Exeter Literary Festival Writing Competition
Supporting AgeUk Exeter
1st Prize. £100 donated by “New Beginnings” and a £50 meal Voucher for two with wine from Bills Restaurant Exeter.
Winner; Linda Palmer of Exeter, Devon
2nd Prize. £50 donated by Creative Writing Matters and a £80 meal voucher from Prezzo.
Winner; Jan Robinson of Cornwall
3rd Prize; £20 Voucher from “On the Waterfront” Exeter Quay.
Winner; Andy Bourne of Exeter , Devon
Highly Commended Entries
David Andrews of Taunton, Somerset
Alan Barker of Epsom, Surrey
Elizabeth Ducie, Chudleigh, Devon
Renee Terry Topsham,Devon
Congratulations to all and thanks to all those who entered.
The three prize winming entries can be read below
by Linda Palmer
Lost in thought, she was thinking of the ‘snap’ he had taken with him, that meal he took away with him on every shift. It never altered much, but there had to be plenty in his ‘snap tin’.Once he stepped into the lift to go down to the coal face, he didn’t surface again until a good twelve hours later, and only then after he had crawled back along the seam about half a mile to the lift, to wait in line for the ascent back to the surface. Black as tar; no washing facilities at the pit-head. No, the coal-dust had to lie, covering every bit of exposed skin, until he had walked up pit lane and was stood upright in the galvanised tin bath, naked as a jay, while she struggled to sluice off the accumulated ﬁlth of the long shift. It took a fair few rinses before he turned, again, into the man she had seen off at the start of his shift. Clean as a whistle.Not a mark on him. Except for the smattering of black spots on his back, permanently embedded, that she knew would never shift.
He didn’t talk much about his time down there. None of the men did. But you picked up enough from the idle chatter in the Demi, the Democratic Working Men’s Club, to give it its full title, beer-sloshed on weekends when the place heaved, men letting down their guard a little, to know that conditions were dire. The long shifts meant you spent the whole of the working week barely clapping eyes on one another, except for eating and sleeping. Strange then that, having looked forward all week to spending some time together and having smartened yourselves up for the occasion, once you got to the Demi the wives and girlfriends would invariably gather together in clumps around the room while the men tended to cluster together at the bar. Together, but separate. It had always been like that. It would probably always be. As they say in Yorkshire, “there’s nowt so queer as folk”.
It was particularly hard for him down the pit, him being so tall and broad-shouldered with it. Down there it was searingly hot, the seam narrow, barely head height in places, not a ﬁt place for a dog, let alone a human being. But her man, all the men, had no choice. There was no other work. Son followed father, father followed his father. And so on. You reckoned, when a boy was born in the village, that mining was in his blood.
She had let out a huge, silent, sigh when he wasn’t called up to serve. Coal mining was aprotected occupation. His work was vital in hacking out the coal that was needed to stoke the ﬁres that ran the railways and the munitions factories. Safe from German guns, he was serving his country as surely as any man on active combat.
Life’s a funny old business. He was on a night shift, working like a slave while the rest of the village slept like babies. But, if truth be told, the wives and sweethearts never completely relaxed until their men were home safe again. He had taken his ‘snap’ with him, as usual, the‘snap’ he took away with him on every shift. Despite wartime shortages, there was still a decent hunk of bread, plenty of cheese and pickled onions and a hefty slice of fruit cake. Andbecause his allotment was overﬂowing with fresh vegetables and there were still plenty ofroot vegetables that he had stored over the winter, there would be a good stew for dinner.Not much meat, mind. But enough to ﬁll a belly or two.
The whole village heard it. It turned their hearts to ice. The siren’s wail. Almost as one,those who had been in their beds just seconds before, now
spilled out and ﬁlled pit lane,snaking their way to the pit-head. They stood, heads bowed, stoic in their despondency, hopealmost, but not quite, lost.
Oh, the bitter irony. Safe from a German bullet; felled by a falling roof.
She looked at his cofﬁn, waiting in the parlour. She pulled her black shawl more tightly to her body, as if to hold in her grief. Slowly, relentlessly, they came through the door. They were ready now to take him away. Barely conscious, footsteps moving mechanically, she stumbled forward, head bent, heart shattered.
by Jan Robinson
It was a family tradition. We always got together and had a takeaway on Fridays. The room was buzzing with conversation and laughter.
Grandma in her armchair was chatting with Mike my husband. He was looking a bit tired, I thought, but it had been a busy week, what with
the pressure of work and helping the neighbours who moved out two days ago. I was weary too from that. We'd miss June and Henry;
they'd lived there for ages but were moving nearer to their daughter who was expecting twins.
Our two teenagers were on the sofa comparing photos on their smartphones and joshing one another.
‘Who's going to get the takeaway tonight?’ I asked. Dave looked at his brother. ‘Whose turn is it?’
‘More important, what do we want?’ Pete said. ‘Indian? Chinese?’Grandma frowned. ‘I don't like spicy food.’
‘Don't worry’ he soothed. ‘We'll get fish and chips for you, Grandma.’‘Fish and chips was all there was in my day,’ she said. ‘Wrapped in
newspaper and we'd eat with our fingers walking along the street.’ She shook her head. ‘None of this plastic stuff in those days.’
‘We'll take the washable containers with us,’ Dave said. ‘Come on Pete, or we'll all be starving.’
I knew it would be some time before they returned. They'd be chatting up the girls in the takeaway. I pulled out the table and spread it
with a cloth, though I knew it get stained but that was better than spills on the carpet or furniture. I used melamine plates which don't need
warming and put out the cutlery. Grandma was getting anxious. The boys took longer than usual and when they returned they had a middle-aged man with them.‘Our new neighbour,’ Dave said. ‘He was on his own so we thought he'd like to come and join us.’‘Good for you, Son,’ Mike said extending a hand in welcome. ‘I'm Mike. This is Sarah.’ I smiled. ‘Grandma.’ She peered at him, always wary of strangers. ‘And you've met the boys.’
‘Simon,’ the man said. ‘I'm the advance guard. The family will be coming later.’‘I'll lay another place.’ Mike pulled up an extra chair and I went out
to the kitchen.When I came back they were all seated round the table opening the containers.
‘What did you get? Chinese. Oh, good. I love sweet and sour pork. I hope you got some of those nice prawn crackers.’
‘Wouldn't forget those,’ Pete said opening the pack. The family were chatting merrily and dipping into the containers,
which were soon almost empty. I noticed Simon was eating keenly but obviously too polite to talk with his mouth full - not like our lot - so he
didn't say much. In answer to questions he said he was from Birmingham and was moving to the south-west with his job. Branch manager, he had been
transferred. A lovely part of the country for the family,’ he added. The food was nearly gone. ‘I'll go and brew some tea, ‘I said. ‘And
there's chocolate cake, I expect you'll like it.’ ‘When have we not,’ Mike laughed.
As I left the table Simon followed. ‘Excuse me.’ He coughed politely‘Can I use your toilet?’‘Of course. First on the left at the top of the stairs.’
Dave clattered the plates together and brought them to the kitchen.I gave him the cake and some small plates on a tray.
‘Here,’ I pulled out a roll of paper towels. ‘It's a bit sticky. You'll need these.’ He went back and I made the tea. To create a good impression,
instead of our normal mugs, I put out cups and saucers, which rattled a bit as I carried the tray in.The family had moved back to comfy chairs and
were chatting nineteen to the dozen as usual. I poured the tea and began passing it round when I realised that Simon had not reappeared.
I leaned across to Mike. ‘He went up to the toilet. Do you think he's all right?’‘Dunno. Might not be used to Chinese food. I'd better go up and
see.’Mike went trudging up the stairs. ‘You all right, Mate?’ I heard him call. He knocked on the bathroom door. ‘You all right?’ Then he
cautiously turned the handle and the door opened. ‘He's not here!’I heard Mike moving about, then he came thundering down the
stairs.‘Neighbour! He's a ruddy burglar!’‘What do you mean?’‘The drawers in the dressing-table are pulled out. Your jewellery box
turned over. Your handbag's open. So’s Grandma's! We've been conned!’The boys had come out to see what was up. ‘Call the police!’ Mike
yelled.‘But - ‘‘Go on. Run out and see if you can catch him!’But there was no one in the darkening street.The police came and dusted for fingerprints
but there were none of his on the dressing-table or handbags.‘He must’ve had rubber gloves in his pocket,’ the constable said.
We gazed at him in despair. Then I remembered. ‘We haven't washed up. His prints will be on the cutlery.’
It was a long job sorting out our prints from the stranger's but the police did find some.Now we just have to wait.
We couldn't condemn the boys. How were they to know that a man coming from the house next-door wasn't our new neighbour? And offering
him a share of our takeaway would give him the chance to take away our valuables.
by Andy Bourne
My dear Mark
To begin, I must thank you for an especially fine bottle of red. Chateau Petrus Pomerol 1945. Current value £8,250 per bottle, allegedly.
No, not allegedly. It really does cost that much, according to the Bordeaux Index. Indeed I have seen the '45 Petrus up for auction at well over £10,000.
In 2002, some bankers spent £11,600 on a bottle in a restaurant in Belgravia, just along the road from your beautiful home. One hopes they
enjoyed it as much as I did, but that would of course depend, to a considerable extent, on what they had to eat. Which brings me nicely to my second point.
Because I knew that I would be helping myself to a bottle of this splendid wine, I took the liberty of ordering a takeaway meal and bringing it here with me. I faced a daunting but intriguing dilemma in deciding on the most suitable food to accompany such a wine. In doing so I considered carefully.
Robert Parker's notes on the '45 Petrus; ‘aromas of black fruits, licorice, truffles, and smoked meat...’. And you will never guess what I came up with.
Well you will, obviously, because I've left the box on your kitchen worktop. I know! Who would have believed it of me? Pizza! But, I should make it
clear, a most singular pizza. It transpires that your local pizzeria, run by a charming family from Naples who clearly know what they're doing, can put
together an appropriate, and sumptuous,concoction. Of course they start with the classic combination of home made tomato sauce with mozzarella and
fresh basil. (Don't you adore the smell of fresh basil? Of course it must be torn, never cut, but I digress.) Now, as Neapolitan purists, they're inclined to
stop there, but of course they have to offer other toppings to please the barbarous Brits - ham and pineapple anyone? Good God! - and, since they also run
a high end little delicatessen next door, I asked if they could customize something for me. My ideas regarding the pizza's composition may have appeared a little odd, but if so they concealed their surprise with consummate professionalism, and we sat down with a homely but not unpleasant bottle of Piedirosso to discuss my requirements. To try and combine the smoked meat and licorice flavours noted so astutely by Mr Parker seemed to me quite the challenge, but
they rose to it magnificently with a fennel salami — finocchiona, from Tuscany, have you tried it? Delicious. And when I expressed concern that the finocchiona might be a little delicate to handle the robustness of the Petrus, they suggested an additional scattering of that delectable spicy Italian
sausage, 'nduja. Problem solved. We then moved on to Mr Parker's black fruits, and here you will be pleased to hear that it was my turn to shine.
We were all stumped at first, until I took a hearty slurp of the Piedirosso. "Cherries! Plums! No, figs!” I shouted. And figs it was to be, sliced and
judiciously distributed amongst the two smoked meats. The truffle debate was, unsurprisingly, the trickiest.
Although they assured me that a generous drizzle of good truffle oil would suffice, I insisted that, as well as the oil, truffle shavings were essential, and moreover that I wanted the more expensive white ones from the north of Italy rather than the black Perigord ones. I was able to reassure them that price was not an issue by producing the cash on the spot and insisting on paying in advance. And yes, I suppose £150 is on the pricey side for a pizza, but the result was spectacular. I may well be the first to pair Petrus Pomerol with pizza, but I do recommend it, so strongly in fact that I have left you a slice. Is pizza, like revenge, a dish best served cold? Your thoughts on this would be fascinating.
And I have left a generous glass of Petrus in the bottle, so that you may judge this heavenly combination for yourself. Isn't it fabulous?
Now, old friend, I have lingered long enough, and must come to my third and final point. When you next go down to your cellar, you may find yourself wondering what has happened to a few more of the bottles in your beautifully chosen collection. I was delighted to discover, for example, that you
have (or rather had) not one but two bottles of the 1951 Penfolds Grange Hermitage. Out of only twenty remaining worldwide, supposedly. The last one to be sold went for £20,000. Excellent. And I note with approval that the case of Romanee-Conti I have liberated is the 2005. Also going for about
£20k a bottle. Is that what you paid? I can never resist quoting Roald Dahl: ‘To drink Romanee-Conti is equivalent to experiencing an orgasm at once in the mouth and in the nose.’ Steady on Roald. Still, one knows what he means. But I digress again. My point is that you need not fear that you have
mislaid these treasures, or drunk them in a fit of recklessness and then forgotten. They are in good hands. I shall no doubt enjoy some of them in the years to come, but it will also be a comfort in my old age to know that, at a very approximate resale value of a quarter of a million pounds, worked
out in haste I must admit (on the back of a pizza box as it were) they will also serve to keep the wolf from the door.
Well Mark, I must dash, as I know you are a man of regular habits, and it is probably best that I am not here when you get home. Do enjoy your wine and pizza, and think of my visit as a sort of repayment for an unkindness you visited upon me many years ago, and which, rest assured, whatever you may have foolishly believed until now, I have neither forgiven nor forgotten.