins their song. The sky has darkened more, but for one brief moment, the clouds part and the setting sun escapes, transforming the old brick path with shades of golden yellow…
My love’s yellow brick road lays ahead, leading us to the farmhouse door. My unborn babe kicks wildly; she recognises this place, and my heart begins to sing…
We are home.
13. Jan Rees – Sweet Painted Lady
Melissa was a pretty child of six or maybe seven
Her favourite game was dressing up, for then she was in heaven
Pretending to be someone else just made her spirit sing
She could be an explorer or a princess – anything
The dressing up box was her friend, she loved to reach inside
To pull out hats and handbags to help her to decide
A pink embroidered kimono and a paper fan
Took Melissa straight away back to old Japan
If she had some make-up she could look even better
She knew her mother had some and sometimes even let her
Play with her old lipstick stubs and a powder puff
Although Melissa loved this it wasn’t quite enough
So she went and found the make-up box belonging to her Mum
Who worked downstairs on Zoom calls to her colleagues in Belgium
Melissa laid the colours out, considered what to choose
From pink or purple lipsticks, eye liners – greens and blues
She drew a line around each eye, shadowed each upper lid,
Stood back to admire her work, was pleased with what she did.
The lines were slightly wobbly and the shadow smudged a bit
But still the look was pleasing, for her it was a hit.
So now there came the best bit, which lipstick should it be?
The colour of the pillar box or blossom on the tree?
In the end the scarlet won, so vibrant and so bright
It clashed so well with the kimono, that somehow made it right.
And finally some blusher – a warm and glowing pink
She brushed it on so carefully. What would Mummy think?
She crept downstairs to find her and show her what she’d done
She hoped that she would like it for she’d had so much fun.
Mummy turned and smiled at her, put down her coffee mug
“Darling, you look lovely” as her smile became a hug
“I used to do what you have done, when I was very small
I loved the dressing up box that now stands out in our hall.”
“It’s time for me to finish so I’ll wrap up with my team
I think that we should sit outside and have a big ice-cream
They shared so much together – each triumph, every trial
But it was the dressing up box that always made them smile.
14. Ian Welland – The Farraline Murder
Detective Chief Inspector John Grayson scratched his head and looked worried at the blank page in front of him. He had no list of suspects. This was new. Just how did the woman’s body end up in the cemetery without anyone seeing anything when the murder had taken place at the top of St James Road. It was time to return to the café on Vicarage Road Precinct. The fresh air would do him good.
“There he goes again,” said Constable Randall pointing out of his window. Geoff Randall was stocky balding man with the manners of an average crocodile. “They don’t call him DCI Grey Seal for nothing. That bloody wisdom of his!”
“Leave him be, Geoff,” insisted Jenny. Inspector Jenny Alvarde had worked with DCI Grayson on the Page Chisholme murder case the year before. She knew the signs.
“I’m off to Queens Road to do some beat.”
“Yeah, that’s right Geoff. Go and upset the good folk poking your nose where it ain’t needed. DCI is heading to his favourite café, I’m sure of it. I think I will join him there. This latest murder is too close for comfort. It’s on his home patch.”
John stood on the corner of St James Road and Farraline. What had been missed? A bus heading for Watford General Hospital stopped sharp, expecting John to cross. John waved the bus on, and the frustrated driver gave a snarl response. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, John saw a familiar face.
“That you Danny Wardle? What you doing down ‘ere?”
“Oh, sorry Mr Grayson. Ha, didn’t see you there. I’m living in the flat above the barber’s shop.”
“When were you released? Pentoville wasn’t it?”
“Nah Mr Grayson. The scrubs. Got parole last week.”
Jenny approached. “Sorry Guv. Traffic on the ring road and all that.”
“I’ve told you before Jen. Best you walk from Shady to the café. You can learn so much on the way from the oiks passing the cans around in the churchyard. Anyway, Inspector Alvarde meet my old snout Danny Wardle. I wouldn’t shake his hand though as you’ll have to count your fingers afterwards!”
“Now that’s not nice Mr Grayson. You know I will always look after you and yours.”
“Talk to me about the body in the cemetery, Danny.”
“What body Mr Grayson?”
John grabbed Danny by the arm and locked it behind his back. Danny didn’t struggle, only smiled.
“No need for all that Mr Grayson. We’re alright you and me. I overheard Watson in the Oddfellows say he knew something.”
“Watson! Keith Watson?”
John released Danny from the armlock. Danny straightened his collar.
“I thought Watson had gone back to Luton. Given up the crime. Settled down.”
“It was ‘im, Mr Grayson. I could pick him out of a crowd of a hundred. I followed him to the match. He gestured toward the cemetery giving a thumbs up to his dodgy mate, Fielder.”
“Well, what d’know. Watson and Fielder back in town.
15. Mike Lansdown – The Generation Game
Newry – Co Down – September 1973
He arrives home, throws his kit and boots in the corner, and hangs up his rucksack.
“Well, yous didn’t help much,” he says to the Virgin Mary, smiling down at him. “Four f***in’ nil!”
“That yerself, Davy?”
“Who else would it be, Ma?” he answers, and lets himself into the back-kitchen. Ma is at the stove, dressed in a paisley overall. Paisley? Are ye havin’ a laugh?
“And how d’y get on?”
“Ah well, at least you tried.”
“Aye.” Davy rolls his eyes, kisses her cheek, then nods silently to his father, seated by the fire.
“Born in a field, were ye?” his father asks, and Davy shuts the door. He knows better than to argue; but something inside him rises.
“Da, if you’re so cold, why’re you in your vest?”
His father looks up, holds his stare, then finally says, “‘Cause I’m a bloody workin’ man. And workin’ men wear vests! Not that you’d know, with your fancy education an’ all. But don’t you worry, wee lad, you just run away to university, and Welsh Wales. Don’t give a thought to your ol’ ma and da…”
“Da,” he says, “this is Newry, and you managed to buy a house, here, on Canal Street! We’re the only Catholic family, surrounded by thousands of prodis, and you expect me to stay? At least I’ll come back and make a difference!”
“Is that so…?” Da, fists balled, starts to rise.
“Daithi.” Ma steps in between, like she always does. “I’ve done yer favourite!”
“Aye, with extra parsos.”
Da eyes him again, flicks open the newspaper, and sits back down.
He wipes his plate with a heel of bread and stretches.
“That was grand, Ma. Just what I needed.”
Da belches; Ma starts to clear the dishes.
“So, you’ll be stayin’ in tonight, I suppose? You must be tired. It’s Saturday. Brucie’s on the telly.”
Da awaits his answer.
“No, ma. I’m away out. To see a couple of mates.”
“Mates? And which ‘mates’ would they be?” Da asks – too calmly. “Not, Micky and Gerry, by any chance?”
Ma looks at Davy, imploring.
“Aye, Da, right first time. We’re going out. For a wee drink.”
“Drink? And which part will you get broken this time? More teeth? Or, your nose, maybe?”
Davy pushes past and kisses Ma goodbye.
“I’m out for a drink, Ma! Don’t worry.”
He opens the back-door, grabs his rucksack – half-bricks won’t carry themselves – then walks across the back-yard. The light is starting to fade. Behind him, a jaunty voice: ‘Nice to see you, to see you…’
“Nice,” he says aloud, then spits. Nearby, there’s the sound of sirens; a helicopter up high. I can’t see you, he thinks, but I know you can see me.
He’s surrounded by a labyrinth: yards, alleyways, tenements, and sh*t. He pulls the gate to, waits for the click, then heads into the maze.
He looks up.
There’s burning in the air.
16. John Ward – I’m going back to my plough
“You won’t put me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my
That’s what I told him. To say he wasn’t pleased is an understatement. He was furious. I had just been happy singing in the local village hall but then this stranger arrived from London with all these promises. Somebody told him about me and he said he could show me how to become a star, like being a new sensation, make loads of money. I was flattered, of course I was. I had never stayed in a hotel before and now here I am in a magnificent room in the Ritz in London. It’s not me, is it? Within a week I have been introduced to dozens of people I don’t know in the music business. I don’t trust any of them. They want me to do what they say, to dress how they want me to, to sing the songs that they have written and I would become famous. They weren’t interested in my songs only me. Some clearly wanted me for their own purposes so I told him what to do with the contract they were offering me. They wanted me to sIgn some papers right away, just a preliminary arrangement of course. I’m not that stupid. I’m not playing their game.
I’m going to leave in the morning without telling them. I’m going back to the village and the farm. There is a piano in this room. I’ve never had a piano of my own. I wish I could take it with me.
What was that I said to him? “You won’t put me in your penthouse, I’m going back to the plough.”
That actually sounds quite good. I could write a song around that.
I was on a high for three weeks at the thought of coming to London but my father was right. He said, “When are you gonna come down? When are you gonna land?”
17. Louise Welland – Ablutophobia
“Good morning. I have a student with me today, is that ok?” “Er…yes ok” Aisla tried to look at her doctor but couldn’t drag her eyes away from the patterns in the carpet. “Good. So today we are completing our initial ASD assessment” “ASD?” “Autistic Spectrum Disorder, we suspect that you are autistic which may be contributing to your anxiety levels” Aisla tried to make sense of his words. She began picking at her fingers as her body unconsciously rocked slightly backwards and forwards. “Tell me, are you sensitive to any sounds?” “Well, any loud noise really, particularly people eating or cutlery scraping on plates. Certain music (mainly jazz) makes my ears hurt. Noisy shops, shall I go on?” “No, that’s fine. How about sensory issues? Is there anything you don’t like the feel of?” She thought carefully, “Rough clothes or bedsheets, labels in clothing, wearing socks. I can’t touch pottery of any kind. I also hate showering. The water feels like needles stabbing me. I mainly wash with wipes because showers feel so painful” The student obviously shocked, glanced across at the doctor who was much more adept at controlling his facial expressions. “Thank you Aisla. How are you with food?”
“Ok but hate I anything slimy. Okra, overcooked vegetables, mushrooms, spinach, also anything with pips” she shuddered at the thought.
Aisla tried to settle the feeling of panic rising in her stomach as
Dr Elton made a few notes. He glanced up.
“Do you socialise much?”
“I can cope for short periods, but I prefer being alone. I worry about saying the wrong thing and upsetting someone, and I never know who to sit with either. Her voice trailed off and she hung her head. Biting her lip, she tried desperately to hold on to the tears stinging the inside of her eyes.
“Just a couple more questions. What were you like as a child? Were you fidgety? ” “I found it hard to sit still. I sucked my thumb, twiddled my hair and bit my nails. I also had phrases which repeated over and over in my head. That still happens.”
“Well, I will be referring you for a specialist assessment. How does that sound?” “It sounds good Doctor. It could explain so many things, such as my hatred of being touched. I am so grateful that you are taking my concerns seriously. It’s taken years for me to pluck up the courage to discuss this with you.” “It’s our job to get you the help you need. You will receive a letter in the next few weeks with details of a formal assessment.” Aisla left the doctor’s room closing the door behind her. She paused taking several deep calming breaths as she rummaged in her bag for her noise cancelling headphones.
As she was placing placing them on her head, she heard her doctor’s voice. “She hates the feel of water? How disgusting. Dirty little girl. I bet she hasn’t had a bath in years”.
18. Veronica Montgomery – The Mystery of Alice Vaughan Williams
Watford Evening Echo
7 March 1974
Girl’s body found in Watford subway
Hertfordshire Constabulary are appealing for witnesses after the body of a young woman was found in the pedestrian underpass leading from St. Mary’s Close to Vicarage Road at around 4am on Tuesday morning.
The body has been identified today, as that of Alice Vaughan Williams, aged 16 of Hempstead Road, Watford.
Alice, a pupil at Roedean Independent Boarding School in Sussex had been home to visit her parents and her parents believed she returned to school by train. However, she was last seen leaving Bailey’s Disco Cabaret in the town centre in the company of two other women, who have yet to be identified at around 1.30am on Sunday 3 March.
Alice was 5ft 5 inches tall with long blonde curly hair. She was wearing a distinctive pink satin jacket, white mini dress and pink sparkly platform boots.
The two women with Alice when she was last seen are described as in their 30s, both brunette with shoulder length hair, wearing long black coats and black platform boots. The women are thought to be sisters or maybe even twins.
Dave Phillips, who was in Bailey’s night club on Saturday 2 March is helping police with their enquiries. He told the Evening Echo that he had approached the three ladies on the dancefloor and asked if he could buy them a drink. But they declined and carried on dancing. He reported witnessing a number of other men approach the ladies, but all were rebuffed.
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Graham said, “We are keen to understand why Alice had walked down Watford High Street in the opposite direction to her home on Hempstead Road. We also need to know what happened from the last known sighting of Alice at 1.30am on Sunday 3 March and the discovery of her body at 4am on Tuesday 5 March. Alice was wearing the same clothing as she was wearing on Saturday night.”
DCI Graham continued, “Alice, although only 16 looked older and often frequented Bailey’s when home from school. She was well known for her distinctive pink platform boots and her love of dancing. We don’t believe Alice had any boyfriends and was usually in the company of older women. We also know Alice had connections to Soho, so we are also appealing for witnesses who may have seen Alice take a train from Watford Junction or returning by train from Euston. If you have any information or saw Alice on Saturday night, Sunday or Monday, then please do come in to speak to our officers in Shady Lane.”
Fellow Roedean student, Felicity Cooper described Alice as a fun loving outgoing girl who was extremely popular at school. Felicity said, “We are all devastated, all the girls love Alice.“
19. Shenaz Elsey – Simple Life
I see where I was and where I am now.My opulent life back then had no true meaning or purpose beyond the material assets I held.I know now, that life without meaning is very lonely, bland and some may even say self destructive.What was I chasing?What dream did I wish to fulfil?No amount of wealth and fame I searched for created an abundance of happiness.On the contrary, it provided a funnel into the deep ocean for which I was falling deeper and deeper in the fear of seeing the seabed before closure.Making the decision to breathe at a pace that created calmness to me and my loved ones ensured my body and mind stopped falling, but instead floated on the surface of the beautiful clear blue ocean providing clarity and peace.I ask myself once more.What was I chasing?What dream did I wish to fulfil?My answer this time is clear, my chase in life was forever moving like a pawn on a chess board trying to get to its desired position.I was trying to please the world around me and in turn forgot to please myself.Sometimes the simplest, less complicated lifestyles can endure more happiness than the exhausting chase of a better life.Making the best of our lives, can help us feel more relaxed and feel free like a bird in it’s natural surroundings flying in the great void of sky above.Live within your means and be content the voice inside me says.Stop concerning yourself with the outside world’s image of you, but instead channel that anxiety into creating confidence and self reassurance that what you have and what you are doing is positive and is, and will be, successful in your own terms.Who determines whether someones lifestyle is successful or not anyway and what are the parameters to ascertain this?I have come to realise that as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as is the success of an individual.What is successful to one is not necessarily to another.So Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, why waste precious time wondering and chasing an ever moving goal post, when the goal of happiness is right under your nose!
20. Helen Nicell – Tattoos Ahoy!
I never imagined when I was at art college that I’d become known for my work as an ‘ink’ artist.
Tattoo parlours were springing up all over the place, I’d set up shop in Portsmouth harbour ten years ago, ‘Tattoos Ahoy’. I consider myself as one of the best in the business!
Earlier in the year John came in to discuss his first tattoo. Late 40s, hair receding, the bottom buttons of his shirt pulling across a beer-filled stomach. John may not have even been his real name.
“I’d like a dagger facing downwards” he said, “the tip end resting on two dice.”
Nodding, I started to sketch his ideas, I quickly drew what he’d asked, adding a bird at the dagger’s handle.
“That’s it! I want a ribbon running through it saying ‘Sweet Caroline is my girl’.”
I drew the swirls of the banner, “Is that your wife?” I asked tentatively.
“Nah, I got divorced last year. It’s my girlfriend, I met her a couple of months ago at the Two Flowers down Southampton Road.”
I smiled, my pencil not leaving the paper. A story I’d heard so often, middle age men, getting divorced and having their first tattoo.
“What do you think?” I’d added two flowers, to signify the pub, the start of this great romance.
“Yea I love it” he nodded, “I think she will too.”
John returned the next day with £500 in cash. In typical nautical style, the tattoo was going on his upper arm, reminiscent of a wartime Navy tattoo. Whilst I carried out the inking I wondered if Caroline was sweet? How many of the sailors’ sweethearts were still waiting for them after the war?
“What are the dice for?” I asked.
“Well it’s whatever life throws you isn’t it? You could get lucky dice, they could be unlucky!”
I didn’t ask him about the dagger.
Rubbing his arm, John left the shop. I slipped the drawings in the filing cabinet. I liked to keep records of the tattoos to possibly use again, but they were always pretty unique.
Six months later DCI Jordan came into the shop.
“Hi, I need your help with this tattoo please, do you recognise is at all?”
Holding the photo, my hand started to shake. It was John’s tattoo, but there was no ‘Sweet Caroline’ written in the ribbon. In a much darker ink ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ screamed out. Drips of blood fell from the dagger onto the dice.
I nodded, “Yes I did the tattoo, but it’s been altered.”
John’s body was found in an alleyway near the harbour on a Saturday night, he’d been stabbed. My evidence of the original tattoo design, led to Caroline from The Two Flowers being arrested. She and her partner had duped John out of thousands, but when the money ran out, so did John’s life. The tattoo was changed to remove the evidence. Not so Sweet Caroline, but apparently a huge Elton John fan.