Vision Literature Competition Winners

In association with Watford Borough Council (WBC), Watford Area Arts Forum (WAAF) invited members of the public to express an interpretation of ‘VISION’. The competition attracted 16 literature entries, which were then open to a public vote.

We are delighted to announce the winners!

Many congratulations to Helen Nicell who got first place with her entry Hello Anyone?, Andrea Neidle came second with her entry Dreaming and to Veronica Montgomery who got third place for her entry The Rockery.

Thank you to everyone who entered, there were some excellent pieces! Please see the winning entries below, followed by all the other entries.

First place: Hello Anyone – Helen Nicell

April 2020

Dear Whoever,

Congratulations on finding my time capsule, I hope it provides an insight into a very strange time in my life and the lives of everyone affected by the COVID-19. I wonder what the world will be like by the time you find this. Hopefully an antidote has been found to the virus and ‘Social Distancing’ is a thing of the past.                                                                             

Before the ‘plague’, life was good: meals in restaurants, foreign holidays, trips to the cinemas and theatres, live bands in pubs, festivals and family gatherings, weddings, parties and much more.  But most importantly, being with others, laughing , interacting, a kiss on the cheek as you came and went, a hug with loved ones.  We were free to do whatever we wanted. Yes, there were concerns: climate change, Britain leaving the EU, a new Prime Minister, inequalities for the working classes and much more. But personally, my life was good, my family settled and with the arrival of a grandson, the next generation had started.

Then the virus descended and the easiest way to catch it was through some form of social contact.  All plans were cancelled, all sports stopped. Scientists and governments from across the globe declared everyone should go into quarantine. Unemployment numbers rose to levels never seen before and stock markets crashed.  Even the oil companies were unable to shore up prices as there was no demand for fuel.

The illness appeared in China, jokes were linking it to a lager called Corona, or a fizzy drink we used to have in the 1970s. In February the Covid King reached Italy, by March it had crept into the UK. Day after day the numbers of deaths doubled.

But what about my personal experience? There were periods of not physically seeing anyone. I could see loved ones ‘virtually’ via Facetime, my sons would contact me daily. I watched with delight as my grandson ate his first solid food. Quizzes with friends on Zoom. I continued learning Bridge, but online. Virtual meetings for our writers’ group and I joined a sewing group making squares for a wall hanging with 40 contributors, recording our thoughts on isolation. But most of all, I enjoyed the peace and tranquillity, being in the garden, watching the trees turn from winter to spring and the bulbs bloom. Then the summer plants and vegetables coming into life.  It was finally time to sit still and stay at home – as Boris Johnson had asked us to do.

My vision is that some of what we learnt will stay in place, realising the importance of family time, community spirit, and being kinder to the planet. Only you will know if this is reality, I hope so, for my grandson and all descendants.

In my time capsule you will find today’s newspaper, some embroidery, a skill I learnt in lockdown and a set of playing cards. Good luck if you try to learn bridge, I never did master it!

Virtual hugs


Second place: Dreaming (After Imagine, John Lennon) – Andrea Neidle

Imagine there’s no virus

That there’s no killer flu

Nothing that’s going to hurt us

It isn’t hard to do

Imagine all the people

Grateful for this world

Imagine no social distancing

I wonder if you can

No need for masks or PPE

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Living healthy lives

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

Join me in my vision

And the world will be as one

Imagine there’s no borders

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to be killed by

Because there’s no killer flu

Imagine there are beaches

Where you can lay your head

Where you can sit with loved ones

Or go swimming in the Med

Imagine all the people

Getting close again

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

Join me in my vision

And the world will be as one

Imagine you can eat out

It’s easy if you try

Holding hands together

Watching the world go by

Imagine going to parties

It’s not hard to do

Going to gigs and festivals

Concerts and theatres too

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

Join me in my vision

And the world will be as one

Imagine celebrations

With family and friends

Seeing your relations

When this dark era ends

Imagine hugging loved ones

It isn’t hard to do

Shaking hands and kissing

When there’s no killer flu

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

Join me in my vision

And the world will be as one

Imagine there’s a vaccine

It’s easy if you try

Everyone can go outside

Because no one’s going to die

Imagine all the people

Living out their lives

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

Join me in my vision

And the world will be as one.

Third place: The Rockery – Veronica Montgomery

“From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.”

This is it; my moment has finally arrived! I mustn’t show my excitement, I must look concerned.

I turned to Phil and say, “Well, I suppose we can get to work in the garden now.”

He just nodded, no enthusiasm and no comment on the Prime Minister’s speech. Typical of Phil, not the exciting bundle of energy I met 20 years ago. He read his book, I went on to Amazon and started to search for seeds and bulbs.

He was a catch! Tall, scruffily handsome and such humorous intelligence. I honestly couldn’t believe my luck. My friends were never keen, but I stood by my girlish infatuation. Yes, he was pompous and alienated all of our family and friends. But I was young and naive, I never realised until now that we were truly alone in the world.

For the next few days we worked tirelessly in the garden. I insisted that Phil dug deep to make the bed for our rockery.

Phil is what you would call an eternal student. He’s never actually been employed. I mean not even a part time job! Somehow, he’s just glided through life from one degree to the next funded PhD in the most obscure of subjects. I’m not jealous of him, I just despise the fact that I am now as dull as he is. We have a really healthy bank account, but we don’t do anything. The most exciting time of the year is when Phil announces we are going to Dorset to look for fossils.

Enough of my moaning, my dream will come true. Finally, I am in charge of our nothing. Our boring existence on this planet. Just me and Phil, the most predictable man in the world. Phil has asthma.

He is shielded. Joy to his ears. Lazy, dull and cold man.

I detest him.

He mustn’t leave the house. Nobody would notice, he is shielded for at least 3 months.

I have visualised this rockery, a blaze of vibrance and colour.

I hear birdsong in the morning.

I look forward to hosting lunch with new friends.

I can smell the bouquet of pinot.

I can even sniff my freedom from this loveless marriage.

Dusk is upon us; the pollen count is high. I push Phil to just dig a little deeper while there is still enough light. His breath is short.

He muttered, “My inhaler please.”

Amazing, it is just as I imagined. I hand over the empty inhaler. He drew his last pathetic breath on nothing. Just like our marriage, nothing to give. My faced beamed as I watched him try to figure out what was happening.

Then with one last thrust of energy, he drew the spade down hard on my head. I fell face down in his grave. I tasted blood in my mouth, then soil, then the usual nothing.

Space Ship Pointy Front – Mike Conlan

“We must jump through the fiery circle thingy, or the space time continuum will be badly disrupted, Captain?” shouted Irishy, the senior engineer, in a fake Irish accent.

24 hours earlier….

Captain Rogered of the Spaceship Pointy Front, pointed at the Helmsperson Ainu and said: “Take us forward, Ainu. We’ve saved another planet, the planet Bullthitt. I love it when we save a planet.”

“What happened to Make it so, Captain?” responded Ainu Start.

“I need a new catchy command. What about Go guys?”

The Communications Officer, Julie Julie, a Flamboyantan from the Planet Flamboyant in the Cirque universe commented angrily in a very short skirt: “Cap’n,” then he changed his gruff voice to be higher, “what about diversity?”

“You can’t get more diverse than this crew,” observed the shrewd yet emotionally flawed Doctor McDonalds, whilst eating a cheeseburger.

“What’s that?” shouted Sprog, a pointy nosed 12-year-old from the planet What’s That.

“It’s a big fiery circle thingy. I wonder if we can board it?” interjected Captain Iva Bean Rogered.

Everyone looked around to see who was wearing the different coloured uniform for the Boarding Party. The Anxiousarian from Planet Nervousa, John Smith, with the green shirt ran out of the bridge to put on a different coloured shirt.

Within five minutes he was back on the bridge in a red shirt. Everyone else had changed into green shirts.

“Ok John, you’ll be coming with the main characters on the Boarding party. Please remember to stay to the left of all of us, so no one else gets hurt.”

Blue-tinted tears fell down his five different coloured cheeks.

The Boarding party stood on the unexplored planet facing a big wobbly brown alien with a tint of orange.

Rogered said to John: “Please move a bit more to the left.”

The wobbly alien quite literally saw red and laser gunned John.

Rogered shouted aghast: “Oh no! John has been killed.”

John looked up from the ground: “No I’m fine. Just grazed.”

Rogered realised something was wrong and laser gunned John.

“Yep, he’s definitely dead.”

Rogered explained to the wobbly alien: “We are not here to hurt or conquer you. We are from the Union of Planetary On-world Off-world European Aptitude, Rightness, Supercilious Entity, U POOE Arse, allied with the United States of Shoot First Union, the USS FU.”

Irishy intervened: “Sorry Captain, but we are here to hurt and conquer. And there’s only one alien due to budget cuts.”

Rogered laser gunned the wobbly alien. Blue gunky blood came out.

“We must jump through the fiery circle thingy, or the space time continuum will be badly disrupted, Captain?” shouted Irishy, the senior engineer, in a fake Irish accent.

Flaky the Vague shouted: “We need a cliff-hanger.”

They all jumped through the fiery circle thingy, not knowing what might await them.

Entertainment News just in: The new show, Space Ship Pointy Front, has been cancelled, due to poor ratings.

Captain Iva Bean Rogered exclaimed: “Oh buggar!”

Envisioning Espionage – Susan Bennett

‘I would like to see the underground War Room.’

The guide hesitated, ‘Sorry it doesn’t actually exist.  It was a film set.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Quite sure Mr President.’

A disappointed Ronald Reagan continued his tour of the White House.

After seeing the first James Bond film, Dr No, director Stanley Kubrick wanted the visionary set designer to work for him.  A former World War II pilot Ken Adam had a very slim budget and no time to present sketches.  He took a risk in using new materials and the resulting set, with its extraordinary angles, led Kubrick to employ him for his iconic film, Dr Strangelove.  In Adam’s War Room a circular table, some 22 feet across sits in the centre of a jet-black floor and is lit from above by a ring of white light. The starkness and sobriety of Adam’s design creates an intense atmosphere in which the generals and politicians are playing with the world as though it were a game of poker.  Adam’s War Room has been repeatedly copied and referenced in other movies and Steven Spielberg called it ‘the best set that’s ever been designed’.

Adam would work with Kubrick again on the film Barry Lyndon and his designs saw him awarded his first Oscar, but it had been hard won as Kubrick had been a very demanding director and Adam ended up in hospital following a breakdown.  The two men remained friends but Adam vowed never to work with him again.   He also produced further visionary sets for another six Bond films, which included the challenge of designing something no one, not even the Presidents of the United States had ever seen, the inside of the US Treasury’s bullion store at Fort Knox for Goldfinger.  Adam built a cathedral of gold and, he said in one interview, they developed a special lacquer finish for the gold ingots that made them look better than the real thing.   In a departure from hi-tech fantasy Adam created the sets for another Fleming novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  One of his most difficult tasks, he said, was to design a car from the early 20th century, which was also sexy. Among his other film credits are the Michael Caine espionage thrillers, The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin, as well as Sleuth, Addams Family Values and The Madness of King George for which he won his second Oscar.  Adam was knighted in 2003, the first for a film production designer, and appointed a Royal Designer for Industry six years later.  He enjoyed a long life and died in 2016 at the age of 95.

Eclipse – Jan Rees

“I’m going to stop your shining” said the jealous moon.

“Put an end to all your brilliance and not a day too soon.

You think that you’re so clever, the source of heat and light.

Well, now the world will notice me. I’ll change the day to night.”

The sun had heard it all before, this rather sad tirade.

If the moon could only learn to love the part he played 

His strange ethereal beauty held so many in his thrall

Tides and times and folklore were at his beck and call.

“Go on then,” said the weary sun, “go on and do your worst

This dreadful envy that you feel, it seems as if we’re cursed.”

And so the moon began to move, to slide across the sun

To end his solar splendour, to end his solar fun.

And soon a black and angry disc had blotted out his face

And just a shining fringe was left to show the moon’s disgrace

But wait, the sun was yet unbowed and would not stop his work

The earth depended on him, from this he would not shirk

His power was undiminished for this was meant to be

And soon his former glory was there for all to see.

The moon grew thin and narrow and resentment turned to shame

How could he face his brother? Things would never be the same.

But the sun was wise and generous and knew the way to go

He hoped the moon would follow him and so he told him so.

The sun said “There’s a compromise. We don’t need to fight.

 I’ll rule the heavens through the day and you can rule the night

In that way the earth can bloom and winter turn to spring

Your gentle light will bring sweet rest to every living thing”

And so the brothers made their peace and took their turns to smile

The moon content to know at last his value and his style

And as they rode the arching skies –

The sun in daylight clear and strong

The moon by starlight’s glittering throng

They saw the way that things would be

And are today for you and me.

The Seer – Mike Lansdown

Mine is a world of darkness, my head a room without light.

A long, long time since, the last star faded, dimmed, then died.

Mine is now an eternal night.

But, I am not alone.

My visitors come from far, and wide, the tinkle of distant bells, faraway shouts, and the moans and groans of complaining camels heralding their arrival.

I compose myself.

And wait.

At the cave entrance, they pause, hush their children, and announce their presence in whispers.

I wave them in.

A waft of jasmine, frankincense and the perfumed fragrance of women fills the cave, mingling with others of a distinctly less alluring kind: a hint of camel, and base-notes of ass and goat, cling to them like a mewling infant. These are familiar smells. I know their valley.

Cross-legged, my hands lying lightly upon my knees, I listen in silence. I nod, I smile, my brow I furrow frequently.

They speak in measured, reverential tones; they describe the hardness of their lives, their health, their fears, their dreams.

I lean forward, straining to hear their supplications.

And then they stop, reach out, and touch my hand; and then retreat. They squat on their haunches. No more to say.

So now, it is me.

I breathe in. I breathe out. Deeply. Slowly. I stare, wide-eyed, aim for the space just above their heads, then raise my arms and hold them for a silent count of five, before bringing them to my side, thumb and forefinger kissing softly. Theatrical. A nice effect.

And then I speak, quickly and in a whisper. I sense them arch towards me, hear the rustle of their silks, feel their breath, warm and rank upon my face. I try not to cough. They start to interrupt; I raise my finger – it stops their lips. What I have to say is too important: a stream of wisdom that flows, unalloyed, bubbling to the surface from a place that even I do not know. They murmur their understanding, then are silent.

And then (I usually give them five minutes) I fold my arms, bow my head, and then am silent too.

I hear them rise, usher their children towards the warmth – the light, beyond the cave. The clink of coins in my metal cup and mumbled thank-yous mark their departure. I lift my hand in benediction, and then they are gone.


This hand, my friend, by you, remains untouched. Your hand, I think: Coarse or soft? Plough or pen? Your smell, I do not recognise. Your accent is a mystery still.

But a heaviness I feel, like a cloak around your shoulders. It weighs you down.  Your voice, seems weary, troubled, your words are partial or left unspoken.


Sit and talk. Take some chai.

For now, you understand.

For now, you see!

There is more to seeing than sight alone.

In the Beginning – David Silver

He stands on an escarpment looking out upon an alien landscape. One that belongs to him alone. There is nobody else – no human, no animal, no microbe. Far from the Sun, there is a perpetual creepy twilight with the magnificence of Saturn looming in the sky.

He thinks back to the difficult journey ending with the horror of finding that he was the only one of a crew of five who had awoken from bio-suspension. It wasn’t just the loss of his companions but the realisation that without a minimum of two crew members to operate the return journey he would never make it back to Earth.

He had grim choices. He could end things quickly by taking the standard-issue exit pill. He could stay in place orbiting Titan whilst expiring gradually as food, oxygen supply and the living habitat deteriorated. He could wait for rescue from Earth but that was now highly unlikely. Mission Control had kept him fully apprised of the global pandemic that had rapidly depleted the population and made any further space missions unlikely for the imaginable future. In fact, if civilisation was being knocked back to the Stone Age as seemed likely, there would never be any space missions ever again. In any case, even if they miraculously launched tomorrow it would take them years to reach him. He found it difficult contemplating such remote isolation, so alone, for so long.

He had pondered the idealistic reason he had elected to do this mission, sacrificing several years of his life, albeit bio-suspension would have reduced his physical ageing – but he had felt he was doing his bit to ensure the continuity of human life in the solar system by seeking an alternate world for colonisation.

He knew what he had to do and so had deployed the Titan lander, officially completing the first phase of the mission by delivering a human being to stand on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, the one world in the solar system deemed to be most favourable for the possibility of life.

The auto-lab had completed an array of tests and reported negative for signs of existing life despite the rich atmosphere and organic liquids flowing abundantly on the surface. It seemed there just had not been the necessary spark, the catalyst, which would create a genesis on this world.

And now, now he stands on the escarpment looking out upon the alien landscape. He doesn’t need the auto-lab to tell him that inside his pressure suit is an enormous reservoir of life, some of which might well survive in this environment and grow and prosper and ultimately produce more life either as we know it or perhaps as we don’t. Cells, bacteria, viruses, enzymes, DNA and more.

He closes the switch to detonate the device attached to his suit, a device he’s fashioned from the auto-lab’s store of compressed gases. The last words he utters seconds before the flash and blast are …

Let There Be Life.

Just Thinking – Marcia Kuperberg

Alone in the house – no one will come knocking at my door.

Shielded, that’s what they call it. Shielded from an unseen horror – a virus that can strike one down – especially, it seems, someone like me.

So, apart from Zooming with family and friends and, at least in the beginning, innumerable telephone calls that start: “how are you coping?. . .” I spend a lot of my time just thinking.

Strangely, I realise I haven’t really done this before. I’ve been on a constant whirlwind ever since Leon passed away – a whirlwind of activities that have multiplied to the extent that I’m hardly at home. A charmed life – but no time left to think.

Now – suddenly, there’s time for reflection. So, I look back. There’s no point in looking forward.

Three children, the youngest – heavens! – turns 50 this year! Even though it’s nearly 50 years ago, I well remember his birth. At that time, it wasn’t routine to know the sex of the baby before birth and anyway, I was certain it would be a girl. I was one of three girls, my first two were girls, so a girl this would be, for sure. Though still in my twenties, I knew it all. Two healthy, happy little girls, and this would make three.  

Husbands at that time did not routinely attend the birth and despite my husband brandishing a letter from our GP, he was ushered out just before delivery. To this day, we don’t know if anything went wrong, although I clearly remember a sudden flurry and concerned voices when the baby didn’t cry.

The problem was that Benny wasn’t at all like his sisters. Well, “of course!” said the doctors, the relatives, the friends. “Just because his sisters talked early, there’s no reason he should.” Nearly two and hardly talking? After the third visit to the GP regarding these milestones, we took him to be assessed by a specialist. This proved difficult as Benny didn’t cooperate. He just stared at the psychologist – so hard in fact, that she turned to me and said: “Is he always like this?” I confess, I wasn’t sure. Benny carefully examined each toy presented to him but didn’t play ‘appropriately’. In fact, he stared so long and hard at the psychologist that she became quite fidgety. Finally, clearly unnerved, she suggested that I leave the room for a bit so she could ‘get to know Benny a bit better’. At this point, Benny began to scream. Loudly. Our meeting ended soon after.      

I observed other three-year-olds. They were talking, running, playing. Benny stood and watched. Don’t worry, people said – boys are often slower than girls.

I’m very proud of all my children. Meet Gloria, a chef – Daniella, a music teacher – and Benny, a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Childhood’s End – Gary Cole

Love: it feels like being run over by a locomotive but afterwards, you’ll wish you had been. What took place that distant evening was the most wonderful thing to have happened in my short life. Perhaps it still is.

A friend of a friend said, Come to the party. Maeve’s 18th. The more the merrier.  She won’t mind.

So, a wild drive through leafy lanes in a Triumph Stag, don’t know whose. A deconsecrated chapel, hot and overcrowded. Floor length drapes covering the windows. Beer, pot, LSD. Strobe lights and loud music; The Doors, The Dead, Pink Floyd. The volume cranked up beyond Distort.

And then, across the floor, a vision; more dazzling than the strobe lights. Maeve. Eighteen and beautiful as a rose bud about to open. I was captivated. Smitten. Instantly, I’d fallen in love. The first time in my life and the only time as it happens.  We laughed and danced and when her beads snagged on my shirt button it felt as if our hearts were entwined. I had to tear off the button to set her free. I told her I loved her. She closed her eyes and smiled.

We talked earnest nonsense until the small hours. Until her friends dragged her away. She blew a kiss then went. The vision was extinguished.

From ecstasy to despair in a heartbeat. But then joy once more, fleetingly. She returned, pressed a scrap of paper into my hand and disappeared with a giggle. A phone number. Call me.

The next morning, cold and hungry. The button, a token of love, still in my pocket, wrapped in her phone number. Cadged a lift from someone, don’t know who. He didn’t know whose party it had been and had never heard of Maeve. I tried of course, didn’t I just, but there was no such number.

That night was the last of my childhood. It defined the rest of my life. I became a man, of sorts. I moved on, of course I did, got a job, got married though we never had children but all my life I could not shake off the sense of loss or the mournful air that enveloped me. That first vision of beauty haunted me. Perhaps that’s why Carol and I divorced. I never spoke about it but she knew I was possessed by another.

Now fifty years have passed and, old fool that I am, I have returned to the chapel, still chasing ghosts. The day couldn’t be more dreary. I squeeze past the red warning sign: Keep out. Dangerous structure. I finger the never-discarded button in my pocket. The chapel is derelict: pigeons in the rafters, rain leaking through the roof, tattered sheets draped across grimy windows.

I lunch in a local pub and watch a birthday celebration: a white-haired matriarch within the folds of her family. The granddaughter is eighteen and beautiful as only youth can be, beautiful as a rose bud. Discreetly, I study the grandmother’s face and wonder.

Through a glass darkly – Geoff Brown

“What do you see?”

“I see a woman in a blue smock wearing a mask.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in a hospital.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m new-born.”

It was good to see the habitually neutral expression wiped off Dr Neumann’s face. The elderly psychiatrist thought he had hypnotised me to unlock my earliest memories. He looked startled. I thought this is good, I’ll give him a few more jolts.

“Is that unusual?”

“Er, yes it is…very. Can you see anything else?”

“Yes…My little hand is curling round the handles of the surgical shears on the table. It looks as though I want to cut my own umbilical cord.”

I glanced sideways from the couch and saw a startled look on the Doctor’s face.

“No…no, that’s just not possible…What else do you see?

“My father’s face looming above me. There are tears in his eyes. He lifts me up and I see my mother’s lifeless body on the bed.”

“I’m sorry Andrew that’s simply not so…You are imagining things. The mind can play very funny tricks. I know your mother died giving birth to you and that was a traumatic event.”

“Do you know how she died?”

“No, how could I?

“Well, you should know because you killed her.”

I saw a flash of panic in his tired brown eyes.

“Oh I’m not saying it was deliberate. My Dad told me you were a young intern. You switched from general practice to psychiatry later didn’t you?”

I could see he was rising from his chair with the probable intention of getting away from this obviously deranged patient. I sat up, grabbed his arm and squeezed until he yelped with pain and slumped back into his chair.

“You are going nowhere doc until I’ve finished my little retrospective on my sad arrival into this motherless world. Just before he died last year, Dad told me that the doctor attending at my birth reeked of alcohol. Dad said that when this doctor told him Mum had died under anaesthetic he slurred his words so badly it was hard to understand him. Dad was old school. Ingrained in him was the belief that doctors were never to be questioned or contradicted by ordinary folk such as him. The sad fact is that had he lodged a formal complaint your lot, the medical establishment, would have closed ranks to protect one of their own.”

I looked at this sad old man. My words had stripped away the last vestiges of his normal professional veneer. I listened without one iota of pity to his whining attempted justification.

“You must understand Andrew that I was exhausted. I had gone twenty-four hours without sleep when they brought your mother in with complications….I thought my shift was over so I had a whisky or two….”

I took the chloroform pad from my bag and clamped it over his mouth. There was still a good fifty minutes of the session remaining so I knew we would not be disturbed…….

Do not be afraid of the light – Chris MCDermott

Samantha stared through the window as the sunlight streamed through. This was a day for the world to be happy. It had returned to normal after the pandemic.

During those dark months it had been difficult to imagine that the world could ever be like this again, meeting with friends and bathing in their smiles.

What a happy future lay ahead. But not for Samantha.

At the start of the lockdown, before ‘the incident’ happened, Samantha had dreamt that the world would be like this again one day.

But now she wanted the light to go away, to leave her alone.

She started to fall back into that safe world again, a world where the darkness kept her company, where no one was allowed to see her because the government had told them to stay away.

Then she saw the spider. It was making its way across a shelf just in front of her. Samantha had often wondered how such a creature could manage to look so purposeful when its only mission was to find the dark.

Samantha lifted her hand to waft the spider away. But then she stopped.

The tiny creature had decided to march across the photograph of………….no, she could bring herself to say the name.

Oh goodness! How stupid she was. It was only a spider, and humans kill spiders, just as spiders kill flies. It’s the most natural thing in the world.

Come on, Samantha, just do it!
But Samantha flopped back into the chair. She could not.

Something had happened to Samantha during the months of lockdown; she had changed, as those about her had changed. She had become introverted, more sensitive; so even taking the life of a spider seemed wrong.

Had she finally gone mad? She had escaped the virus, but Samantha had not escaped the longer-term mental changes that the pandemic had brought.

Samantha closed her eyes.

Closing her eyes opened Samantha’s mind to a vision, a vision of Eric, the man that she loved, that she had always loved, who had been taken from her. He had died on his bicycle, doing his daily exercise during the lockdown, swerving into a car as he tried to avoid running over a cat, so they said.

The vision of that man stayed in her mind as she opened her eyes again towards the spider, who had decided, of all places, to rest on the end of Eric’s nose.

Then Samantha understood. When you are so sad that all you can do is sit alone and cry, the most absurd of pictures can make you smile.

So, Samantha smiled.

Thank you, spider, for saying hello, for bringing a smile to my lips. Thank you, Eric, for giving me memories that I can return to when the world has sent you its last farewell.

Samantha opened her eyes.
She was no longer afraid of the light.

She embraced it with a smile, as the spider, now alone, continued its journey into the dark.

Milk in First – Dave Elliott

I’m social-shielding with Gran, massaging her frail hands. They’re as craggy as the Swiss Alps where she was born. Gran’s my Empress and today’s her birthday; we’re putting the world to rights. She signed me up for a Swiss bank account at birth, so if after Lockdown and Brexit the Country goes south as she predicts, her ancestry provides me the option to go join my Zurich Gnome or Berne Bear cousins.

Before the war, Gran escaped her Heidi existence to come and work at the brewery where she met and married Grandad. Despite becoming a Smith, her Swissness, still prompted anguish during those traumatic years; casual racism as alive then, as it is now.  She desperately missed her neutral family and was sporadically accused of spying. When Lord Haw-Haw informed everyone that Watford’s Townhall clock was two minutes slow; ‘Germany Calling’, became the taunt as people mistook her Romansh accent for something more sinister.

I love her accent. Together with her Sophia Loren looks, it gives Gran an aura of mystery, something she habitually plays up to. At bygone church-fetes, she’d cover her long ebony hair with a shawl and play Lady Orscheli – crystal-ball reader.

Promoted from the bottling plant to Benskins’ accounts department, she thrived; having an uncanny perception for spotting a rogue debit in the credit ledger and Grandad loved the perks. Beer however isn’t her cuppa. Proper tea is her thing. Always Earl Grey blend and woe-betide offering her a tea-bag.

Gran’s Milky, still delivers her daily gold-top. Creaminess that hits her best wedding-china first, even if the Blue-Tits have had first dibs.

‘The pot’s to be warmed and the leaves steeped for the time it takes to boil an egg.’ A penny for her every ‘it’s an art not a science.’ But follow her express instructions and her tea is titanic. To contradict this would, ‘spoil both palate and divination’. You see, Gran is the best Tasseomancer in the business. Her forte, her vision; reading your fortune in the tealeaves.

Gran would swirl your teacup in her left hand and study the dregs intensely. She’d then inform you if your Grimm, Anchor or Owl was transcendent. Then depending how close it was to the handle; a timescale for her prophecy. Woe betide asking for a specific interrogation. ‘The leaves speak for themselves. It is what it is. What’s the weather going to do? Look out the damn window!’

Yet folks still came from miles away for their elucidations.

Now I’ve fraudulently dabbled, yet always muddle tealeaf cats and dogs and their purported loyalty or sneakiness

‘Gran, why wasn’t your gift passed down to me?’ Her answer kills.

‘Darling, I made it all up; a total charade. Some need the path illuminated, I just light the way. They believe.’

She rubs my hand, scans all her birthday-cards and sighs. ‘One-Hundred today, matching Captain Tom. Howsabout a celebration cuppa. You know he reminds me of your Grandad, a proper gent. Bet he puts the milk in first…’

Portion Sizes – Paul White

Mrs Cordelia Burkett was perplexed. She was not normally the type of person who became

perplexed but opposite her, sat at the dining table, her husband, Henry was still breathing… 

breathing, upright and still ramming chicken biryani into his mouth at a rate that would

have done justice to a speed eating competitor. As murders go, she thought, this was not

going well. Henry surviving beyond today had not been part of her masterplan. She had a

dream, a vision and it did not include spending what remained of the rest of her life with an

obese, redundant old man who had seemingly given up doing all things enjoyable.

‘Really nice,’ Henry spluttered pointing at her plate and briefly spraying the tablecloth with

half-chewed particles of rice. ‘You not eating yours?’

She half-heartedly smiled and spooned a mouthful in.

‘Yes, I’m eating mine,’ she said drily, ‘but unlike you I like to taste it before I swallow it.’

His hand paused reluctantly.

‘Think of it as a compliment to your cooking,’ he said before shovelling in another heavily

laden spoonful, forcing his lips even wider to maximise the intake, ‘Mmmmmm, lovely.’  He

chewed briefly and then like a snake swallowing much larger prey, gulped down the large

ball of chicken and rice whole, Cordelia watching spellbound as it slid gently down his

throat. He belched loudly. ‘Really nice,’ he repeated.

Peter, her new lover and ex-chemistry teacher had not been precise as far as timings went,

he’d merely supplied the white powder and told her to add it to Henry’s food adding that,‘ a

few coughs and it would all be over very quickly.’ She had assumed, obviously wrongly, that

‘very quickly’ meant that Henry would be off to join the all-you-can-eat buffet in the sky

soon after his first mouthful, but ten minutes on and he’d practically finished his entire dinner

with not a death rattle to be heard.    

‘Are you feeling alright, Henry?’ she asked hopefully.

‘’Me, I’m fine,’ he said, scraping the last of the rice off of the plate, ‘and that was lovely.’ He

pushed his plate towards the centre of the table. ‘By the way, you’ll be pleased to hear I’ve

decided to actually take on board some of your moaning of the last few months and do

something about my weight, so as from today I’m going on a diet.’ Cordelia coughed loudly,


‘You’re what?’

‘I’m going on a diet. I reckon if I cut out desserts and reduce my portion sizes I could lose

quite a bit of weight.’  

‘You certainly could,‘ she agreed, ‘but you won’t, because you’ve said all this before and you

didn’t do anything about it.’  Henry snorted.

‘Well thanks for your support, but for your information I’ve already started, I know you

always give me the biggest portion so I swapped the plates around while you were out in the

kitchen fetching the cutlery. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.’

Cordelia coughed again.

Looking straight ahead – Penelope Rowland

“When were you wanting to come to the Optician?” the polite receptionist asked.

“Oh, as soon as possible,” Julie replied. “I’ve left it too long. I should have come before Christmas. When can you fit me in?” She looked at the calendar as various dates were suggested.

“Friday 13th. That sounds fine, even if it’s unlucky! 9 o’clock. Great.” She quickly put the details on to her phone. “I can go on my way to work,” she thought.

The days flashed by. Julie’s job was interesting and stimulating. The weekends and evenings were taken up with hobbies and socialising. Looking after their home had to be fitted in between more exciting activities.

“Perhaps we should book a holiday,” her husband, Ian suggested.

 “Yes, good idea. Where shall we go this year?” Reaching for the travel section of the newspaper. Interesting possibilities flashed through Julie’s mind – sunny beaches, tempting hotels. “Or we could go for some culture this time? Venice, Dubrovnik, somewhere like that.”

“Exciting times ahead.” Ian nodded.

On Friday 13th March, Julie seated herself in the optician’s chair.

“Look ahead, what can you see?” He pointed at an eye chart.

Julie read the letters right down to the bottom line though admittedly the very smallest ones were a bit of a struggle.

“How did you get on at the Opticians? “Ian asked her when she arrived home.

“Oh, he says I’ve got 20/20 vision. Isn’t that good?” Julie beamed with pride. “But he’s going to try me with some reading glasses. I’ve chosen some and need to collect them in a couple of weeks.”

“So how can you have perfect sight if you need glasses for reading?” Ian, a few years older than Julie, could see expensive times ahead.

“Oh, I don’t think it means your vision is perfect in every area. Perhaps it just means your long sight. I don’t know.” Julie’s day had been busy and she still had the evening meal to prepare.

By the end of March all their plans were in disarray. Visiting the optician was way down any list of priorities. Ian and Julie were trying to organise deliveries of food, arrangements for their families, equipment for working from home for themselves and even cancelling the recently booked holiday to Spain. Zoom conferencing was their new challenge.

When Julie eventually remembered to telephone the optician about her glasses, she was not surprised to hear that the place was closed until further notice.

“Well the optician may say that I’ve got 20/20 vision and I looked ahead when he told me to. But I certainly didn’t have the right kind of vision for the 2020 pandemic. If only I had, I would have stocked up the freezer, signed up with the right supermarket, sorted out our computers, not booked a holiday, taken more notice when we were being told about conference calls.” Her list of regrets went on. “2020, that calls for a different kind of vision” she sighed.

Star Crossed Lovers – Rob Summers

As the drowsy summers evening turned to night, the velvet sky, pinpricked by starlight, softly drew a curtain of  shadowy darkness across the countryside below.

In the copse, the sneaking fox stood frozen, head cocked and one paw raised; a grandmotherly badger snuffled carefully through some dry leaves and the two scarecrows hung lifelessly in the fields either side of the mighty oak in which the owl kept guard, its lasers sharp vision scanning the fields for the slightest motion.

Suddenly, its attention locked onto a movement and its topaz eyes narrowed into razored, focussed points.

One of the scarecrows was moving.

At first its head rose, slowly and evenly, its arms floating down and bobbing gently by its sides as it leant forward, headfirst, and drifted away from its crucifix.

Startled, the owl spun its head and watched as the second scarecrow began to move and the two figures glided towards one another, like ragged ghosts, across the moonlit fields and met under the great oak.

‘My heart rejoices to be with you again,’ he said, reaching tenderly towards her.

‘My heart also,’ she replied. ‘My one true love.’

He gently stroked her face with his dry bundle of stick fingers.

‘Thou art so lovely,’ he whispered.

‘And thou art so handsome,’ she replied looking up shyly from under her battered Easter bonnet.

They stayed until the last of the darkness, whispering as lovers do, and then lingeringly parted and drifted back to their crosses.

As he settled in his field, he looked across to her, saying in the faintest whisper, ‘Until tonight my dearest heart.’

‘Until tonight my sweetest love,’ she replied.

The starlight faded into dawn as their heads bowed, their faces set and the owl slipped away, its all-seeing stewardship finished for the night.

Hardly had the sun risen when the farmer arrived and threw the scarecrow roughly into the back of a trailer.

As it pulled away, he lay, his arms swaying like a broken puppet, whispering across to her ‘I shall love thee forever, I shall love thee forever….’