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We’re moving… please re-follow

Dear followers,

I’ve decided to move to a self hosted site, combining my blog and website into one entity.

This means that if you are a follower, you will need to re-follow my new blog site!

You can still access it through the same address:  chalkymaclaan.wordpress.com or you can get to it via: www.chalkymaclaan.com

Thanks for following me!

Chalky

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A New Internetty Thingy

Hello Dear Reader,

I’m back and I’ve been a very busy boy… No, I’m not telling you this to make excuses for neglecting my blog, but to tell you that I have been working on something all internetty and cool.

I mentioned in my last post that I had an idea that combined three of my passions: travel, my kids and writing. Well, that idea is very close to becoming a reality. In a month or two, I will be launching my new website called Dadelaide. It is an online resource which will hopefully inspire families to explore Adelaide (and, later on, other places too). I will write reviews of family activities in Adelaide from the perspective of a dad with three little ones in tow. There are a plethora of sites offering ‘what’s on’ listings, but not many that provide travel-guide-like reviews of more permanent family activities.

Dadelaide Screenshot

A screenshot of the Dadelaide home page.

Every Saturday, my wife works and I have the three children for the whole day by myself. I REALLY don’t like hanging around the house; everyone gets cabin fever and starts going a little potty. So, I take the kids on an adventure where we try to do something new and interesting each week. I love to post pictures of our adventures on instagram (dadelaidelm) and Facebook. I kept receiving comments from friends, amazed at how I knew of so many different places to take the kids. I have always taken it for granted that people just knew about all of the great things do to around our city, but it seems that I was wrong. There is a need for this type of information and that is what I hope to provide on Dadelaide.

O-Bahn

Watching the O-Bahn from Dunstan Adventure Playground

I want my site to be easy and quick to use, be down-to-earth and to provide the kind of information that parents want; for example, about pram accessibility, parents’ rooms, etc.

When I first had the idea for Dadelaide, I searched around for a WordPress-like web application that would meet my needs. However, with the complex requirements of my site, I could find nothing suitable. So, I decided to make the site myself.

Abandoned Gypsum Mine

Checking out an abandoned gypsum mine on the Yorke Peninsula

This posed a bit of a problem, because my web design skills were about 15 years out of date. I knew basic HTML and very basic CSS (the most basic web design codes) but did not know anything about making dynamic sites with PHP or databases. So, I decided to do some online learning with Lynda.com. In the one precious spare hour per day that I have, I worked my way through hours of courses on up to date HTML and CSS coding as well as responsive web design, PHP, MYSQL and many other things that if I went on listing them, your brain would bleed!

Finally, after two months of watching tutorials and practising, I started to put the framework of my site together. Another two and a half months later and I have now completed building 95% of the site. After this is done, I need to spend some time adding some content and… away we go!

When I started this blog, I wanted to stop wasting my precious ‘me time’ (gee, I hate that phrase!) and instead spend it being productive and creative. While I haven’t actually been ‘bliction‘ blogging much for the last half a year, I have been inspired to be self-disciplined (it’s a new concept for me) and have got my creative juices flowing (another slightly disturbing phrase) and learned some new skills along the way.

Hopefully, we’ll see each other a little more often from now on.

Chalky.

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Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – The End

All good things must come to an (abrupt) end!

For the last ten weeks, I have been working hard, spending my evenings drinking copious amounts of tea and writing my Man on a Wharf series. I have written five different stories in five different genres: tweenage, thriller, historical fiction, picture book and travel writing. I have thoroughly enjoyed re-engaging with the writing process and have learned a great deal. Thank you all for your support of this project! You never know, I may write a ‘Man on a Wharf: Series 2’ sometime in the future as I still have lots of unused ideas.

And now for the big question… No, it’s not ‘what tea am I drinking?’ (although I am happy to tell you: Ladurée – Jardin Bleu Royal Thé, bought for me in Paris by my brother). No, the real questions is: ‘what now?’

Firstly, I am working on an exciting new online project which I will let you all know about soon. I was inspired with the idea for this project through writing one of my Man on a Wharf stories. I am particularly excited about this project because it combines three of my favourite things: travel, my kids and writing!

Also, I hope to write more posts on this blog. I have a few ideas for some interesting topics, including: ‘How Eric van Lustbader ruined my life’ and ‘A prude’s per-sex-tive (sorry) on good and bad sex in writing’. I may even write another short story or two!

Along with a new found hobby of learning Spanish on DuoLingo (Hablo un poco español. Yo bebo mucho té. ¿Tú bebes té? ¡Té es muy bien!) and my family and day job, I should be quite busy.

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Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – Story 5

Castles, Swamps and Big Metal Beasts

by Chalky MacLaan

Squinting, my eyes being assaulted by the flying dust, we fought the wind across the drawbridge. The battlements towered high above as we entered the gates, my children by my side.

Ahead of us was a staircase and we ascended, following its upward curve. My third born was struggling, whining, trying to pull away from my grasp. I held tight, lest her tiny body be swept away on the hot North wind.

Reaching the safety of the tower, I looked out at the godforsaken surroundings. Westward lay the churning grey water. To the south, the mangroves grew like a fungus around the edge of a bay. In the east, the light shimmered on the salt pans and I could see the causeway which we had just traversed. In the north loomed a great wall of brown. I had to turn away as another strong gust blew more grit into my face.

Gesturing, my firstborn entreated me to follow her to the edge of the tower. From the eastern battlements, two great metallic snakes made their way down to the ground.  “Can I go on the slide now, Dad?” she pleaded.

So began our ‘Daddy Day Out’ at St Kilda, South Australia.

The castle slide

The castle slide

Because of family work arrangements, I am often tasked with looking after my three children for whole days by myself. I don’t like hanging around at home, so I often take them on a ‘Daddy Day Out’ to ward off cabin fever. In the recent holidays, a number of factors meant that I had many excursions to plan. The excursions have to be cheap and engaging for all of the kids (aged six, four and two).

Amongst my childhood memories, one place that I remember especially fondly is St Kilda. If my brother and I had been particularly well behaved and if my dad was not too grumpy, we would sometimes stop there for a few hours on our way back from Adelaide to our home in the country.

St Kilda lies between mangrove swamps; an unpleasant part of the Adelaide coastline; and some very stinky salt lakes. It is dry, dusty and completely flat. However, what it lacks in beauty is made up in bucket loads by three child friendly attractions: a mangrove trail, a tram museum and a massive ‘old school’ adventure playground.

St Kilda was named, not after a Saint, as there has never been a saint by that name (Buchanan, 1983) (see this clip from Qi for more details [from 11:30 to 12:03]), but after a part of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, which, like ours, has abundant bird life (Gunton, 1986).

St Kilda is an isolated community of 250 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007) and is served by one road, which passes over the salt flats. These salt flats are currently Australia’s only source of soda ash (Taylor, 2003), a very interesting product with many uses. Just beyond the salt pans is Adelaide’s sewerage treatment works whose miasma wafts steadily towards the town.

We arrived at the playground early to beat the crowds and chose the castle as our first port of call.

I soon discovered that the one parent to three children ratio was not ideal as each child wanted to do something different. I wanted to keep them in sight because despite many of the best equipment being removed over the years for safety reasons, it really is still an ‘old school’ playground: in one part of the castle there is a ladder that descends at least ten metres into the earth. My two year old thought that this ladder was fascinating and my time was spent keeping her away from the shaft.

After distracting her with slippery dip rides, I rounded up the others and headed for the pirate ship: three levels of splintery, wooden goodness, perched on the edge of the grey, sludgy bay.

A quick descent from the top level to the bottom was enough for the kids and they were soon running toward the flying foxes, the smaller of which was available. Never in my life have I been able to go on the flying fox here. The line was always huge and populated with bullies.

Each child had a fly before we set off to tackle Slide Mountain: The most exciting, fabulous, amazing piece of playground magic in the entire world. Spiralling down into its centre were two speedy slides. As a child, I spend hours deep in its echoing caverns.

As we approached the mountain, we paused, trying to contain our excitement. Ducking my head, we entered a tunnel reminiscent of a Wild West mine. After a zig and a zag, we emerged into a maze, its curving wooden walls no match for this cheater. Finding the gaps, we edged through, trying to find the magic portal.

We came face to face with the portal and to my disappointment, it was all boarded up. We scrambled up the rocks and looked to the top of the hill. The slides were blocked off too. My head starting to pulse with rage, I charged off towards the little wooden bridge that would take us across to the other part of the playground, but when we reached its edge, it was also blocked off.

Frustrated and with my youngest getting more bored by the minute, I resigned myself to the fact that they would probably get more enjoyment from the fairly standard, modern equipment designed for the younger ones. Ironically, they did. My eldest, however, decided to run off and try some of the more unusual equipment.

While standing near a small plastic slide, incrementally offering hand holding services to the two year old, I had some time to reflect. Opened in 1982 (Taylor, 2003), the St Kilda Adventure Playground was originally full of every piece of exciting, thrilling and downright dangerous equipment you could imagine. Feeling the unnatural concave curve in my front teeth, I remembered the thrill of climbing onto the metal giraffe: you sat three metres up in the air and it would rock so violently that if you weren’t careful you’d bang your chin. Those were the days! It really wasn’t the same anymore.

When I finally felt like my eye sockets did not have room for any more dust, I scooped up my offspring to move on to the mangroves.

The mangrove boardwalk

The mangrove boardwalk

We collected the electronic boardwalk access card from the local bait shop and set off for the self-guided boardwalk, my two year strapped, secured and safe in the pram.

We sped through the unmanned interpretive centre and out towards the mangroves. The first part of the walk took us over the low, flat samphire marsh. The green and pink expanse of this edible succulent was surrounded by pristine pools of still, saline water.

Despite the noise emanating from my rambunctious progeny, we started to hear the chirping of birds. Apparently, the mangroves are home to over two hundred species of birds (Waanders, 2004).

As we approached the mangroves, the dirt track was replaced by a narrow wooden boardwalk which quickly rose a metre in the air so we could view the mangroves from above. Mercifully, this section of the walk had a hand rail.

The wind still blowing strong, we descended into the mangroves. They enveloped us, their leaves blocking the wind and creating an eerie atmosphere. The heat and the moisture from the swamp gave the impression that we had just entered the tropics.

A little further up the winding trail, we entered the finger forest. Mangroves grow in the soil beneath the swamp, but send roots up to above the waterline. Because of the tidal variance, when we visited, these roots protruded significantly from the water, making it look like hundreds of fingers were emerging from the mud.

Number two child was quite amazed and was not watching where he was going. “Stop!” I cried, but instead, he turned his head, still walking towards the lip at the edge of the boardwalk. As his toe caught the edge, I stumbled forward, trying to scramble past the pram to catch hold of him. I realised, to my horror, that there was no way I would reach him in time.

He started to fall out towards the swamp, hundreds of spikey fingers waiting to catch his little body. He propellered his arms, flapping about like a startled chicken. After what seemed like hours, he managed to regain his balance and stepped back from the edge. Not knowing whether to scream, snicker or scold him, I took a deep breath and reminded him to look where he was going.

The finger forest

The finger forest

After posing for a few pictures and hiding in a couple of bird hides, we reached the lookout. Toddler was unstrapped and we made our way to the top. We had made it to the edge of the mangroves and could now see waters of the bay.

Before setting off on the four hundred metre walk back to the car, we peered through the mesh that blocked the onward stretch of path. The boardwalk, covered in seaweed and rotting in the darkness of the dense foliage could be seen disappearing into the distance. Once, this had been a loop path, but that half is now closed. I wondered why.

Walking back to the car, second born was vibrating with excitement. The most exciting part of the day had arrived: it was time to visit the tram museum.

From 1878 to 1958, Adelaide had a very large tram and trolleybus network. All but one of these lines were ripped up when the glorious car era arrived (State Transport Authority, 1978). Thankfully, many of Adelaide’s historical trams and trolleybuses have been preserved at the Adelaide Tramway Museum near St Kilda. The museum regularly runs tram rides along a two kilometre track to the playground and back. For each round trip, they usually run a different historic tram.

We paid our entrance fees to the dour lady in the office and headed for the trolleybus shed. Trolleybuses are electric buses that get their power from overhead wires. They are very strange looking creatures and the little ’ns enjoyed running laps, in through the front doors and out through the novel rear doors.

While perusing the vehicles, I realised how so often, things come full circle. Adelaide once had a fleet of double decker trolley buses which were diverted to Adelaide from Japanese occupied China during World War Two (Adelaide Tramway Museum, 2008). They disappeared well before I was born. To me, double decker buses were always exotic machines from magical London, even though they were once common here. Later this year, the government is once again introducing double decker buses to Adelaide’s streets. This little transport nerd is wetting his pants!

After some convincing, I was able to get the littlest away from the buses and move to the other sheds, where we were able to explore many different trams from various eras and

The tram on which we travelled

The tram on which we travelled

locations.

We took our seats in the historic tram that was slated for the first run of the day. It is always a bit unnerving waiting in a stationary tram as they make absolutely no noise. We chose our seats in the open section, where there were no doors; it’s more fun that way (I can hear all the mums fall sideways off their seats).

As we waited, I took the opportunity to admire the detail and artistry that went into the décor of these old trams. They even have colourful leadlight windows!

When the tram started rolling, we were the only passengers. I strapped the little one in a ‘daddy seatbelt’ (on my lap, my arms as restraints) so she didn’t go tumbling out of the door. The old tram rattled down the track at quite a speed. That, combined with the wind, meant that I was very glad we had left the hats in the car.

At the other end, we watched the solemn pole swapping ceremony. The electric poles on old trams must always trail behind; so, at a terminus, the driver must pull one pole down using a rope and raise the other. Modern pantographs have eliminated the need for this quaint practice.

After collecting a few passengers from the playground, we set back across the salt lakes. As we clattered along, the breeze ruffled my youngest daughter’s silky blonde hair as she snuggled into me, her eyelids growing heavy.

Returning to the car, I shut the doors and we were finally free from the dust, wind and heat.

 

Quick Reference:

castles-pg

castles-mg

castles-tm

Key:
P = Pram accessibility
0-4, 5-12, 13-17, 18+ = star rating (out of 5) for these age groups

Works Cited:

Adelaide Tramway Museum, 2008. Adelaide Tram Muesum At St. Kilda South Australia – Things to see and do. [Online]
Available at: http://www.trammuseumadelaide.com.au/01_things.html
[Accessed 8 May 2014].

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007. “St Kilda (State Suburb)”. 2006 Census QuickStats. [Online]
Available at: http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2006/quickstat/SSC42626
[Accessed 28 February 2008].

Buchanan, M., 1983. St Kilda: a Photographic Album. s.l.:W. Blackwood.

Gunton, E., 1986. Tracing Our Towns, Stories of Same Named Places in South Australia and the United Kingdom. South Australia: Self Published.

State Transport Authority, 1978. Transit in Adelaide : the story of the development of street public transportation in Adelaide from horse trams to the present bus and tram system. Adelaide, South Australia: State Transport Authority (South Australia).

Taylor, E., 2003. The History and Development of ST KILDA South Australia. Salisbury, South Australia: Lions Club of Salisbury.

Waanders, P., 2004. A birdwatching guide to South Australia: St Kilda tidal flats and mangroves. [Online]
Available at: http://members.dodo.com.au/~peteriw/birdingsa/sites-6.htm
[Accessed 21 January 2007].

Wikipedia, 2014. St Kilda, Scotland. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_Scotland
[Accessed 11 May 2014].

Wikipedia, 2014. St Kilda, South Australia. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Kilda,_South_Australia
[Accessed 11 May 2014].

 

 Author’s Note:

This week, I decided to try my hand at travel writing. I love writing and travel, therefore this genre seemed like the perfect fit.

I am considering starting another blog dedicated solely to writing about my Daddy Days Out. I frequently have people ask me how I know what to do around Adelaide with my children each week. So, this week’s blog was an opportunity for me to test out this idea. Writing this piece was enjoyable, so I think I will write the other blog. I’ll let you know the link when it is set up.

I hope you can forgive me interpreting my writing brief in a flexible way – I am a man and I was on a boardwalk, which I think is close enough to a wharf… maybe?

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Social (Media) Caterpillar

In the two weeks of holidays from my day job, I have taken the opportunity to become ‘au fait’ with the world of social media. I rediscovered my Twitter account, restarted my lapsed Facebook page and reconsidered the need for a LinkedIn account (what exactly is LinkedIn for, except to bombard you with emails?)

I have made a concerted effort to make regular postings and have been rewarded with follows, retweets, favourites and a few lovely conversations. It is somewhat surprising to me that anyone would find what I have to say interesting, so this experience has been quite an affirming one. I was even able to have a brief exchange with one of my favourite authors – David Morrell. As a fairly introverted person, being ‘social’ doesn’t sound that appealing; however, I can say that I am quite enjoying connecting with people from all over the world.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank my followers on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook for your support. You are helping this social (media) caterpillar turn into a butterfly.

For those of you who like that kind of thing, and as compensation for a short blog post, here’s an inspirational photo I took of a butterfly…

image

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Man on a Wharf

Man on a Wharf – Story 4

Author’s Note:

I have broken with tradition this week and am posting my author’s note first. This is because this week’s story is quite different for the other ones and needs some explanation. The story this week is a picture book designed for everyone over the age of five (not just for children). It is designed to fit the self-ended picture book layout of twelve two-page spreads.

As I am not an illustrator, and as the pictures are crucial to the story, I have included a brief description of each illustration. These descriptions I have indented, italicised and coloured blue to separate them from the actual text which is in black. I have intentionally left the descriptions brief because illustrators need to be given the freedom to explore their art on their own terms.

The inspiration for this book has come from two very different picture books: Window by Jeannie Baker and Where’s Wally (Where’s Waldo) by Martin Handford.

Window is a wordless collage picture book that shows the same view out of one window over a long period as the urbanisation starts to affect a formerly rural area. I loved looking at this book as a child and seeing the world change. The book raises many questions for the reader.

Where’s Wally is a book full of busy pictures in which the reader is challenged to find Wally. However, as you spend time finding the be-striped gentleman in each scene, you notice many other interesting characters whose stories make you wonder.

In this book, I have tried to combine the best elements of both Window (the structure and some themes) and Where’s Wally (the busy, colourful, detailed images) and have added a poignant narrative. In the narrative, I wanted to explore the themes of memory, nostalgia, imagination, change, disability and the passage of time. My intention is that families could read this book repeatedly and still find something new and interesting both in the pictures and the text.

The idea for this book was the first one I had at the start of the Man on a Wharf Challenge. However, I decided that I needed to write some more conventional stories first. Four stories into the challenge and I think I’m ready to share this one with you all. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Mr Marconi Remembers

by Chalky MacLaan

Every picture in the book shows Mr Marconi from behind, in the foreground, sitting on a park bench and looking down at the dock area from a nearby hill. On each page, the picture of the dock area changes, but Mr Marconi is always there, remembering. There are clear indications by posters, cars, fashions, etc. of the year in which the scene is set.

Pages 1-2:

Every day, Mr Marconi loves to walk to the docks. In winter, he wears his beanie and greatcoat. In summer he wears his wide brimmed hat. It is not too far and Mr Marconi knows the quickest way. When he gets there, he always sits awhile and remembers…

In the first picture, Mr Marconi is 90 and it is 2014. The dock area has undergone serious renovation and it is now a lawned promenade area. You can see tourists snapping pictures, children playing, families picnicking, young lovers strolling, young soldiers on parade, businessmen on mobile phones, young men working, some disabled people, some people happy, some sad. The old crane structures are still there but have been incorporated into the new modern environment. There is a slightly 1960s futuristic vibe about the place.

Pages 3-4:

He remembers holding his father’s rough hand as he stepped down the gangplank of the black steamship. He looked at all the people around him and listened to the strange new sounds. He asked his father when they would be going home. “This is our new home,” father replied, looking toward the city.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 5 and it is 1929. The dock area is a hive of activity. There is a passenger ship with many European immigrants disembarking. You can clearly see a little five year old boy, holding the hand of his father. They are quite obviously new to the country and know no one: no one is there to meet them. It is just before the depression, so the area doesn’t look too run down.

Pages 5-6:

He remembers running around cranes and jumping over barrels, searching for a hiding place. When his friends finally found him, they laughed. Shutting his eyes, he started counting as the game continued. They played all day. They only returned home when the stevedores started shouting at them.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 10 and it is 1934. The dock area is busy, but there are many signs of the great depression, including the edge of a shanty town in the park next to the dock (a ‘Hooverville’). The dock area also looks a bit run down and unkempt. A bunch of kids can be seen gallivanting around the docks, playing amongst the equipment.

Pages 7-8:

He remembers lining up with the other young men, ready to cross the sea again. The grey boat behind him loomed over the crowd, casting a long shadow. Would he ever come back? He patted his side. In his pocket was a letter and on that letter were three words which made him feel brave.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 18 and it is 1942. The docks look like they have been tidied up. A warship is docked and young soldiers are lined up ready to board. There are many family members waving goodbye to the soldiers. One soldier is staring towards the crowd where an old couple and a young lady are standing.

Pages 9-10:

He remembers the people cheering as the boat pulled alongside the wharf. Spotting someone in the crowd, he waved. He held on tightly to the railing so he didn’t fall over. He could almost taste his favourite meal and feel the warmth of a hug. He picked up his stick and followed the stream of soldiers.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 21 and it is 1945. The docks are a scene of celebration as another warship (looking a bit battered) is about to dock. On the ship are many happy soldiers waving to the crowds. Many of the soldiers are injured. One injured soldier waves at an older man and a young lady.

Pages 11-12:

He remembers lowering the crane hook. The round handle of the lever fit snugly in his palm. He concentrated to make sure the goods went in the right place. The toots of ships and trains rose to him on the breeze as he paused a moment and looked to the horizon. He felt like he was floating.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 22 and it is 1946. The dock is busy and orderly. There is a train in the siding being loaded by a crane. The crane operator is visible.

Pages 13-14:

He remembers taking her by the hand and leading her into the ship.  He put his arm around her shoulders and she smiled. She looked so beautiful. The scent of roses lingered around her. He was happy.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 25 and it is 1949. It is night time and a passenger ship is berthed at the dock. Passengers are boarding. One young couple are half way up the gangplank and the woman is peering back to the crowd on the docks. The young man is gently guiding her into the ship. They are dressed in neat clothes as they have just been married.

Pages 15-16:

He remembers strutting around like a king. He talked to everyone; everyone knew him; everyone asked him questions. On his way home each night, he looked at the crane and thought about the years he had spent working on the docks. His boy came running to him as he approached the gate.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 35 and it is 1959. The docks are busy. A foreman is talking to a worker. At the gate waits a woman and a young boy.

Pages 17-18:

He remembers his last day at the docks. The ageing steel structures creaked and groaned as he left his meeting. His feet felt heavy as he trudged to the gate. He had thought he’d work here forever.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 48 and it is 1972. It is an overcast and windy day. There are fewer workers on the docks and the whole area is starting to look quite unkempt. The cranes appear to be a more modern automated system. One man walks across an empty section holding a box in one arm and a piece of paper in the other.

Pages 19-20:

He remembers walking by on a dark, rainy afternoon, arm in arm with his wife. “They’re closed,” she whispered. They stood there and listened to the rattle of the raindrops on the new fence. He put his hand out and touched the wire mesh.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 62 and it is 1986. The docks are closed and abandoned and surrounded by a wire mesh fence. It is rainy and overcast and the docks behind are somewhat obscured. An old couple stand arm in arm in the rain, looking at the fence. On the fence is a poster with a design for the new docklands area (similar to the dock area on pages 1-2). There is also a ‘vote 1’ political poster.

Pages 21-22:

He remembers bringing his grandchildren here. He told stories of his childhood and laughed for the first time in ages. He could hear birds calling to one another and the distant swish of the sea. As his words flowed out, he felt lighter.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 76 and it is 2000. The docks are all fixed up (as on pages 1-2) but there are few people around. A man stands next to a younger man, obviously happy and telling stories. There is a young boy and a young girl nearby.

Pages 23-24:

When he finishes remembering, Mr Marconi picks up his cane and goes home. He smiles, knowing that tomorrow he’ll visit again.

In this picture, Mr Marconi is 90 and it is 2014 again. Mr Marconi has stood up and it is obvious that he is completely blind as he holds a cane. The dock area is actually run down and unfixed since pages 19-20. For several pages, the scenes have been a combination of Mr Marconi’s memory, nostalgia and imagination. Some elements of the pictures in pages 17-22 (he has to retire from his job on page 17 because of his increasing blindness) are things which don’t really fit in the era of those pictures or are things from his own past. These shouldn’t be noticeable on first inspection, but should be noticed when the reader goes back and reads the book again, knowing the ending. There is also an updated poster on the fence, showing that the dock area will actually be redeveloped in 2016.

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Old Stories

Old Stories – Play Café

Author’s Note:

When I finished my undergraduate Arts degree in 2004, real life started. From that point on, my time was consumed with my demanding teaching course, a stressful new teaching job, marriage and having three children. Because of this, until recently, I hadn’t written anything of substance in ten years, excepting one story: Play Café.

I wrote Play Café in 2009, only a year into being a father for the first time. After visiting a play café with my daughter, I started to notice the politics that existed amongst small children. At this stage, I hadn’t taken her to many playgrounds and I was struck with how young we are when we first experience brutality and inflict it on others. Whoever says children are innocent angels is wrong!

Writing this story marked my first experience of writing for the sake of writing. No one demanded it, I wasn’t completing a course and I didn’t necessarily think anyone would want to read it; I just wrote for fun. I enjoyed the process so much that I vowed to work towards writing  in the future. It took another five years, but I have finally reached a point in my life where I have the time and head space to be able to write.

It is not perfect and I have learnt a lot more about writing in the last five years, but I hope you’ll enjoy it!

If you like this story, it is available for free as an ebook from itunes and smashwords.

 

Play Café

by Chalky MacLaan

Jessica had only just learnt to speak, so she was chattering to herself, experimenting with the sound ‘eh’ as she lay in the ball crawl. She preferred the sensation of lying on the squashy plastic balls to that of lying on the sand. The absence of water was a benefit as well. As she thought about the beach, a shiver ran up her spine, her little hands started to shake and moisture gathered in the corner of one of her blue eyes. She remembered the way her feet sank in the soft sand and how she couldn’t stay upright.

She rolled over and came to rest on her stomach. She could see her mother’s safe smile through the fence, causing her to forget all about her past misadventures. Her mother nodded encouragingly just as something caught Jessica’s eye in the next section of the play café.

She rolled over on to her back, then kept going onto her front again and repeated this until she was at the edge of the ball crawl. She had experimented a little during her few minutes in the crawl and decided that this rolling action was easier than walking and more fun too.

She pulled herself out and onto her feet and waddled out of the enclosure, past her slowly-caffeinating mother and into the next enclosure.

Jessica was delighted with the sight that lay before her eyes. Cars lined up along the fence; cars that were the right size for her. She let out a delighted giggle and ran up to the first car, her arms outstretched at the ready for exploration.

“Go away,” were the words shouted at her as she was thrown back onto the floor. In the shock preceding the inevitable cry, Jessica had a chance to see what she hadn’t before. A large boy in a red t-shirt was looking down from the very car that Jessica had been investigating. He had small dark eyes that were narrowed in selfish anger, a long, narrow face and a chin that was as sharp as his words. “I said go away girl!”

As a mournful wail emerged slowly from Jessica, the boy decided he hadn’t finished. He slowly moved the little car away from the fence and as the startled Jessica was just getting to her feet again, he bumped into her, knocking her to the floor once more. He then turned his car around abruptly and trundled off to the other side of the enclosure.

The now very confused, upset and red-faced Jessica was still on the floor as her mother came up quietly and scooped her into her arms. Instant calm came over Jessica as she felt the warmth of her mother’s neck against her cheek. However, with this familiar feeling of comfort came a fresh batch of tears.

As she lay in her mother’s arms, listening to the comforting sound of her favourite nursery rhyme being whispered in her ear, Jessica saw an amazing sight. It was like a huge castle. It had slides, trampolines and tunnels. She was itching to go and climb on it, so she started to wriggle.

Her mother placed her on the ground and walked behind her as she made her way to the bottom of the ladder. This was like no other ladder Jessica had ever seen before. It was made of soft cubes placed on a diagonal across a slope. She tried to climb onto the first cube. It was a lot bigger than Jessica was expecting and she struggled madly to try and climb on to it. Eventually, after several seconds of pulling with her arms, wiggling with her bottom and scrabbling with her legs, she finally made it onto the first cube. She was exhausted and looked ahead to see that there were at least two more cubes to go to get to the top.

She then remembered that her mum was standing near by. She held up her hand and it was promptly wrapped in the firm grasp she knew well. In no time at all, Jessica was at the top of the ladder. She now was faced with a choice: would she stay near her mum, go down the slide and then have to climb back up again; or would she go through the tunnel to the left, away from her mum and deep into the castle with all its trampolines and other mysteries?

She stepped up into the tunnel and crawled her way through, stopping only briefly to look out of the port-hole. Soon, she could see the first trampoline, only it didn’t look like any trampoline that she had ever been on in the past. This one extended straight out from the level that she was on, which meant she didn’t have to climb up at all. It was also surrounded on three sides by nets, so Jessica didn’t have to worry about falling over.

As Jessica was just about to step onto the trampoline, she felt a dull thud at the base of her spine. She toppled heavily onto the trampoline. As she landed, she bounced back up into a standing position, just as a dark figure in a red t-shirt rushed out of view around the corner.

Jessica was about to cry, but then she realised that she enjoyed the feeling of bouncing. She walked back to the edge of the trampoline and recreated her bounce from before. She giggled madly and tried the same thing a few more times before she decided to press on with her adventure.

She turned the corner and was confronted with another tunnel. She felt a little apprehensive as her stomach gave a little nervous tickle. She turned back and looked for her mother. She couldn’t see her from here, but was sure that she was still nearby.

With a deep breath, Jessica plunged into the semi-darkness of the tunnel. About half way along the tunnel, Jessica realised that as she crawled, she was getting higher and higher. As she emerged from the tunnel, Jessica looked around through the nets, surveying the castle. Her heart gave a little jump when she realised that she was right at the top.

Immediately, Jessica dropped back onto all fours. Although there was plenty of room to walk upright, she felt much safer with her head closer to the walkway. She crawled slowly around the next corner and then stopped and remained very still.

In front of her was the biggest slide Jessica had ever seen. It went right from where she was standing, down to the ground. The slide was in a long, red tunnel that looked to Jessica like a long wiggly caterpillar.

Jessica was really scared. She had only ever been down little slides, and always when her mother was right there, holding her hand. She looked back towards the way that she had come and then back at the slide. Another choice had to be made. Two small tears began to slide down her cheeks as she pondered, when a small movement caught her eye. Her mother was waving to her at the bottom of the slide. She seemed to have a funny look on her face. Jessica couldn’t tell exactly what it meant, but the sight of her mother calmed her and she now knew what she had to do.

Jessica crawled up to the top of the slide. It was very quiet up here, only the faint murmur of voices could be heard. She sat, her legs dangling onto the slide, waiting for some sort of cue to tell her to go.

Footsteps came thudding up the structure behind her. She turned around quickly and out of habit sprung up, with her back facing the slide.

After turning, the first thing Jessica saw was a red splodge. Then the image of the boy formed quickly around the splodge and Jessica’s heart skipped a beat.

“That’s my slide,” roared the boy. Jessica couldn’t move. The boy’s eyes narrowed so much that they almost disappeared entirely. “Move!” The words thundered around Jessica’s head, but she couldn’t think of what to do. Her thoughts shifted to her mum. She started turning around to look for her mum when she was pushed in the side.

Thunder and tumble and a flood of red.

Round and over and crash and thump.

Jessica’s mum scooped her off of the padded floor at the base of the slide. Silent tears were starting to emerge from Jessica’s frightened eyes.

As she was carried towards the door in her mother’s safe arms, Jessica looked back into the café. She saw the boy get up from a heap at the bottom of the slide. He slowly rubbed his head. He looked around frantically until his eyes stopped. Jessica followed his gaze to a lady over near the back of the café. She was facing the other direction, leaning on a table and talking into a mobile phone.

The boy, after staring for a few moments started to howl. His tears were flowing down on to the foam mat. The lady didn’t flinch or react, but continued to talk to her phone.

Jessica and her mother had now made it to the door and the scene in the café was now out of sight. They walked outside into the bright sunshine.

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Cover image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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