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The Tower Block
A multi-generational story, set in a tower block in London, told from the POV of a brick in a wall. "At eight by four inches, made of a mixture of clay, sand, lime, a touch of iron oxide and magnesium, fired that distinctive bright-red colour (the heat in those kilns can reach up to three and a half thousand Fahrenheit), I was what people called a common building brick. But I never took no offence; I had no airs or graces. Like the other ten million commercial bricks fired in this factory each year, I was destined for a long, productive working life. Unity is powerful. And whether I ended up as part of a new hospital or new school or new whatever, the sum is always greater than its parts. My story begins in earnest in April of 1964, when I was proud to be included in batch number 117, reserved by Lewisham Borough Council. After firing, we were stacked on wooden pallets, rows and rows of us, like soldiers waiting to go into battle. Day after day, the lads speculated as to where we were headed, and what we were gonna become. Back then, I guess we were all idealists, determined to help make the country great again. Rationing was a thing of the past. Industry was on the up. We were as close to full employment as we were ever gonna get. There was a new sense of optimism in the air. And in our own small way, we wanted to represent traditional values: hard work, endeavour, spirit, all the things which made England what it was: Empire, we'll fight 'em on the beaches, Britannia rules the waves. Imagine our excitement then, when we learned that we were gonna be part of the Jubilee Gardens regeneration programme, a landmark scheme, whereby local government provided funding to build affordable housing for the hard-working people of south-east London. At the time, Lewisham was one of the most deprived areas of the city. Brick by brick, we hoped to breathe new life into the community, like a concrete phoenix rising from the ashes. The day we arrived on site, most of the exterior construction work had already been completed. I remember being loaded off the back of a trailer, two dozen pallets of bricks bathed in warm spring sunshine, looking up at that imperious grey tower block, all sixteen floors of her, and feeling such a sense of excitement, knowing I was gonna be at the very heart of something like this, something good and worthy, something which would stand the test of time. By pulleys, we were winched up the side of the building to the eleventh floor. From what would soon become an open-plan front room and kitchen area, you could, through the gap left for the balcony door, see right out over the estate, over the other two tower blocks then in construction, and the children's play area, the swings and slides and climbing frames which had just been sited below. There were still lots to do to the interior, mind (and that was what me and the rest of the lads up here were destined for: the front room wall)–permanent flooring needed to be laid and the walls plastered. Two brickies, Harry and Eric, were hard at work, like shining examples of what I've just been talking about–about what made England great. Both in their mid-twenties, pouring with sweat, with rough callused hands, they took such pride in what they were doing. They wanted to be the quickest, the best, to lay more bricks in one day than all the other brickies put together. All the time they encouraged each other –Come on, H, another fifty before we knock off for lunch, eh? – smearing trowels with a layer of cement, with one fluid flick of the wrist, like poetry in motion, like each brick was their own personal work of art. And for that reason, I felt a true bond with 'em, like we was kindred spirits, that like the building itself, we represented something special, something to be admired..."
Beryl P. Brown
'If we were still in our old house and not this one - this boat - I’d be out with my mates or we’d be in each other’s houses, gaming or just chilling. I couldn’t believe it when Dad said there was no phone signal and no internet on this rust-bucket.' A story about a boy settling into a new life. Would appeal to eleven to fourteen years olds.
Cut Back Flat
Double the rent or half a flat. Your choice. "Cut Back Flat ‘Bit of building work, Miss. George sent us round.’ George is the landlord, and for a moment I entertain some unlikely concepts. Things like upgrade and home improvement run through my mind, pushing darker thoughts down. There are two of them, both men obviously. They troop into my flat in a pile up of battered metal boxes and lengths of sawn timber. One is older, in his 50s, sort of lumpy, not fat but fleshy with exaggerated features. His shoulder length hair is slicked back to the point of recession. The other one could be my age, but is probably younger. He has that gaunt look acquired through serious and dedicated smoking, yellow fingers and teeth to match. They are both in white overalls, though the younger one has somehow rolled his down and is wearing them like hipster jeans, an inch of toned stomach between the waistline and his black tee shirt. He grins lopsided when he catches me looking. They start in the front room with a line drawn down the middle of the bay window. The column of concrete which divides the four panes is struck through in no time, but then the radiator underneath poses a problem, and they are seized by a fit of contemplation. There is a lot of head shaking. Teeth are sucked, pencils gnawed. They unroll a set of plans, consult in mumbles and hisses. More head shaking, loud exhalations through pursed lips. I try to get a look at what’s on the paper, but from my tentative perch on the sofa, the maze of lines bears no resemblance to my mental framing of home..."
A story for 8 to 11 yea-olds. Having eaten some of the wizard's magic jelly, which was supposed to make him sing better but didn't, King Popple spends every day making up football results. Meanwhile for a not unrelated reason everyone has purple wax constantly dribbling out of their ears and all the children under 5 think they are cows. Hopefully the chamberlain might have a useful idea... "The poor queen's nerves were strained to the limit so much of the time that some of her courtiers thought they might spring apart with a loud twang like an overtightened violin string. She was undoubtedly beginning to look much older than her age. The delicate gifts she and her husband received from other kings and queens were all placed on top of the mantelpiece over the fire in the throne room. There was only one problem. The mantelpiece was very old and rickety. The slightest knock could make it shake in an unpredictable way and one of the vases or cups or whatever would fall off. Even a loud noise, like a door banging in the distance, could get the mantelpiece shaking and items falling. Unfortunately, the king had eaten some magic jelly the wizard had made. It was supposed to make him be able to sing better but hadn’t and now he was suffering the unfortunate side-effects of the wizard’s disastrous concoction. The king had become too distracted to order the repair of the mantelpiece or to realise that if one of the china gifts were to fall off and break it would be likely that some form of unpredictable disaster would fall upon the kingdom. This was because all the gifts were imbued with magic and if they were broken, the magic contained within them would be unleashed randomly and uncontrollably. Instead, due to the side-effects of the jelly, the king just sat on his throne all day making up football results or reading them out once the Royal Newspaper arrived on Saturday evening..."
If the public don't have the discipline to watch what they put into their mouths then the state is just going to have to do it for them... "The lines are always long but no one ever complains about that. It’s to be expected. After all, this service is provided by the government. More than that, it’s for our own good.I shuffle along in the queue. The girl behind the plexi-glass window sees me out the corner of her eye and continues to monitor her customer’s products but I know she is thinking about me. The way she purses her lips gives away her disgust. The buzzer sounds and customer 4572 inserts his card into the payment slot. No unauthorised items. His units are deducted, his items are dispatched into suitable biodegradable packaging and off he goes. Relief obvious on his jowly face."
The Green Man
Looking for a fresh start, Maison moves to a remote country village. But instead of finding the peace and tranquility she'd hoped for, she discovers something rather more sinister in the shadows of England's green and pleasant land. "She let go of the tree then looked at it closely. It was gnarly and seeping sap but just a tree. She moved around the trunk, her boots sinking into the soft earth. As she touched the ridges and bumps she expected to feel the reassurance that the tree was ordinary and the same as all the others, but instead she felt sick, a wave of revulsion washing over her as she moved away from it. Instinctively she wiped her hand on her parka. At first she didn’t understand what she was feeling but then she saw it. Gouged deep into the wood was the outline of a face, eyes fixed down and staring directly at her."
By the River
Terrible things happen down by the river: it is a place of despair where humans do their worst to each other. Yet it is also a place where ghosts can be laid to rest. In By the River, originally published in Umber ( 2011 ), the voices of a bereaved 60 year old woman, a teenage boy who’s lost his way in life and a murdered Viking are woven into a dark story of revenge and tragedy. “From being all conquering giants, they were now instantly reduced to playthings for the deities; as the world seemed to expand, the river becoming broader and the sky higher, some men fell to their knees while others remained impassive awaiting their fate. They didn’t need to wait long. The sky fractured with a great fork of lightening, thunderclaps reverberated off the riverbanks in drum rolls and the water started to roil.”