Archive for February, 2010

The Band Played On — short story by Gladys Hobson

February 24, 2010

The Band Played On

They danced to the band with the curious tone…

The Band Played On


Ulverston, noted for its Thursday and Saturday market days, and various festivals throughout the year, is blessed with a number of musicians who willingly give of their time to entertain shoppers and visitors to the area. Throughout the summer, as weather permits, on Thursday mornings a band is playing in the cobbled market square. During festivals bands play also at weekends and are often joined by dancers. Sometimes the whole town is taken over by stalls, musicians, singers, entertainers, Morris men and clog dancers, and all the fun of the fair! There is even a Dickensian weekend when on top of all the above, many people are dressed in historical costume. Add to this carnival day, and Charter Fortnight with events and a lantern parade, and it is clear that the town is far from sleepy!
I love to hear the band play on Thursdays. This is usually a small band of mostly elderly gentlemen dedicated to sharing their gifts with all who wish to listen. They have been entertaining for years and clearly enjoy what they do.
Standing listening, I find my feet tapping to the music, and when the band plays tunes like the Flora Dance, oh how I wish we wrinklies had the freedom to dance like children!

The Band Played On.

In Ulverston’s sunny Market Square, the silver band of mainly red-faced elderly gentlemen gave a lively rendition of the Floral Dance, oblivious to the movement of shoppers at nearby stalls and tourists snapping photographs in front of them.
Children, bored with standing at stalls while their mothers looked for bargains, drew closer to the band intrigued by the hand movements that produced the jolly sound. One boy did a good impression of the trombonist, another lad puffed his cheeks and laboured at producing a sound from his invisible euphonium. Little girls laughed and tapped their feet. Before long, more children joined in, with watching adults smiling, tapping and clapping to the merry beat.
A weathered elderly gentleman, with long white beard wagging in tune with the music, began singing:
‘We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone…’
The Floral Dance, now in full swing, more girls were dancing and swinging each other round and around while others jigged about doing their own thing.
The music came to an end, but the crowd hooped and yelled for more.
The conductor bowed, turned to the band and raised his baton.
The white-headed, bearded gent took off his coat, threw it over the nearest stall and started singing again, his elbows keeping time with the music.
Shoppers left the stalls and gathered round; smiling, laughing and clapping while their children merrily danced or imitated the musicians and singer:
‘Dancing here, prancing there,
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere…’
Market smells of fruit and vegetables, the scent of flowers, young women’s perfume, old ladies’ talc’, sweat, soap and aftershave, mingling with fresh air breezes; rainbow colours of summer clothing, moving sights and sounds — all swelling up to entrance and befuddle minds and bodies. Not one person immune to the hypnotic beat:
‘Bassoon, flute and euphonium…’
Maggie pulled away from the hand holding hers, and ran forward to join the dancing children in the cobbled square. Round and round, arms waving in time with the beat, laughing and singing the words she could easily remember:
‘Dancing here, dancing there…’
The crowd clapped and sang with her. Maggie’s movements became more intricate while retaining the essential simplicity of country dancing. Girls began imitating her and before long the market place became a throbbing beat of music, clapping and dancing feet. Heated musicians played on, mesmerised by what they had created.
‘Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.’
Round and round and roun…
The crowd hushed, the music petered out, children stopped dancing.
The bearded, elderly man ran forward and fell to his knees by the side of the fallen fragile lady. ‘Are you hurt, Maggie?’
She opened her eyes. ‘Lovely, wasn’t it, daddy?’
‘Yes, my darling, you danced beautifully.’
‘I want…’
Maggie’s eyes closed. The elderly man put an arm under her shoulders and held the old lady to his chest, wiping away long strands of grey hair from her wrinkled face. Tears ran down his cheeks.
A large muscular man from the vegetable stall came forward. ‘I’ll carry her into the chemist’s for you, Lambert, mate.’
The crowd, no longer hushed, parted and made way for the carried woman.
‘I’ve called an ambulance,’ someone told the old man as they entered the chemist’s shop.
The old man nodded his gratitude but his eyes told those present that nothing would bring his wife back to life again. Even through his tears, he smiled. ‘She loved to dance and sing, you know. The dementia didn’t rob her of everything.’
Outside the band began to play, We’ll Gather Lilacs.
‘That’s our tune. We sang it at our wedding reception.’ He drew in a deep breath and said in a determined manner, ‘Could I have a drink of water please?’
Lambert sat on the chair placed beside his wife, now stretched out on a couch at the back of the shop, and he hummed to the music of the band. He took the glass of water being passed to him, shook tablets from a small bottle he’d taken from his jacket pocket, and threw them into the back of his mouth, swallowing them down with the liquid. Then he took his wife’s hand and began to sing in a croaking voice:
‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again…’
His quivering voice petered out as his body slumped to the floor.

And the band played on…

The Victim – a short poem

February 24, 2010

The Victim

When he returned
each day from duty
never would he speak
of trauma endured
by him
and others
in the heat
of law enforcement

Don’t ask
was all he said

So we didn’t ask
and he didn’t tell

The day we found him
bullet through his head
said it all

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My other blog Writing For Joy
Magpies Nest Publishing
My Space Gladys Writes

Statistics, Schools and Fashion!

February 15, 2010

What use statistics?
At times, it seems the government rules by statistics. Is this a good thing? It seems to me you can prove anything you want to by the use of statistics. The clue is in what you are measuring and comparing with.

Years ago, when I was in the garment industry, we had a simple calculation for cutting patterns based on the average size of British women. So a basic block (size 14) would have a 36 bust, 28 waist and 38 hips. Patterns were graded upwards and downwards by two inches on these measures with necessary increases or decreases for shoulder, neck and other measurements.
But fashions change, and quite likely, since foundation garments are seldom worn, the average woman’s waist size has increased. More striking is the increase in bust sizes, especially when considering a bra’s cup. This makes a huge difference to both styling and cutting. I must say, at this point, that many dresses today are rather like (in appearance), the nighties I designed years ago. The very short ones just like ‘baby dolls’ that followed soon after the Lolita film.
(Nothing is completely new in fashion). When I was designing, clothes (apart from warmth) were to enhance the figure rather than reveal it so that little remained of mystery! I can assure you, wolf whistles told a girl she was alluring and seduction by design did not require half nakedness to be successful! (See picture – smooth lines to enhance the figure)
Back to statistics.
In order to get basic designs right, new statistics are needed for cutting patterns. But it seems that ‘choose your style then find a dress that fits — whatever the marked size’ rules the market.
Now look further afield. Statistics may tell us that the average household is in debt to £x,000. This annoys me. We have never been in debt and that is so for quite a number of people. The truth of the matter is that those in debt have far higher borrowing than these raw statistics tell us. As things are, it is ALL the population, especially the thrifty ones that will eventually have to pay the debt. Already they are losing out on interest on savings. Before long they will have to pay more in taxation, one way or another. We all sink or swim together, whether or not some have already paid for their lifebelt. What do statistics say about such matters? Nothing really, because we are now in the realm of sociology as well as financial affairs.
How about Education?
Millions are spent on exams to gain statistics of where pupils are at and if the system is working or failing. When I was training to be a teacher, exam performance was based on the normal curve and results were shifted to accommodate the fact that a certain percentage of the population has a very high IQ while at the lower end are those, possibly with brain damage, who have a limited ability no matter how much education and training they receive. In between the ‘average’ child. The curve was more or less constant and, it was suggested, exam results adjusted accordingly. Of course, it was recognised that, with the right education a child could improve considerably. However, it seems today that either there is a restraint on achievers or there are somewhat optimistic figures for what was once an ‘average’ ability pupil. Good that a lot of children who work hard get high grades. But is this because the exam system is at fault or are children either being taught better or is the population being born with a higher intelligence? Everybody can be a star may be true in life’s journey but it cannot possibly be true where exam results are concerned. I myself have an IQ above the average maybe, but I recognised that some of my pupils were blessed with a far higher one. I could never be a brain surgeon! Some children are gifted and others may try hard but are doomed to disappointment when the going gets tough.
What stats can do is show up weaknesses if tests are properly conducted — not under stress but more as part of normal classroom activities. Hence, a child may be found to need help with certain skills, or maybe a medical condition — eg hearing or sight loss, or dyslexia — may be discovered and necessary measures taken. Primary education is not the place to instil in pupils a strategy for passing exams. Stats concerned with the average age for various reading, writing and math skills, is only useful as a diagnostic tool to help seek out various weaknesses and pupils helped to overcome them. Sounds and words tests, based on statistical analysis can surely be of help here. (I found this to be so with a class of first and second year juniors, some of whom, having had extra help were not improving on their reading scores as much as I expected, After referral they each had a hearing problem, not great but enough for me to devise a remedial help plan.)
Now coming to all the stats concerned with good and failing schools, especially in Secondary Education . Panic among parents who want the best for their children. It seems to me the best these stats can do is point out where teaching and equipment can be improved, at the worst the focus becomes ‘personal’ and parents focus on the catchment area and desire to move, at great expense, to a school that has excellent exam passes. How does that make the rest of the pupils and families feel at such schools? I question whether the statistics should be made public the way they are. ALL schools should perform well for all their pupils. But exams are not everything. Academic subjects are not that important to children whose skills are ‘practical hands on’ and unfortunately the system fails these pupils. Years ago, development of such skills in a meaningful manner brought contentment and a sense of well-being. Not only are such skills useful when job (especially apprenticeships) seeking but also for contented (and economical?) living.
Mike Bostock has a comprehensive write-up of Educational Statistics on his new blog. Looks good to me. He explains things very well.

It seems to me that, like the stats used for pattern cutting, the ‘essentials’ have changed over time. Is this a good thing? Do children get better education or has society split even further?

Praise Indeed! Review of Awakening Love

February 11, 2010

Here is a novel, Awakening Love, that I thoroughly enjoyed from an author, Gladys Hobson, who quickly pulled me into the lives of her characters, set in the restlessly reenergising world of post Second World War Britain.

It was easy to empathise, if not fall in love with, June Armstrong, a stunning and very young woman from humble beginnings who was determined to carve a career for herself, as well as establish an outlet for her astonishing creativity, in fashion design, and whose naivety regarding her great beauty and high-potency sex appeal quickly saw her the object of desire and more of several rich, charismatic, powerful – and some ruthless – men. That she wrestled with her own searing awakening sexual desires – the equal of her suitors – pitted against her moral sense, with chequered success, was not a surprise, but made excellent reading.

It quickly became obvious that this writer, surely, was weaving a tale of truth tantalisingly close to actual reality from those days, she tells it so well; only someone who has worked in the industry, fashioned the cloth, walked the corridors, and experienced much adoration of her own beauty and charisma is likely to be so convincing; alternatively, it would have to be someone who can marshal the visceral visions in her imagination to breathe and live on the written page.

Gladys Hobson had me admiring June’s fiancé Arthur, while wanting to take to her boss, and later business associate, Rob, with a cricket bat to teach the bastard how not to treat women; I give Ms Hobson full marks for how her wordcraft got me so engrossed.

Explicit sexual encounters there are aplenty, yet painted with such taste and consummate restraint, that I would happily have let my early teenaged daughter read this book had I owned it then, to help her understand and anticipate the world of sexual promise and pitfalls out there in the big bad world.

I have an enhanced and valuable insight now to what the class conscious Britain of those times was like, as well as a quickening of my understanding of primal human nature, thanks to reading Awakening Love. Also, it is a pleasure to read a book written by an author who has garnered much wisdom: their books are the better ones, the wisdom glistens from page after page, and only time and enlightened self-examination can bring such a harvest.

As a writer myself, there were gems aplenty that caught my eye and informed me among Ms Hobson’s paragraphs.

I commend the author for her remarkable achievement, and I will be reading the sequels.

;Payton L. Inkletter (writer, thinker, humorist)

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Flash Fiction — Payment In Kind

February 8, 2010

Payment In Kind by Gladys Hobson. Flash Fiction — 250 words

Payment In Kind

A sickly scent of peaches mingling with the stench of rotting cabbage and fish assailed his nostrils, blocking airways and invading taste buds — yuk! Unrelenting pain blotted out the who, why and where of his existence.
Wailing and thumping noises, that might have been music had he not descended into hell, gave him a clue as to the where. Somewhere near the Barn Owl nightclub. The alley?
He forced open an eye. Clinging slime wiped across the exposed cornea and stung like hell. He tried to push away the offending garbage but each move shunted him deeper into a gooey pit. Terrified that the oblivion he craved might be permanent rather than temporary relief, he tried to think.

Whirlwind flashbacks: dancing with Maria, flirting with Maria, sex with Maria…. Who the hell is Maria? Maria… Maria… Maria. The nightclub’s pole dancer? Sex again with Maria. In walks a Pole with a menacing chunk of wood, demanding money. A pimp with a pole? A Pole pimp’s pole? Ha, ha, ahhhhh…. Agony… agony.
Money… money… money. No money left…. Crack! Ahhhhh….
Must get help. Don’t move… scream. No, don’t scream. Pimp with a pole out there. Want to vomit. Don’t vomit, don’t groan, don’t move, quiet — play dead.
Hell of a racket nearby.
Noise, stench, slime, rolling, lifting… up… up… up — over… down… sinking… crushing… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Valinsky watched through the nightclub office window as the waste-disposal truck pulled away. He grinned. Fair payment for Maria’s services. Good profit in illicit pig food.