The Girl in the Blue Shoes

The FIRST CHAPTER of my literary mystery/thriller novel The Girl in the Blue Shoes … 

The mottled scent of salt and vinegar crisps and lightly peppered tomato swirled around the sun slapped train carriage.

The ruffling air rushed its way into the compartment like rowdy school kids racing in to beat each other out of the best seat by the window or somewhere ever else about the pews. A flame haired baby waved me past, in a back garden by the tracks, the little one held aloft by grandpa, as I flew by with the rest aboard our packed metal caterpillar, at one hundred miles an hour.

I had decided to spend the day in Oxford, my familiar and favourite city. If indeed it could be called that at all, its feel and appearance so much more like that of a petrified country village, or some mythical capital, its medieval tones wonderfully rich and flowing, seeping off seemingly every surface like dripping honeycomb paint. And after all, where else is it more pleasant to spend a mid-spring day than the City of Dreaming Spires? Although, setting off the day felt much more like the middle of summer, a wafting heat lathered onto the day like thick warm syrup.

The city had once been my home. But there had been an accident. I’d fallen off my bike while I had been cycling to Christ Church, my college, one morning and ended up with a stint in the hospital. I was lucky, or so they told me. A bump on the head, a few stitches and that was that, back on my feet in no time. But it had been much more than a near miss. It had shaken me, and it was enough of a rattling of my cadge to change my thoughts, realign my priorities, and track my compass onto what more there might be for me out there beyond college life. It was my wakeup call. My second chance.

Life had been a typical mix of turmoil and intrepidity (I hoped) up until then, as with anyone I suppose. A combination of relationships, one producing a child, stints here and there but never too far afield. Never too far from my comforting corner office and side street flat. The comfy couch, the nearby pub, the illustrations framed upon the walls, catching just the right amount of dust to make a gentle perusal feel like a window into a simple life.

But after the accident I pushed out the boat. After so many years of pleasant regularity I hitched up my pack upon my shoulders and flew into the opposite of my rounded and delightful world. I moved to London.

At first it was a scary dream, a swilling bowl of ingredients which all took their own individual times to digest. After that it became home, and I celebrated the gifts it gave me of which Oxford could not. The light, the rush, the feeling of enveloping oneself within a fold so thick and running with colours that it didn’t matter if you failed, again and again. It didn’t matter who you are or were or could possibly be. Everyone in London was on a reset, or so it seemed to me. They had all been drawn there, like dirty fridge magnets slipping down the fridge door.

Soon though, contemplations of wist aside, I was alighting at the station of my destination. The ever hungry ticket machine gobbling up my pass, I then set out into the street and a familiar comfortability swept over me that I was both expecting and hoping for. I took it in with open arms, the town a dear old friend, and had been an instant love of mine the first moment I had set foot among its ancient midst and rumbling cobbled streets, what now amounts to many years ago.

I made my way as if on autopilot along the same track as I had worn down many times before, taking me towards Christ Church Meadow, and then along the paths that follow the edge of the Meadow itself. I cut through a few other parks and streets and cemeteries before sidling up Parks Road and past the Museum of Natural History.

I looked down at my dusty shoes, a long dry spell in the Shire responsible for this untidy possibility. I shook them around a little under my eyes to no avail. I cast my own pupils back onto my path when I saw her.

That girl … the girl in the blue shoes.

Thin and sharp she walked along, taking no heed of me at all. She was a woman to be more accurate, long legs in navy tights and a cardigan to match her footwear in style and colour too.

I took no hesitation to mind and instantly crossed the street and walked along behind her. She was pretty, no doubt, but all girls are. She was walking but not talking, not waving nor in discussion with anyone. But she looked like she was. She didn’t look right. I don’t mean that she was unhinged or strange or anything of that nature, by far she was a comely example of a girl of the times. But she didn’t look right. Like each town and city street, each park and house is a painting, and she had just walked into the wrong one. No hoe in hand to tend the crop, no scythe of steel to harvest the wheat. What’s more, I didn’t see her approach from any direction. But then again I didn’t notice her until she walked across my eye line, like a swan gliding across a pond, more than likely already there long before you had first lay gaze upon them, even though no splash of arrival had before met your sight.

I dropped my pace and watched her walk a different way than the one my own compass had as heading, and that was that, she was gone. Lost to the winds, and the rest of my day was laid ahead of me.

The sun did me well from then on, and stayed around without obstacle. I spent a few pleasant hours catching up with old haunts and enjoying the company of familiar sites as I soaked up as much vitamin D as possible. As the golden orb crept closer towards its earthen bed I made moves to head back towards the train station.

I walked back along the same path on which I had come, making only a few minor detours, when suddenly there was something as if in a dream. Again The Girl in the Blue Shoes, passing as if she were told to do so, set on a course by another force. Was that a look in her eye? Did she have the exact same expression as she did on her pass of me hours before? This time going in the other direction, on the other side of the street? A mirror image?

Evidence of the forgery may be in the second occurrence itself. It does not exist because it does.

Something is happening, I can sense it, I can taste it in the air. And this isn’t any idle paranoia, it can’t be. Paranoia is never idle anyway. Something has been done, some switch has been flicked, and it’s up to me to find out why. I knew that there and then, not a jot of self doubt did I have in that lightning prophesy, so much so had it sliced, clean and sharp at me right then. The Girl in the Blue Shoes had been their undoing. She and her presence would lead me to it all.

I clocked her again, but with careful eye now gleaming from my sockets. I rested my blood and bones for a moment, taking a spot on a wall opposite the position she was approaching, the low slung stone structure bordering the outside line of the Natural History Museum.

She floated along, I fancied, with similarities within her movements this time that could never be dismissed as coincidence or commonality. They were not identical in technician, I didn’t think, but in feeling and flight. She carried on her way, but this occasion I watched her progress further along the street, the length she went until a building corner blocked my view. I thought at once about following her progress, but next moment dismissed it as folly, some grasp of realism, reality fetching me. For now at least.


Architectural Spirit

An article I wrote for the Eiger Gallery website … 

‘My main purpose, and feeling really, since I’m involved with man made environments, is to create the most desirable environment to improve human life … It’s not esigning to suit bankers, or building codes or contractors, it’s designing for people.’

These droplets of wisdom are some of the words of the, sadly now no longer with us, John Lautner. They came from a documentary about the renowned architect entitled ‘The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner’. Lautner is a figure who, after only an hour and half of sitting in a stylish screening room in the Royal Institute of British Architects, I gained a rapid appreciation of, and respect for his ideals and place in the history of design.

I suppose when the majority of people think of housing they think of functionality. About the size of the bedrooms, or the position of the windows, and a place to call ‘home’, without maybe fully knowing what that means. However, timeless enduring space is a term Lautner uses to describe what he saw as one of the most important aspects of all architecture, and an idea which permeates through his designs.

Aside from endeavouring to create a space which does more than just keep your head dry and your stuff safe, what was strongly impressed upon me was another more broader idea of Lautner’s, which is the concept of knowing everything about what you are designing. This involves not just concerning yourself with the end product, but knowing how that end product is constructed and the methods required for that construction, with a specific focus on how this process effects all else that follows.

In one sequence of the documentary, Lautner brightly recalls his time studying architecture as a young man under the tutelage of Frank Lloyd Wright. Lautner tells of how he and the others under the great master’s wing not only learnt how to draft and design structures, but they learnt how to build, on frequent occasions wielding hammer and nail, something Lautner laments is not within the skillset of the average architectural graduate among the youth of today.

The thoughts these ideas provoked within me were simple, and they revolved around the same concepts about design and designing which Lautner spoke of. The first of these was do to with the improvement of life. The concept left me wondering – Is it really possible for design to have an impact on this? Can a pretty building make you feel better?

The second was to do with his words about knowing all about what you do. As you think about it, his mantra makes perfect sense. Does the designer of the latest model of MacBook know how to construct one with his or her bare hands? Are the truly gifted designers the ones who know about the practicalities of their craft? Are experts in the materials used and how to use them? ‘Improving life and suiting the situation …’

Lautner echos his key beliefs on design and architecture throughout the film, and one is left with a resonating calmness when watching pictures, moving and otherwise, of his creations. At the end of the documentary, I was left with more questions, but full of answers. What does design really mean to any of us? Does it make our lives better to live? Or is it just there, noticed sometimes, but ultimately ineffectual against what we really care about? Like most things in life, for me, design plays as large a role in our day to day existence as we allow it to. But when something is touched by a designer such as Lautner, one can not help but sit up and take relevant notice. The elements of the design in these cases will not allow you to do anything less. SH

(article written for

9 Ways to Finish Writing Your Book

I suppose I should precursor this list by saying “my” book, as I’ve never written your book, or finished it, so how am I supposed to know? But what I was kind of hoping is that the point would be gotten, and that in general tools and techniques for finishing a book can be relatable to many people.

Saying all that, here you go …

1. Just do it. Google “Shia LaBeouf Motivation” and you can thank me later 😉

2. Repeat the previous tip, every day. I’m not actually joking about that one.

3. Set a day word target. Sounds simple, but by golly does it work! 100 or 1,000 words a day. Set it, and don’t let the day end until you’ve met that goal.

4. Put your book first. If you have a choice between going out and writing, chose writing. You can go out to all the fancy members clubs you want when you’re a bonafide author.

5. Get lost. I don’t mean rudely, I mean get lost in your world. Be thinking about it at work, on the bus, in the line at the bank – everywhere.

6. Did I mention Shia LaBeouf?

7. Tell people what you’re doing. Even if you’re nervous, do it. It holds you accountable, as they will keep asking until you’re done!

8. Have breaks. Sometimes writing it hard, and much harder for some than others. At these times reward yourself. Many a day I kept ice cream at the ready for just such occations. Or it could be anything, whatever you see as a reward, keep it there as your proverbial carrot.

9. Exercise. Every day. As important as it is to sit down and write, it’s just as important to stand up and move about. It feeds your body but also your mind.

So there you go – these are only some things to help you get stuff done, but in my opinion, they are a ruddy good start! S.H.

Chapter Five

Here follows the beginning of chapter five of one of my novels – ‘EWAN PENDLE and the WHITE WRAITH’ … If you enjoy, take a look at the rest of the story HERE 😉

“Ewan turned back around and stepped out into the courtyard. He looked up at the rough sides of the buildings which flanked it on all sides as they looked down on him with crooked judging eyes. Ewan gulped.

As he walked towards the large double doors the girl had indicated to, Ewan had to first navigate some of the fig tree’s large and thick roots as they stuck up out of the stone covered ground and snaked all over the cobblestones like low winding walls. The murmuring sound grew louder still and Ewan was now able to discern it as the high and low clatter of voices. Just as he reached the double doors and was steeling himself to pull them open and enter, a deep voice called out from behind him.

You there,’ said a voice with a presence and power that seemed to make the fig tree’s leaves shudder above Ewan’s head. ‘Why are you so late for morning meal?’ Ewan thought with a wild jolt that it was actually the fig tree speaking, and looked up into its dense branches. But the sound of heavy footfalls met his ears too, and before he could turn around to face their owner, there in front of him stood his questioner.

Looking down at him was a tall and darkly rough skinned man with broad shoulders and a proud looking head set upon them. A head that was swathed strangely in a green silken cloth, wrapped around his skull like a loose turban and covering one of his keen eyes, the bulk of the cloth falling down the back and sides of his neck. Over a long but short sleeved white gown he wore an even longer deep green vest coat, the edges of it trimmed with fine gold stitching. Around his thick waist was an equally splendid gold and black patterned belt, tied in a thick knot at his middle. The man was as tall and as large as a bear on its hind legs.

The eye of the man that wasn’t covered by the silken green cloth was narrowed and stared at Ewan with a powerful gaze, the might of the earth behind it. Presently he brought his two huge muscular arms, like tree branches, to fold across his armour like chest.

Well boy? Speak!

I – ah –’ Ewan spluttered, feeling as if his legs were melting from beneath him under the heat radiating from the large man’s scrutiny.

It’s alright, Benjamin. He is our newly arrived cadet.’ The voice that had saved Ewan’s stammering belonged to Enola; she had just emerged from a doorway off to the side of Ewan’s view. She walked up to Ewan and placed a slender hand on his shoulder.

Very well, Master,’ said the menacing Benjamin with polite reluctance, his powerful singular brown eye registering no hint of accommodation as it continued to stare Ewan down.

Thank you, Master Moham,’ said Enola in formal tones, and the giant of a man bowed his head a slight angle of respect towards Enola before he walked away. Enola watched him depart and then looked down at Ewan with her startling azure blue eyes. ‘I see you have found your way to the mess hall well enough, Ewan?’

Yes, thank you,’ said Ewan, ‘the girl, she helped me.’

Ah yes, you have met Brigid then?’


Yes, she is my errand-girl. She lives at Firedrake also, with her aunt and sisters.’

Ah,’ said Ewan, casting his eyes into the direction of the little alley he had been left in by Brigid the errand-girl. Enola’s lips formed into a mysterious half smile and Ewan found it hard to discern between whether she were showing accommodation or amusement.

Although, you would not normally be seeing her around during the day,’ said Enola with a steady glance on Ewan, taking her hand off of his shoulder and rising back up to her full height. ‘And remember, Ewan, you must address me as “Master” when you are here, as you should with all of the Lenitnes Masters that instruct at Firedrake,’ Enola added, but not rudely.

Oh – sorry … Master,’ said Ewan.

Come along now, morning meal is almost at an end, and we need to get some food into that slight form of yours if you are to be any good to us throughout the day,’ said Enola in a monotone voice, however, not devoid of joviality. She stepped forward and opened the tall double doors of the mess hall and Ewan’s ears were hit with the full cacophony of chatter and clatter that he could only hear but a remnant of before.

The two of them walked into a long and wide but low hall packed with long and low tables that had long and low benches beside them. Sitting at the tables were, as best as Ewan could guess, a few hundred or so other children of varying ages, all of them wearing the same white and black pyjama-like uniform as he was. A couple of stray children in the large hall looked briefly in Ewan’s direction as he and Enola entered, but those few curious souls soon turned back to their fellows and continued their conversations or the shovelling of food into their gobs.

Ewan looked over the tables that ran up and down the hall, from where the intermingling smell of freshly cooked food was wafting along towards him. Most of it seemed to have been cleared away, but Ewan could still see the remnants of large serving bowls of porridge, a few wide plates and dishes with hot things and cold things and some tall jugs almost emptied of milk and juices of every colour and presumably every flavour available too.

The scent of food in the hall pushed its way up Ewan’s nostrils as he continued to follow Enola along. A steady flutter of hurried whispers ignited here and there, jumping up from the gathered children like scattering birds, as if a sudden breeze had just rushed into the room, borne from the slopes of faraway mountains, and one by one by one more of the cadets began to take notice of Ewan’s arrival.

Just then Enola stopped abruptly, casting a thick and surveying look over the seated children. This quelled their tittering so quickly that Ewan instantly thought Enola had them all under some kind of remote control, or else had just cast upon them some clever spell. Enola eyed the gathered children for a moment more, before slowly returning her attentions back to Ewan.

Everyone will be assembling in the dojo shortly,’ said Enola, turning her wide eyes back onto Ewan. ‘And after that the morning sessions will begin. Get some food while you can and follow the other cadets when you hear the clock tower chime. I will see you later on.’ Enola turned and left the long hall from the door she and Ewan had entered, and after a short pause, the whispering began again.

Ewan walked nervously down a line of benches and sat down. The back of his head was itching with the heat of people’s stares, but he tried his best to look unmoved. Instead Ewan directed his attention towards a large silver dish of bacon that sat in the middle of the table in front of him, slowly steaming, all the while trying to ignore the whispers and wide eyes. His stomach was suddenly painful with hunger, feeling like it was being scratched from the inside out by dirty fingernails eager to get greedy hands on food.

Ewan took an empty bowl and began to ladle thick spoonfuls of a light brownish mixture that had the apparent consistency of porridge. Ewan took up a spoon that was set on the table and shoved a large dollop into his mouth. It had a warming, sweet but tangy flavour that baffled Ewan at first, but he quickly decided that it was the best thing he had ever tasted, and promptly devoured the whole bowlful in two minutes flat.

As he was scraping away the last few bits of porridge stuck to the bowl’s walls, a far off and deep bell sounded, and the other children began to get to their feet. Chairs clumped and scraped on the hardwood floor, and the march of many feet now filled the air. Ewan got up too, left his empty breakfast bowl on the table as all the others seemed to have done with their plates, and then followed the other children out.

He joined the back of the large group as they crossed the wide courtyard, skirting around the massive fig tree and through a tall and wide archway on the opposite side. The archway led through another set of tall double doors, hundreds of pairs of feet clattering into a long and wide corridor and over the worn, dark wood floor, the imposing walls lined with more colourfully bright but old fashioned looking lamps.

As he walked through the open doors Ewan noticed that carved upon their front was the same ornately fashioned F as the one on his shirt, and indeed the shirts of everyone else about him.

All of the other cadets poured into the corridor ahead of Ewan like jam through a funnel, slowly siphoning through it towards a wide staircase at the end, all of them now tightly packed and shuffling more than walking as the crowd’s pace slowed in the more confined space of the hallway. Ewan was at the very back, some of the others ahead throwing him curious looks over their shoulders as they went. Ewan didn’t meet their stares but instead turned his attention to the walls he was passing.

The walls of the long hallway were covered in hundreds, perhaps thousands of framed newspaper clippings that extended along the high walls on either side of the hallway, right up to the wooden beam vaulted ceiling. Ewan stopped following the others and paused to read a few at his eye height. Vilmhieds do it Again! said one headline; Skene and Green Make a Mean Machine, said the one next to it; Mangrove the Vilmhied’s New Star, said yet another. One of the largest clippings on the wall was emblazoned with a heading in bold black letters proclaiming: Fachan Captured! A smaller heading underneath it read: White Lightning Nabs Fachan After Three Year Vilmhied Operation. Under the writing was a picture of a tall figure in a long dark coat. The person was holding their hand up as if they were trying to stop their photograph being taken, their face in shadow. Ewan squinted at the top corner of the clipping. It was dated nearly two hundred years ago! Ewan thought – Did cameras even exist then?

What do you think you are doing?’ Ewan leapt into the air in surprise and spun around to see the thick chested and burly Master Moham, staring angrily down at him.

I – ah …’ Ewan spluttered once again, looking around to see the back end of the crowd of cadets disappearing up a large and wide staircase across a vast room at the end of the corridor.

Why are you dawdling behind?’ the man thundered, so loudly that Ewan could see a couple of those at the back of the retreating cadets slow their pace up the stairs and turn to look towards Ewan to see what all the fuss was about. Ewan had his back to the wall of newspaper clippings, Moham’s stony chin and sharpened singular brown eye baring down on him like a cannon being aimed at its enemies.

I was just looking at the –’ Ewan tried to explain before he was cut off by more crushing words.

I don’t care what you were doing! Move yourself to the dojo now or you will be cleaning it out by yourself for a week – and exactly where do you think you are going, Miss Rue?’

The Master had spoken clearly, changing his tack without his steely eye ever alleviating its grip from Ewan’s face. The latter blinked, thinking the tall Master had lost his mind, calling Ewan ‘Miss’. But Moham’s sudden change in speech was explained as Ewan looked past the accosting man to see a girl frozen like a statue in mid tip-toe behind him, caught, as she had clearly been attempting to sneak past them both.

The girl’s face was twisted into a wince and she displayed the unmistakeable expression of someone who knew what was coming. She was wearing the same black trousers and white top as Ewan, but to his surprise, she didn’t have any shoes on.

Ah, well, Master Moham, you see, I was just coming to find …’ the girl looked at Ewan expectantly. It took him a few excruciating seconds to catch on.

Ewan,’ said Ewan slowly.

Ewan,’ the girl finished with a confident flurry, ‘of course, Ewan – and – uh – you know – show him to the dojo … Him being new and all.’ The girl had a hopeful confidence that Ewan had not seen in anybody before.

The austere looking Master Moham whipped around to glare at the girl now. She gave him what Ewan though was her most sickly polite grin. Moham turned back to stare at Ewan again and his face began to feel hot, like he was standing far too close to the sharp licking flames of a fire. Master Moham looked Ewan up and down one last time, as if he were trying to asses his weaknesses.

And once again, Miss Rue, you are defiantly not in full uniform,’ Moham spoke again, his eyes still fixed on Ewan.

The girl looked down at her bare feet and then up again at the Master’s back.

Well – yeah – you see – about that Master, I was – ’

Enough simpering, Rue!’ Moham bellowed, ‘I’ll deal with you later! Now, take your friend and make your way to the dojo – now! Or the two of you will be indulging in a little extra dojo cleaning together’, Moham added with menace.

Master Moham strode away in the opposite direction of the stairs and Ewan looked across to the girl just in time to see her pull a face at the man’s retreating back. She then motioned at Ewan to follow her and bounded towards the wide staircase. Ewan had to jog a few steps to catch up to her.

As the hallway ended it opened out into a massive kind of banquet hall, lavishly decorated with broad paintings of every monster imaginable. Deadly dragons and towering trolls to name but a few stared down at Ewan as he gazed around, all four grand and massive walls fit to bursting with such an array of Creatures in various actions and poses as Ewan could ever imagine. Other fancy fittings adorned the high walls, most of which were painted in a lushly pale puce, dangled down like bats in a cave. The ceiling was vaulted and had a long rectangular skylight set into its centre, the glass fashioned in coloured shapes and figures Ewan was sure were depictions of yet more strange Creatures.

Around the staircase that the girl had just climbed onto was a crossroad of corridors, one leading off to the left and another to the right. Another led away forward on each side of the staircase, giving Ewan five new choices including the stairway of where he could go. Ewan stopped, gazing around at the cavernous and royal looking room; he had never seen anything like it in his life.

Come on,’ the girl called back to him, now halfway up the central staircase.” SH.

5 Things to do When Waiting for That Book Deal

Continuing on with the trend of lists this week, here’s another handful of tips to keep you going through those long, dark and stormy nights …

1. Work. Now, this is a two pronged tip really. I say work as in the creative work of writing, but I also say work in terms of gainful employment. This refers to the work you do to pay the bills, as if you’re not yet on a healthy contract with Penguin, odds are you need to do something else to make ends meet. For me it’s acting, but for you it could be anything you like (or don’t like, hence the writing). In essence, while you’re writing, you may as well be saving up as much coin as you can too, in order to keep you in pencils and computer keyboards …

2. Believe in yourself. Oh corny, oh how terribly corny this tip may seem. And that it is. However, the fundementals are often that for a reason. You HAVE to believe your writing is good and that your book is good. If you don’t, you’re doomed.

3. Spend less time on social media. Although it’s ever tempting, and in actuality quite necessary in order to put yourself out there, too much time on Twitter and the like can be a bit discouraging. Try to limit your time, or have an allocation for the day. When good things start to happen, you’ll get notifications, instead of wasting time looking for them.

4. Anyone heard of this guy Shia LaBeouf?

5. Get on with your life. Although writing may more than be just a part of your life, unless you’re Shakespeare, it won’t be all of it. And even that guy dedicated some serious “me time”. Make sure you concentrate as growing and learning as a person, and don’t just spend the majority of your Friday nights refreshing your email feed in hopes of that one golden-ticket-reply with the news you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

The Great Escape

I sat and I watched on a sullied park bench as a plastic bag set fourth to make its great escape from a rubbish bin. The birds in the trees chattered away like children and the surrounding traffic noise rose up like the unconcerned rumblings from parents in the background. The tall leaves around swayed like hair and the plastic bag lay in wait, timing its actions like the prisoner watching the guard.

After several valiant attempts the cause looked all but lost.

Until, handles pulsing as great steadied arms, the bag got itself teetering over the edge of the green bin. The time was now, all was poised and perched on the knife edge between freedom and deathly relegation. The bag paused, waiting desperately for one last ounce of wind. It came! And with the warm whip of the wind, liberty was found. The bag looked like a delighted animal, skipping off at high speed down the park path. It rolled and spun with its own pride, and carried away on the summer breeze, towards the city from whence it came. SH

Edge of Reality

The following is the first chapter of one of my novels, entitled ‘Edge of Reality’ …

Stanley Rue and Doctor Vivian Eldridge sat opposite each other at the far end of a spacious hospital treatment room. In truth, it was an office, Eldridge’s office. But she was so new to the role that there hadn’t been a suitable office made up for her before she’d commenced her position. Instead, she had ended up taking what would normally be a group consultation room as her now regular work space, and as a result the decor of her new office still possessed the remnants of a less than private and personal space. Colourful posters designed to engage children still hung on the walls, a slap dash pile of pamphlets for family therapy sitting on a small table pushed into one corner.

The dull light of the day ebbed in through the tall window behind the Eldridge’s desk, tapping her gently on the back as she shifted her posture a little more upright, facing the seated Stanley over her wide desk.

Doctor Eldridge was sharply dressed, wearing a traditional white lab coat over a perfectly tailored grey suit skirt and jacket. On her legs were thick black tights, her feet within deep brown ankle height and heeled boots.

His face only mutely visible to her, Stanley was sitting a little hunched, wearing a fluffy white dressing gown over drab looking checkered pyjamas. On his left foot he wore a pastel pink sock, on the right foot a bright purple sock. He wasn’t wearing any shoes.

Eldridge looked keenly across the desk at Stanley.

Do you know why you’re here?” Eldridge said, the clinical wisp in her voice clear.

Stanley was turning his hands over in his lap, the spot where his eyes were presently fixed upon. The words reverberated through the air and there was a pause as he looked up from his hands, turning his attention away from the prim doctor and instead towards the window behind Eldridge. Outside the window a bird sat mutely on the branch of a large tree, the feathered creature peering into the room with inquisitive attention, its eyes right on Stanley.

My family think I’m unsafe,” Stanley said slowly after a moment, not yet looking at Eldridge.

You’ve done some things that have made your family members feel unsafe,” Eldridge replied.

Nothing I did had anything to do with them.” Eldridge looked down onto her own lap, consulting her notes briefly before continuing.

I understand you drove your father’s car into a tree …” the trim looking doctor went on, “while he was in it.”

He wasn’t listening to me. It seemed like the only thing to do at the time that would get his attention.” Eldridge straightened up in her seat again after Stanley’s words.

You tried to kill yourself, Mr Rue.”

That … was a mistake,” Stanley said, a sombre wake bobbing in the air behind his words.

You tried to stab yourself though the heart with a kitchen knife,” Eldridge reiterated.

It wasn’t sharp enough,” said Stanley, darkly jovial. “Next time I’ll check.”

Next time?” Eldridge replied, clear concern in her tone.

Look, right now this is best place for me, I know that,” Stanley said, a little stern, “but I don’t intend on living here forever. There are things I have to do.”

Well, Mr Rue,” Eldridge said, holding her ground, “that all depends on you, and how you respond to treatment and medication.”

Medication?” Stanley said, a trite of worry in his voice now. “I’m not taking any medication.”

You’ve been placed here – ” Eldridge began to say, before Stanley cut her off.

I placed myself here.”

Eldridge was only slightly perturbed at being interrupted, continuing on after no more than a baby sized pause.

Be that as it may – even for self admitted patients, Mr Rue, once here, this treatment isn’t voluntary. If, after time, you begin to show improvement, the medication may be able to be taken back to a lower level.”

I don’t need medication,” Stanley said, a firm stamp intoned onto the end of his sentence.

Once again, Mr Rue, that may not be up to you,” Eldridge said with a superior air.

We’ll see about that … And can we cut it out with the ‘Mr Rue’ bullshit? I know you know my name’s Stanley.”

OK … Stanley.”

And I can call you Vivian then?” Eldridge struggled to mask her surprise at Stanley’s question, her reply dealt out in a rush.

How did you know my name was Vivian?”

It’s on your ID tag.”

Stanley motioned to the photographic identification card attached to Eldridge’s white coat. She looked down hurriedly, touching the card suddenly as though she wasn’t even aware it was there. A calmer look then spread over her face as the fingertips of her left hand slid over the shiny plastic.

Well, I think in this case, in the interests of our professional relationship that is, that you should still address me as Doctor Eldridge.” Stanley shrugged his shoulders.

Whatever you say, Doc,” he said in a flippant manner. Eldridge crossed her legs as though it were a professional action, consulting her clipboard again as she did so, and then cleared her throat with a tiny puff of air.

So, for our first session, I would like to try some simple visualisations, in order to help me get to know you. And for you to build a picture of what you want to get out of our visits.”

Visualisations?” Stanley uttered, a clear note of incredulity in his voice.

It’s a simple exercise, just to help you relax a little into your new surroundings.”

Stanley raised his right eyebrow a touch, Eldridge completely oblivious to his skepticism. Stanley shrugged his shoulders again.

Close your eyes, please …” Eldridge said. “What’s the first thing you see?”

Stanley still looked unsure, but closed his eyes anyway, taking a small but purposeful breath along the way. Eldridge peered at him with almost surgical precision.

The very first thing,” she went on. “Even if other visions and ideas are clouding it afterward, just the first image that comes into your head.”

My daughter.”

OK. Are you sure?”

You said the first thing.”

Eldridge balked, glancing sideways at her files and then back at her handwritten notes as she held the clipboard even more astutely on her knee.

I’m sorry, Stanley, but I’ve got nothing here that says anything about you having a daughter.”

She hasn’t been born yet,” Stanley replied in a short monotone breath, without missing a beat. Eldridge faltered once more, this time Stanley fully aware of it, even though his eyes remain closed.

And how do you see her?”

You mean where do I see her? What is she doing?”

Ah, yes, that’s right.”

She’s not doing anything. She’s standing, looking at me.”

Looking at you?”

Stanley’s thoughts fell into a dreamlike state. As his vision dipped away from the present, his focus was now on a young girl with long pinky purple hair, standing quite still, in the midst of a deserted forest clearing.

She’s always looking at me,” he added, his mind still wandering, his eyes still closed.

And you can see her face? Clearly?”

Would you like me to describe her in detail, Doc?”

But how would you be able to do that, if she hasn’t been born yet?”

Suddenly Stanley opened his eyes, staring right back at Eldridge. She blanched a degree under his sudden piercing eyes, but held his sharpened gaze all the same.

Her face is all I see. Every last hair on her head, every last freckle on her nose … I’ve known her face for a very long time …”

Eldridge seemed to hold her breath, as a curious suspended silence gripped the room. Eldridge’s body tingled and fired, her eyes locked onto Stanley’s, utter sincerity in his stare. Finally she heaved a breath before continuing with her questions.

And how does it make you feel, when you see these … things?”

It’s like I’m a boat, a rusty old barnacle ridden boat, lost out at sea. And her face … Her face is like a ghost calling out to me from the shore. Calling me home.”

What – what’s her name, your daughter?” Eldridge said, grappling back her composure.

Magenta. Her name’s Magenta.”

Stanley kept his keen look on Eldridge, and the young doctor now appeared more self-assured, as though she had just labeled Stanley nicely in her head, and now only needed to find the right sized box to put him in.

I see … OK, I think we can leave it there for today.”

Stanley said nothing but looked around, his eyes finally pointing out of the window again. The bird which was there before had returned, the small creature now peering intently in at Stanley once more. The two exchanged stares for a moment before the bird suddenly flew away and Stanley got to his feet, leaving the room without so much as a backwards word to Eldridge.

Eldridge sighed and got to her feet, the sound of her new patient’s disappearing heels growing softer and softer from outside her open office door.

She looked around the room a little tiredly, before noticing something. On the wall that contained the window Stanley was looking out of, and that which she had had her back to the whole time her and Stanley were talking, was a series of posters charting various colours. They were leftovers from her office’s previous life as a more multipurpose space, the posters exactly like what might be seen on a classroom wall. One of the colours featured, and the poster that Eldridge’s eyes fell onto then, was the colour ‘Magenta’.

The Taxi Driver Who Couldn’t Drive

Well, that’s not strictly true. He could drive, just not terribly well it would seem. He didn’t appear to quite know how a manual engine was used for starters.

Now that I’ve begun to talk about cars, I suspect a certain large percentage of you will switch off, taking your like-giving fingertips elsewhere. And for those of you who do remain, I’ll do my best to make my shop talk brief in any case.

So, as I was saying, manual engines … In a manual engine powered car, you as the driver are responsible for changing from one gear in the car’s engine to another. This is usually quite simple, and done with the help of an aptly named “gear stick” as well as another thing called a “clutch pedal”. The engine has something called a “rev counter”, which shows you how quickly a vital component within it is spinning. Usually, when in a certain gear the engine revs up to a certain speed, and then you sir the clutch and the gear stick to change gears for a higher number. This is also done in reverse when the speed of the revving is decreased …
Now, when gearing up or gearing down, there is a particular range of the engine revving which is ideal to change gears. This is most commonly shown by the sound of the engine. It makes a rather unpleasant and loud noise when it really want you to change gears, and one normally changes gears before this symphony hits ones ears. However, the taxi driver I spoke about previously didn’t quite seem to comprehend this process. He allowed the engine to howl in complaint for lengthy periods of time, those in the car left looking sideways at each other as he merely spoke louder and louder to reach above the engine’s wailing.

Aside from this, he had to turn back around to look at street signs he’d missed the first time around, took more than the allowable (or what I thought even possible) amount of turns in a roundabout and more than once had to ask the front passenger where on earth he was going …

To make a short end to a short story made long – I got to where I was going and made it through my first evening back in Europe … In short, really short, the world was saying “welcome to Poland, your stay is going to be an intriguing one” … S.H.

Dear Mr Gains

This is a fictional approach email I wrote as part of a job proposal … 

Dear Mr Gains,

What can I say? You’ve done what you do for a long time, and you’re good at it. Really good. People don’t make a living out of keeping the English rain off of people’s heads if they don’t know what they’re doing. And to keep it in the family over all that time too? Well, as I mentioned – what can I say?

Right now you’re keeping the good people of London dry through those pelting onslaughts of falling H2O. But what if you could keep dry not only the discerning English gent or regal lady about London Town, but also the stylish New York businessman? Or the french artist? Or Norwegian banker? And even the Russian diplomat? This is what I can say to you, and it’s got to do specifically with those little electronic boxes of glass and microchips we all seem to need to carry in our pockets today.

So, to best explain what I’m talking about and exercise my point, let’s look at an all too feasible scenario …

A less than dry character, let’s say a young German designer from Hamburg, rushes through a crowded part of London. It’s not only hailing down cats and dogs, it’s raining sheep and cows too! This is his first trip to London, and although he’s heard about the fickle and sometimes vindictive nature of the British weather, he has no umbrella in hand. A sodden mess in next to no time, he casts his eyes around for a sign of reprieve and is suddenly struck by a awe inspiring sight.

He sees the most beautiful woman he has ever seen in his life.

But not only is she the most beautiful woman he has seen in his mere twenty six years on this planet, but she’s also the most dry he has seen all day. However, despite her attractiveness, it is the beauty of another thing which really makes this lad stop still and take notice – he sees the most regal looking and well built umbrella keeping her dry. One of your umbrellas, Mr Gains.

What if he sparks the courage to approach this girl, his dark hair plastered to the side of his face like melting licorice, and uses the comeliness of your umbrella to strike up a conversation? He likes the girl, but he loves the umbrella. He asks her about it and she tells him the name, along with her own, and the pair steal a few wonderful moments in the pouring rain.

But all too fleetingly she has to leave, and leave she does. Desperate to retain the experience, this young man abruptly wrenches his mobile phone out of his pocket and types the umbrella name into the search engine. The girl was one thing, but what holds his heart truly sway is the brilliance of the umbrella, the sheer perfect way it did what it did. The man’s phone loads, the web page for your umbrellas comes up – but all he gets is a static page. It has text, a few pictures, and looks nice enough, but he quickly loses interest in the umbrella and the thought of that girl creeps back into his mind.

For a strong moment that man wanted nothing more but to know more, and know more quickly. He wanted to know about your umbrellas. But all too soon he glances at the time, resets his mind for that important meeting he was dashing through the wet streets of London for in the first place, and all ideas of that special umbrella are gone. His interest is lost, because it wasn’t kept as quickly as it was first attained. But more importantly to the whole scenario, you, Mr Gains, miss the opportunity of his business. He heads home to Germany the next day and soon forgets all about the girl with the amazing umbrella.

Because of how the majority of people now absorb information, mobile viewing of all content, including advertisements and promotion for products has increased at remarkable rates in recent years, four times as much, and is set to grow even further. This means, therefore, that the lack of video content on any business website will mean loss of interest and a lack of retention from potential customers. If the basic goal is to show a wider range of people how great your umbrellas are, and continue that family tradition of providing quality and excellence to those who are inspired to seek it, then video is the simplest and most rewarding way to do this. The potential is so high, in fact, that a short and effective video, or a series of videos, about your umbrellas and how well they keep good heads dry could put you on the international business map, and it would even be possible to triple the turnover of your business just by using online videos as a tool.

Buses for the Poor(ish)

Frost encrusted countryside whizzes by the window. The warming tide of morning sun leans against the hillsides and tree branches and rooftops, stirring them all awake from a soft pre-winter slumber. White puffed clouds on the horizon look like anime style mountains through the surrounding city haze.
The bus is overly warm. But not too warm, not yet anyway. Apart from a stray cough, and the occasional trumpet-playing-nose-blower, the annoyance level is minimal … But even as I write these words I can feel a jinx coming on. The chatter level is growing.

In most western/first world countries, if you don’t have a car, you’re forced to seek an alternative means of transportation.  This is when buses and trains most commonly come into play. A train, for me, is always better. You’ve got more space, can get up and walk about if you want, and the ride is usually quicker and smoother. But if that option isn’t available, then comes the dreaded bus journey …

A bus journey, I’m talking longer than a city bus to town here, is my idea of the low point of travel. It’s true, sometimes they can be good, but often they are not. You’re too close to the person behind you, who keeps jabbing their knee into the back of your seat, and by extension the back of your back. The lady seated in front of you keeps turning around disapprovingly whenever you do something so offensive as breathing. And the rest of the bus seem to all have flu, Ebola, and a weird near-fatal desease passed on by the noise of them coughing. By the end of the journey you’re convinced you have whatever they have.

It’s not that bad, though. It sure beats walking in the snow. S.H.