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FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

THE WAY TO THE TOWN HALL

Here is a sneak preview from my current project, Volume II of stories by my late father, L. R. Longhurst. This one, typical of his wry tales with a twist, was published by London Opinion in 1952.

THE WAY TO THE TOWN HALL

In the waiting-room adjoining the sales manager’s office sat twenty alert, hawk-eyed ambitious men. Tall and suave men, short and cocky men, thin and waspish men, plump and genial men. Each designed to a different blueprint. But all breathing in a superior brand of oxygen.

“Wanted,” the advertisement had pleaded, “Chief Salesman at £1,000 per annum. Must possess initiative and imagination. Live man. Corpses need not apply.”

At length the sales manager’s secretary popped her pretty head into the waiting-room, and promptly withdrew to put on her Wellington boots. In such an electric atmosphere some form of insulation was called for.

Entering again, she told Applicant No. 1 that the boss would see him now. No. 1 entered the holy of holies with all the assurance of one who in his time had sold as many combs to bald-headed men as he had deckchairs to people with no gardens.

Application No. 2 reckoned he could sell umbrellas in California; No. 3, sunshades in Manchester.

Likewise, Nos. 4 to 20 inclusive were all self-confessed best sellers.

The manager buzzed for his secretary. “I’m darned if I know which one to choose,” he admitted. “They’re all good.”

“Why not give them the direction test?”

“Good idea!” exclaimed the sales manager, for many a smooth talker had stumbled over that.

“Now then,” he snapped, as No.1 was re-ushered into the office, “how would you get to the Town Hall from here?”

The applicant scratched his head, for about the first time in his life lost for words.

“Er—you take the first left and second right. No, I’m a liar; it’s the first right, second left. Then at the crossroads you take a 99 bus. Or is it a 66 tram?”

To give force to his halting remarks he waved his arms about like a Boy Scout practising semaphore. The manager was unimpressed. “Send in No. 2.”

No. 2 got to the Town Hall with the aid of a piece of paper on which he drew a map that was Town and Country Planning at its most futuristic. It might possibly have led the reader into the river; certainly not to the Town Hall.

No. 3 indulged in a bout of ums and ahs, with some hand-waving thrown in. He would have made an admirable windmill but a poor Town Hall director.

By the time it got round to No. 19 the unhappy applicants were practically standing on their heads in a misguided effort to trace a route to the Town Hall. The sales manager himself opened the door to let out No. 19.

Taken by surprise, No.20 was jet-propelled into the office, the crouching-to-the-keyhole position having given him extra momentum. The manager frowned at the would-be salesman, but was secretly pleased. Here at least was a man with initiative!

“I won’t ask you to direct me to the Town Hall,” he said cunningly. “Tell me how to get to Mill Street.”

Pausing only momentarily, No. 20 rattled off: “First-right-second-left-over-the-bridge.” The words staccatoed like a machine gun working overtime. “Then- take-the-left-fork, cross-at-the-lights, then-second-left.”

The speaker didn’t need to use his hands; they were firmly entrenched in his trousers pockets.

No. 20 got the job. He was a man with initiative and imagination. There was no such place as Mill Street in the locality. Read More 
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2 POEMS ON FATHERHOOD

I may have posted these before, but now is a good time to share again, between Father's Day and Dad's death anniversary. It just occurred to me that he would have been 100 this year!
.......................................................................................
A POCKETFUL OF PENNIES

My father never learned to drive a car.
His pockets rattled with loose change, not keys
Whenever he gave armchair pony rides,
Four giggling children on two jiggling knees.
Coins came in handy for his magazines,
Tobacco, tickets on the daily bus,
Occasional ice cream cones or Bounty bars
And favorite weekly comic books for us.
How could I then, how could I even think
Of acting on my friend Georgina’s dare
To help myself? She did it all the time,
Stole from her mother’s purse without a care.
I spied Dad’s trousers hanging on the door,
Dipped in and found a dozen pennies bright;
But guilt sank to my stomach like a stone.
I slid them back, and oh, my heart was light
When Dad came home; he twirled me, jingling loud,
Then after supper tucked me up in bed.
He told us made-up tales of Harold Hare
And slipped a coin beneath each pillowed head.

© Hazel Spire
Homeward Tracks 2004
First published in a Christian Writers booklet, UK
....................................................................................

MUSICIAN, CHIEF REPORTER, DAD (after Whitman)

O father, my mentor, our crossing’s nearly done,
Taking my widowed mother home to the Island.
I twenty-two, she forty-four, you fifty-five:
Don’t you love poetic irony? The rain that kept
Fishers ashore lashes the ferry windows.
We sit below in the crowded tea bar,
Tourists’ voices grating on our ears.
Stop! Wait! How can the world
Go on its merry way
When Dad lies on a mortuary slab?

Captain of our family, for you the organ groans
As we gather in your name, bright floral tributes
Filling Bob’s black Daimler. “We’ll do our best job
For you,” he says in gentle local brogue.
“Can’t be early for his own funeral,” quips his son.
“Drive around the block another time.” You’d
Appreciate the humor, you who ran for trains and buses.
The crematory mechanism judders, transporting you
Behind red velvet curtains. No! Too soon!

O father, writer, friend, you could not swim, but strolled
Along the pier at night reciting Shakespeare to the waves.
For you the gulls are keening as the sea keeps rolling in.
When the paper is put to bed this week, the press
Will run again. But stop—the chief reporter’s dead.
Did you who taught the Girls’ Brigade to triple-tongue
Hear a bugle call from distant shores?
My brothers still play soccer, but long legs
That showed them dribble, kick, and GOAL
Have crossed the line to our eternal home.


© Hazel Spire
Tapestry of Time, 2006 Read More 

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FOR YOU, DAD

4o years ago this week my father went ahead of us to Heaven, at age 55. I feel as if I've been living on borrowed time ever since I too passed that double-nickel birthday, all the more determined to make every day count.

Daddy worked hard on the Isle of Wight County Press, covering court cases, the arts, and community events. We kids accompanied him to carnivals and ag shows, enjoying fresh meat pies and dairy ice cream. As I humbly follow in his literary footsteps, I'm thankful for his enouragement and guidance.

It was Dad who showed me how to prepare a manuscript for publication. My first rejection was from Blackie Books for a children's adventure during my first year of teachers' college. Had he lived to retirement, my father would've had time for his own writing, such as WWII memoirs, poetry, and short fiction. Among my prized possessions are 2 dozen or so of his parodies and twist-in-the-tale stories, both published and unpublished.

In tribute to Roy Longhurst (1916-1972) I will post 3 poems from my chapbooks,
TAPESTRY OF TIME and HOMEWARD TRACKS:

DISCOVERY

Hands trembled,
heart beat faster,
when I found Dad’s
magazines in a dusty
cupboard under the stairs.

A couple of ads,
no pictures.
But I pored over
those pages nightly,
worked my way
through every issue,
nurturing a secret desire.

Satisfy the itch,
one article urged.
Satisfy the itch
with the scratch of a pen.

I just couldn’t
get enough
of those magazines
for writers.

ISLE OF WIGHT CHILDHOOD

We jumped the waves that pounded Sandown Beach,
mermaid-hair seaweed caught between fingers,
nostrils filled with the tang of freedom,
our salty lips re-shaping vanilla cones:
It seemed that summer would never end.

Locals and visitors flung open beach hut doors;
their kettles whistled on Primus stoves.
Mr. Earnshaw trudged through squishy sand
collecting deck chair money, while a megaphone
blared the times for trips across the bay.

Distress signals punctuated our pleasure: boom!
boom! Send lifeboat or chopper to rescue a tripper
who tried to beat high tide around Culver Cliff.
We dabbled in rock pools by lupine-lined shores,
hiked up the chalk ridge (island’s backbone)
strewn with bunny currants and golden gorse,
to picnic at the top, sharing the vista with ghosts
of Tennyson and Keats. No mainland in sight,
who knew what might loom on the hazy horizon?
Submarine, schooner, battleship, even a galleon.

Six weeks off school culminated in a carnival.
Crepe paper streamers all down the High Street
saluted grand floats to a heart-jolting drumbeat.
Daddy winked at me under the shiny black peak
of his Town Band cap, tootling into a horn,

We’ll Make a Bonfire of our Troubles. Up
to the fairground we followed in step, enticed
by hot dogs, a Ferris wheel, candy floss,
fireworks--eruptions of magical color that made
the crowd cry, “Ooh! Ah! Better than last year!”

A POCKETFUL OF PENNIES

My father never learned to drive a car.
His pockets rattled with loose change, not keys
Whenever he gave armchair pony rides,
Four giggling children on two jiggling knees.
Coins came in handy for his magazines,
Tobacco, tickets on the daily bus,
Occasional ice cream cones or Bounty bars
And favorite weekly comic books for us.
How could I then, how could I even think
Of acting on my friend Georgina’s dare
To help myself? She did it all the time,
Stole from her mother’s purse without a care.
I spied Dad’s trousers hanging on the door,
Dipped in and found a dozen pennies bright;
But guilt sank to my stomach like a stone.
I slid them back, and oh, my heart was light
When Dad came home; he twirled me, jingling loud,
Then after supper tucked me up in bed.
He told us made-up tales of Harold Hare
And slipped a coin beneath each pillowed head. Read More 
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