Looking Back to D-Day 1944 June 6. Go to CONFLICT page.
2018 April 22 :
Retribution: Ten Weeks to Solstice. John C Vetterlein
A new novel by John C Vetterlein due to be published August 2018. Full details will appear shortly. details will be given in June 2018.
2016 August 02: A new collection of short stories: Short Story Collections Volume Seven: Behind the Door.
List of Titles
All About Money
Back to the Fire
Behind the Door
Big Con, The
Late Night Extra
Life on a Shoestring
Mostly Where it Hurts
Piece of Cake, A
Potted History of JCN, A
yes's have it, The
God aboard or the Final Hours of Maple Syrup
Sir Godfrey Philpot (phil as in fill, pot as in pot of gold), best known to his closest friends as Maple Syrup, now spent much of his time aboard his luxury yacht (Matilda May) sunning it up in the Med. To afford this indulgence, some might say an over-exuberance for the good life, Sir Godfrey had had to work hard in his career as a businessman. (Once asked by a television reporter why he had bought a large mansion on a Scottish island where he seldom was to be found, he replied ‘I am a businessman,” and left it at that.)
Now in his late sixties, Sir Godfrey felt it only right—fair, justifiable, call it what you will—that he should spend more time with his family enjoying the fruits of his high enterprise, and so need we say more?
His only compromise to this broad exercise of merit was to set aside thirty minutes of each day to write in his notebook, jottings that were eventually to become an autobiography and for which he was eagerly seeking a suitable title. (One suggestion had come from an old pal by the name of Soybean—saw you old bean—thus, ‘Call it what it is, Maple old chap, Sausages and Mash’. But, as might be expected, Sir Godfrey did not think much of this offering and tossed it overboard without a second thought.)
Now, on this particular morning, Sir Godfrey had emerged late from his bunk, later than usual that is, and was surprised to find everything about him still and quiet. The view through the porthole revealed a calm, blue sea reflecting the blue, clear sunlit sky above in majestic fashion. This our noble friend took to be a good omen and so, following his ablutions and dressing appropriately for the day, he made his way to the deck calling out to his family as he went.
Matilda May sat motionless upon the fine surface of the water bestowing upon the scene something akin to the unreal. Sir Godfrey, not being a man readily shifted from his own brand of self-confidence in equanimity, sniffed at the air and wondered whether breakfast might not break the spell. He ran his fingers over his balding dome of the noble head, letting the hands sink steadily to the sparse thatching above the ears and to the very back of his neck where the middle finger of his left hand identified the small mound that had been developing in slow, steady progress for a number of years.
‘Nothing to worry about, I assure you,’ his physician had assured him when the protuberance first came to Sir Godfrey’s attention.
The sea horizon in all directions was as clear-cut as the perimeter of a thousand dollar bill; only one thing marred the scene for our billionaire businessman and that was the presence in the water of literally hundreds of what looked like floating toy balloons. Of course they may well have been nothing more troublesome than balloons, but why, why and where from and all that?
Breakfast again came to mind, and turning resolutely in the direction of the feeding hall Sir Godfrey was startled by a tall figure blocking his way. This gave an aspect of the macabre to which our hard-headed businessman served an appropriate salvo.
‘Who the hell are you? If you have come to hound me for a tip or two, you can jump straight overboard.’
The man, towering some six inches over the not so small, neither in height nor girth, Sir Godfrey, smiled back taking the hand of our billionaire and leading him with consummate ease to the stern of the
boat. Sir Godfrey had the sensation of floating rather than walking with the result that all attempts to resist his transiting proved futile.
‘Look about you, Sir Godfrey.’ said the figure in a gentle voice that was neither tenor nor bass nor anything quite like Godfrey had ever heard in his life. ‘What do you see, describe it to me.’
Sir Godfrey found himself acquiescing to the request but never the less speech did not come easy to him.
‘Water, sea water—what else do you expect me to say?’
‘And upon the surface of those still waters?’
Godfrey reached for a noun that would make sense of all the objects bobbing about in the water and came up with buoys.
‘And girls and . . .’ responded his interlocutor, and continuing, ‘ some very young, some not so young and some older than you, my friend.’
Godfrey stepped back a pace or two and eyed the man with a stern manner.
‘Just exactly what is this, and who do you think you are coming aboard without an invitation?’
Again the tall figure smiled gently, saying ‘But I have been with you all your life and here I am to take you on to the next world.’
Godfrey threw up his hands in a gesture of contempt. ‘Very well, you have put your cards on the table, now hear from me. I don’t quite know how you got here but you can go whence you came pronto, if not of your own volition then I’ll have you thrown overboard where you may join company with your bouncing buoys.’
But the tall figure made no attempt to move from the deck but instead fixed a stern gaze upon Godfrey that for the first time had our billionaire questioning his state of mind. He must still be asleep; yes, that was it. He would wake up at any moment and all would return to normal. But the minutes appeared to slip past and nothing changed except from inside his head, as if making a reappraisal of the situation, but still not coming to any sane resolution.
Godfrey mustered up all his strength into a resolve to fetch his mate and to have this lean figure removed from the yacht without further delay. Yet no sooner had this resolve passed into a feeble action of his limbs when the figure spoke again.
‘You have no way out, friend, this is the end for you. Make your peace with the world as best you can and let us depart together.’
Godfrey wasted no time in giving his reply.
‘This shenanigan has gone far enough, I’ll fetch my crew . . .’
Again Godfrey’s attempt to move defeated him. He looked to see what might be shackling him to the deck but could see no visible sign of anything physical that held him rooted to the spot.
‘There is no use your attempting to move, Sir Godfrey. We shall have a short discussion here and then, as I say, we shall move off together.’
Godfrey now examined his interlocutor with more care. He found his hand stretching towards the figure and of receiving a cold sensation at the fingertips. He attempted this time to take a step forward so that he might touch the tall figure, though why he should want to do such a thing baffled the man. Godfrey was unable to move, instead the figure appeared to move a little closer to him until the outstretched fingers came into contact with what should have been the man’s waist; instead, the sensation of cold intensified and Godfrey felt nothing of substance at his fingertips. This was turning into a nightmare so that he willed himself to wakeup, but to no avail.
Next Godfrey found himself being taken up into the arms of the man who then proceeded to carry him below deck and back to his cabin where he was laid down upon his bunk.
‘I have a few questions to put to you, Sir Godfrey, to which I expect a reply. Are you clear on that?’
Godfrey made no answer but lay still, perhaps expecting to wake from the nightmare at any moment.
Instead, the questioner continued. ‘You came to this place, this sea, this near land-locked saltwater paradise, in order to recreate and to escape the condemnation of your fellows at home, is that correct?’
There was no answer from Godfrey.
‘This sea has become, in the past year or so, the graveyard for thousands of poor souls seeking to escape the ravages of conflict in their homeland. Their attempts at escape, you will agree, have been quite different from yours.’
Godfrey now attempted to shut out the sound of the voice that was ringing in his head with these questions. Try as he might to achieve this, the voice continued repeating the question until in shear desperation Godfrey heard himself making a reply. Eventually he muttered something on the lines ‘I came hear for a well-earned rest, not that that has anything to do with you.’
This was the last time the billionaire attempted a facetious response.
‘Your life has been one of hard work, then, has it?’
‘I have done my bit, served my turn. I started near the bottom and achieved the summit through diligence and ingenuity.’
‘You have achieved your ambition for life?’
‘Which is what we have before us, is it not—material wealth that has afforded the luxury some might describe as the grand life. Would you describe that as the good life?
‘Of course, who wouldn’t go for it—gold wasn’t invented for nothing, you know.’
‘Have you ever thought what you might be missing not to have lived a simpler, more humble existence?’
‘Never, I have chosen this way of life, it is the only way I know.’
‘And now, in common with the rest of humanity, you face death. Death comes to all living creatures and it is now your turn—are you prepared to die. Have you ever given any thought to your mortality?’
‘Of course, of course. Why are you taunting me in this manner? Who are you and how did you get here?’
‘I have always been with you, have you no recollection of that fact?’
‘You talk in riddles.’
‘Indeed, life is a riddle, one that you appear to have turned into a wash of luxury living that has very little to do with reality.’
‘Nonsense. Are you suggesting all this amounts to nothing?’
‘All I have.’
‘All you had, surely?’
Godfrey had been tossing and turning upon his bunk throughout this exchange. Most of the time he heard only the voice of his questioner, now he lay on one side and stared in the direction from which he adjudged the voice was coming from but the tall figure appeared to have vanished.
‘Where are you? It’s no good you hiding from me. I’ll have you thrown off the vessel, do you hear?’
But there was no response, neither in sound nor vision.
Godfrey lay now upon his back staring up to the near, cabin roof beneath the upper deck. As the seconds passed he felt a sense of calm. All this had been a dream, a nightmare no less, and now he would wake and become fully conscious and in touch with the world he knew and that had been his plaything for most of his life. Yet the ordeal had weakened him, he felt uncontrollably tired and so closed his eyes and fell back into a deep sleep. And this time the dream was a peaceful one, one in which he had the sensation that his beloved yacht was slowly sinking to the seabed and which should have been a nightmare but was, instead, an acceptance of fate.
Farewell, billionaire, Sir Blank!
He’s dead, they all said. He told me once he had no intention of giving in lightly but just look at the expression on that shrunken face.
The funeral was a lavish, expensive affair, as one might have expected for an ex-billionaire.
And what of the notebook with its many jottings for that autobiography? That was never found, it may have only existed in the imagination of our hero. Instead it was left to a third party to publish a brief account of the man all the fuss had been about when he ditched his many, distant dependents.
MMXVII: In Memoriam to a peeler and a man of the world.
2016 April 02: Two Years Two Months to be reissued July 2016.
Having qualified Bachelor of Science B.Sc. (Eng.) in hydraulic engineering, John Gothard is expected to undertake military National Service. He appears before two tribunals in an attempt to be registered as a conscientious objector. Instead of military service, he is ordered to undertake certain prescribed work in a civilian context for a period of two years and two months. This he does as a hospital porter. But there is far more to portering than clocking on and off duty and wearing a brown overall.
The morning following the news of her sister's demise, Mrs Tamyoto woke early. It was still dark; she could not tell from her position lying in bed whether it was day or night for the thick, blue velvet curtains were drawn across the window as blackout precautions.
Mrs Tamyoto muttered away to herself as she lay staring into the darkened void above her.
"So, Gertie, you've been a gone and left me all on my own down here. Are you anywhere, I wonder? And Gilly, you remember, we were together here in this room only yesterday, or was it several yesterdays? I make no sense of any of it. Are we supposed to remain sane through all this horror? I suppose that's why they have God, as a sort of fallback. When everything else fails God will be there. Well, God, thanks a million. I hope Mr Tamyoto, maybe, will be making representations on my behalf."
Mrs Tamyoto lay thinking, not muttering this time, for a few more minutes. Then she slowly rolled over onto her side and muttered again: "I can either roll onto my face and stay that way forever, or get up. I suppose the stoical way is the only way."
Railway stations: knew you them, as I knew them then: cold, echoing every sound —steel whistles piercing the icy dawn; waiting endlessly at barriers. We went there to have our dreams disembowelled, a place where histories collide—war on the Home Front.
Such were my memories of the railway terminus during the war. We were all there; all of us, just going along with it, as we have always done and as we always will, as if there were no other way; for there is no other way. You might as well try to do away with Remembrance Sunday or the forty-four-gun-salute for the dead. And the dead can’t answer back.
It is all about conflict, you see; and meeting conflict in the pattern of behaviour we have learnt since the year dot. Warriors of today encased in their high-tech, war machines—hopeless.
I didn't feel it was quite hopeless at the time for I was a young man with a measure of optimism still in the locker. I was strong enough to stand against the trend, if not quite brave enough to face a firing squad.