Rugby Cafe Writers were challenged to produce a piece of writing inspired by an object or picture. Here is a selection of their contributions.
Against All The Odds by Madalyn Morgan
Against all the odds, fourteen-year-old Vladimir – now in his nineties – drew this windmill.
Vladimir gave me the windmill (circa 1943) when I left London in 2010.
Vladimir’s school years were the same as any other young person born in Ukraine in the early part of the 20th Century, except his family were Christians, which was illegal. Vladimir’s grandfather was a priest. He hid his calling, as all clergy did in Ukraine after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Priests were executed, or sent to labour camps, Gulags to be re-educated.
Vladimir was Christened in secret. The priest went to his parent’s house disguised as a worker – his bible and robes hidden in a workman’s holdall. Around that time was the systematic removal of intellectuals, writers and artists. Moscow sent the KGB to execute anyone with enough intelligence to organise a revolution.
With Fascists on one side and Communists on the other, Vladimir’s school programme depended on which political party was in power at the time. Military training, however, was always part of the curriculum. Aged ten, he was taught how to use a hand-grenade, assemble and shoot a rifle, and attach and use a bayonet. And, like all Ukrainian children, he had no choice but to join Communist Youth clubs.
February 1942, in snow three metres high and minus twenty degrees, Vladimir and his mother, along with thousands of other people, were taken by the Germans and put on a cattle train, seventy people to a wagon, with no windows. Only when they arrived at the Gulag in Germany were they allowed out of the wagons.
It was in the Gulag that Vladimir – aged fourteen – attended his first church service. He was taught The Creed by the camp’s German Chaplain, who gave him pencils and paper. And, as long as he was back before curfew, the guards allowed him to go out of the camp to practice his drawing.
Seventy-eight years later, Vladimir’s pencil sketch of a windmill hangs in pride of place in my sitting room.
A bracelet by Fran Neatherway
My grandmother gave me this bracelet for Christmas in 1972. My grandfather had died that summer and she had his gold watch chain made into three bracelets, one for each granddaughter. We are cousins not sisters, and I am the middle one. My grandmother intended for them to be charm bracelets. My younger cousin’s is covered with charms; I don’t know about my older cousin – I must ask her next time we speak. I don’t like charm bracelets; they are too jangly, always catching in your clothes and getting in the way. Gold charms are expensive.
I’m not much of a jewellery person and I’ve never worn it very often, which always makes me feel very ungrateful. I would have probably worn it more if it hadn’t been for the key, but I was twenty-one that January and my grandmother had the key added as my birthday present. Originally it was placed opposite the lock, but I had it moved. I did think about having it removed, but my grandmother would have been, understandably, very upset. Not something you wanted to experience.
The clasp has always been very awkward and I had to slip it on. It took a lot of fiddling and I was worried I’d never get it off again. I tried to undo it today before I started writing but I couldn’t.
It reminds me of my granddad, who was a lovely man. My grandparents lived in Leyton and I grew up in Mid-Sussex. It was a difficult and expensive journey by public transport. They visited twice a year, travelling by coach from Victoria. Granddad used to tell me that you caught a rabbit by putting salt on its tail. I’m too embarrassed to tell you how old I was when I realised he was teasing me.
Conversation with The Small Leather Suitcase by Theresa Le Flem
This is a poem I wrote a few weeks ago about a small leather suitcase I found in the derelict shed at the very top of our garden. It belonged to the old lady who lived here, but its contents are very old and interesting, I’ve kept it, and everything inside it.
In what frame of mind were you
to allow that dear lady to hoard such things?
Carefully chosen newspaper cuttings
of seemingly useless meaning,
A table tennis bat, worn, well used,
a mould covered envelope neatly folded
containing a printed invitation to a garden party
which she, apparently, refused.
A few select friends’ correspondence.
A handwritten letter apologising,
for some forgotten favour.
Your leather bound strong exterior
has protected this curious collection for ages,
why now do you reveal yourself?
I opened you up so easily, your lock
gave no resistance, no holding back.
Your lid swung open
the years fell out,
dusty and musty and damp.
The earliest date on your treasures I see
is nineteen fifty-eight.
After all that time she left you
in the shed at the top of the garden,
on a path too steep for her to climb
in the years that led to her leaving.
Yet you remained hidden and silent
as the brambles grew up around you
and the ivy bound you
to some untold secrecy
that you, or she, or speculation
will never now reveal.
I’m a Notice Sheet failure! by Phil Gregg
Look! Everyone but me has a Notice Sheet!
I’m really not sure when I started noticing the Notices on the Notice Sheet were escaping my notice. They say to me, “It was a Notice on the Notices”, but the noticeability of the Notices on the Notices seems to have grown noticeably less noticeable of late. In fact so unnoticeable that you’ll have noticed I noted I didn’t even notice when I stopped noticing the Notices.
And now I notice that I’m suffering the consequences of the lack of noticeability of the Notices. There are things I notice happening which I notice I should have noticed earlier, but now I notice only when it’s too late.
If only the Notices were easier to notice! Then I could make some notes about the noteworthy notices.
Maybe whoever gives us the Notices should give us more notice they are going to give us the Notices, because often, the Notice-giver doesn’t even notify us they are going to give us the Notices. The Notices are sprung on us entirely without notification and I don’t even notice because I’m still noticing what I was noticing before the Notices, and what I need to notice after the Notices.
So the Notices on the Notice Sheet whizz by…
Le Tour Eiffel by Simon Parker
I know the Eiffel Tower is an inanimate object, yet this magnificent latticework of wrought iron has a powerful hold over me. The first time I saw the tower for real in 1994, and walked up to and touched the intricate ironwork, I was transported back to an earlier time in my mind. A time I was never a part of and one that I have no personal frame of reference for. A turbulent but vivacious time for France, which people who were there talk about in hushed tones: the student protests of 1968.
Aurelie and I are lovers. I am 21, she is 19. We meet at a protest rally in Bordeaux over Easter weekend, as we choose the same shop doorway to escape the worst from the water cannon. We emerge, wet and bedraggled and form an instant bond, strengthened by learning that we both attend the same university in Paris. We hitch back to the city that evening in a Belgian truck, huddled together for warmth under an oil-stained blanket provided by the kind, old driver. We spend that night together in my top floor flat off the Place St. Sulpice. She goes back to her student residence in St. Germain only once after that, to collect her books and belongings.
We are inseparable for the next four years. We roam the city by day and night on my Vespa, meeting with other student groups, planning how to topple the three insidious evils of capitalism, consumerism and American imperialism.
It’s absolute fiction of course, but whenever I see the tower, I wonder what other adventures we could have had in that ephemeral time. I still keep a Vespa in my small fleet of vehicles. Would anyone like to go for a ride?