Novel & Travel Update

Surrounded by the karst mountains of Yangshuo, Guilin, it has been done. The final draft of my first novel (a series of 3 books) has been completed. All that is left to do is to read over and send out.

I’ve taken a break after the GHWAwards Summit in Shanghai last week and return to London shortly. Until then all social media access is restricted in this beautiful country.

I will do a proper post shortly, but for now I leave you with a photo.

Barry

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Rie and the Old Man Chapney Bagel Test – Short Story

It was not unusual that every single morning Rie would awake to the drumming of her mother’s voice vibrating throughout the house. Her mother’s voice was skillful at climbing the stairs and gushing through the crack underneath Rie’s bedroom door. However, this morning was different. The house was creepy quiet, and because of this, Rie woke up by herself scratching her head perhaps thinking she was still dreaming. She rather anxiously made her way downstairs, tiptoeing into the kitchen. There she found her mum humming along to a song broadcasting on the radio. What struck Rie most was that her mother had breakfast ready and in disbelief appeared to be very relaxed. Rie’s eyes opened wide, she bit her lip softly and sat down as if expecting a fart bomb to go off.

“Good morning my little princess,” said Rie’s mum with a wide smile.

“Err, are you OK mum?” asked Rie shaking slightly in her bright green flowery pajamas.

“Of course I am OK dear, now eat up, you have a big day ahead of you!”

“A big day…” Rie moved towards the calendar and gazed at it for a short while. There was nothing special happening from what she could see. In fact the calender was blank. It most certainly was not her birthday. So, what an earth could her mum be talking about. In any case Rie was far too hungry to ask her mum any questions.

“Thank you, mum,” said Rie in an energetic voice as she scooped her spoon into her favourite cereal. “Ah delicious,” she added. “All my friend’s at school eat Space-Stars also”. Crunchy wheat and bran flakes with fruit bits.

*

Rie hated walking to school because she had to walk past Mr Prigley’s Bagel Shop on Chokely Road everyday. There is nothing wrong with the bagel shop itself, in fact, Rie enjoys the aroma that glides in the air as she walks past. Whenever, Rie smelt cheese or salmon, she would imagine she was floating on a cloud made of cheese and that it would rain salmon down onto the London streets. No, was not the bagels the bothered Rie, it was Old Man Chapney. Yes, Old Man Chapney was a nasty old man. He always shouted at the school children walking past both on the way to and returning from school. He would wait around the corner and jump out screaming in the most creepy voice imaginable, ‘You didn’t buy a bagel did you? My little dry bones,’ he would say. He did this every day and there was nothing nobody could do about it. Parent’s did not believe their children of the old man, and nobody knew where he lived. One day he even grabbed Rie’s school bag saying ‘What lovely colours it has.’ Old Man Chapney was a looney with nobody else to bully except for little children.

The sky painted an azure canvas with sponges of white sheep and glaring orange ball of flame. Rie turned onto Chokely Road and stopped for a moment. She looked up and took a deep breath. Her heart pounding like the sticks on a Taiko drum. She looked around for Old Man Chapney, but could not see him anywhere in her relief. She decided she would run the length of the road as fast as she could just to be on the safe side. She scanned the road one last time and took a long deep breath, and bolted down the street like a 100m sprinter. The local black shabby cat halted and fixed its eyes at Rie, as her feet slapped down on the pavement.

“Nearly there,” she said whilst running. Then just when she nearly made it past the bagel shop, out jumped Old Man Chapney growling like a hungry dog. Rie screamed and tumbled to the ground holding her leg. She had bruised her knee. Seeing that Rie was hurt, Old Man Chapney put out his hand to help her up. He had dark grey messy hair and a big fuzzy beard. He wore old brown clothes with bits of food stuck all over with slime, and torn blue shoes with one toe sticking out. Rie looked up to see Old Man Chapney smiling. This frightened her even more and so she picked herself up and began to run away, limping slightly of course.

*

At school Rie could not think of anything else except for the incident with Old Man Chapney for the whole day. She wondered how she could get Old Man Chapney back. The more she thought about it the more cunning and evil her day-dream smile grew across her face. At first she thought of taking another route to school, but the only other way was around the park. Rie’s mum had told her never to walk through the park alone because it was dangerous. Besides, Rie enjoyed walking to school alone and none of her friends lived close to her house. The thought of walking around the park did not please Rie in the slightest, because it would add at least another twenty minutes to her journey time. This was not acceptable, so she had to think of a plan to get rid of Old Man Chapney from lurking around the bagel shop once and for all.

At lunch time Rie sat by herself and began drafting up a plan which she called the ‘Old Man Chapney Bagel Test.’ After careful thought, she decided how she was going get that old crusty man back. The main part of her plan was to show Old Man Chapney she was no longer afraid of him.

After school, Rie as usual said good-bye to her friends. She then made her way home. All the way home she smiled brightly as she knew Old Man Chapney would finally get what he deserved.  As Rie turned onto Chokely road, she was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she did not realise where she was, and boom, Old Man Chapney jumped out from the corner growling like a wolf. Rie was startled and most definitely caught off guard. Old Man Chapney laughed, skipping and hopping doing some sort of funky chicken dance.

“It works, it always works!” laughed Old Man Chapney with dribble coming out of his mouth. “By the way, you’re not the girl from earlier are you? I wanted to say…” and before he could finish his sentence, Rie was already half way down the road running like a cheetah, as if chasing its prey.

*

That night before Rie went to bed she made a buttered bagel with cheese inside. She had told her mum she wanted to eat it for share it with a friend after school for the walk home. The next morning the house was also strangely quiet. Rie made her way downstairs and into the kitchen. She said good morning to her mum, ate her breakfast, and left for school ten minutes earlier than usual.

It was another sunny day. The sun gleamed across the sky as far as the eye could see. Rie walked to school slowly. Turning onto Chokely Road, she noticed the same black shabby cat from yesterday. The cat was clawing its way into a black bin bag, searching for food. The cat could feel Rie’s eyes gazing from the distance. It turned and looked at her from head to toe as if examining every part of Rie’s body. It began to follow her footsteps from the other side of the road. “What an odd cat,” said Rie, as she continued walking. She would have pondered more about this mysterious cat, but she had a task to complete.

Rie started to run. The cat followed. Just as she reached the infamous scary corner by the bagel shop, she came to a sharp stop. At the same time she stopped, Old Man Chapney, rather predictably as if by cue, jumped out from around the corner growling like a bear this time. However, Rie neither moved nor screamed in fear. Instead she smiled at him. It was to Old Man Chapney’s horror that Rie appeared to be no longer being scared of him. No, for in fact she stood rooted to the spot, proud and strong. By now, Old Man Chapney was very confused and had no idea what to do. He looked down at the ground and started to slowly turn his overly hunched body in the other direction, but as he was turning away Rie jumped star-shaped into the air and screamed liked a wild boar.

“Freeze, you’re under arrest Old Man Chapney,” she said in a deep voice. The old man got so scared that he threw his arms up into the air and screamed like a little girl. Quick witted and on her toes Rie pulled out her bagel and slapped it down on the old man’s wrists. For added dramatic effects, she let out a wolf howl. Old Man Chapney fell to the ground in shame. There was butter and cheese all over his hands. To the Old Man Chapney’s further surprise, Rie whipped out a Polaroid camera and took a picture of the old shameful man.

“You won’t be scary anymore, you old bully!” shouted Rie. “I am going to show everybody your picture.” But before Rie could laugh, the old man spoke.

“I’m sorry little girl, I really am,” he cried out. “I only wanted to scare people away from the bagel shop.”

“Why is that?” asked Rie with a stern voice, but also slightly confused.

“It’s because they, the workers in the bagel shop. They don’t clean their hands when they make the bagels. My granddaughter got sick after eating one of their bagels. It had old cheese and moldy butter in it.”

“Well, there are other ways to stop people going into the shop, such as calling the police, putting up a poster, running a campaign or making a formal complaint,” replied Rie. She certainly sounded like one of her teachers at school.

Old Man Chapney went into deep thought.

“I trust you won’t be scaring people anymore?” asked Rie as she waved the picture in the old man’s face.

“No, of course not. I am terribly sorry,” replied Old Man Chapney. Rie smiled and resumed her path to school. She showed wonderful courage and got her own back on the evil old man.  The black shabby cat walked across Rie’s path and gave her what looked like a smile, then disappeared it into one of the nearby gardens. Rie shrugged her shoulders, took a deep breath and smiled. She was satisfied with how the morning turned out. But what now bothered her as she made her way to school was why her mother was acting strangely and she still could not work out what the big day ahead was supposed to be yesterday. “I’ll have to investigate,” she said laughing…

The End

By B. L. Crisp

Theme: Courage
Moral: Two wrongs do not make a right

N.B. I wrote this short-story earlier today after lunch whilst my children were playing. I wanted to read them a quick bed-time story exploring the theme of courage, but also encompassing a moral of ‘two wrongs do not make a right’. As a side theme, I wanted to show that even adults can learn from their mistakes and from children. It’s unedited, and I already have ideas of how to improve it should I ever wish to revisit it. – Extra note, children really liked it!

Rice Fields: Moment’s Lost (short story part 2/2)

The problem is, if you are not creating anything then you might as well just die. Put the Kaka out and let the money come rolling in is what my boss always said to me.

‘Just be you Shouzu, nothing more and nothing less ne,’ said Mei.

‘Un, I am trying!’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘That’s why I wear jeans and a shirt.’

‘A pink shirt ne, Shouzu.’ Mei giggled and loosened the cap of a green-tea bottle bringing the rim to her cherry blossom lips. Her eyes focused on a young lady in her early twenties wearing a tight lavender office suit standing beside the sparkling steel train door.

‘Everybody looks like a fashion doll from the shop windows,’ I continued, ‘if they froze for a second I wouldn’t be able to tell whether they’re human.’ They laughed to the annoyance of people passing.

‘Shouzu-kun, you should try house cleaning!’

‘Why?’

‘It’s very therapeutic!”

‘You sound like a housewife, Mei.’ She looked away, frowning. The train pulled into Yotsukaido where a crowd of schoolgirls greeted us. I immiedately darted my head into the sky away from the army of short skirts demanding my attention.

#

Mei and I waited for the bus outside Yotsukaido station. The sky had already grown dark, but the summer air remained warm. A small McDonalds located on the corner to our left was empty. A plump girl wearing a cayenne coloured uniform stood smiling as if greeting an imaginary god. We both had returned to Yotsukaido for the Obon Matsuri summer festival, as we do every year. Unlike Tokyo, Yotsukaido in the suburbs of Chiba is a place that never changes; everything stays the same from the local faces to the local shops. I always looked forward to visiting my parents, mainly because of mum’s home cooked food and dad’s collection of sake. An old green bus pulled up to the curb with its back door open.

#

My bedroom remained the same, nothing moved, nothing cleaned. I opened the window to let in the echoing sound of the cicadas. I cleaned my desk and patted the futon to release the ageing summer dust. With nothing much left to do, I turned on the hi-fi, plugged in my headphones and fell asleep inhaling the smell of mum’s steamed rice hanging in the air.

#

I woke up to a violent vibration on my bed thinking an earthquake was raging, but the flashing light besided my leg outlined my chrome mobile. I picked it up and pressed the multicoloured illuminating telephone icon to hear Mei’s voice on the other end.

‘Shouzu, were you sleeping?’

‘Err, no. What time is it?’

‘It’s two am.’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing, just wanted to hear your voice! Do you remember how we first met?’

Hear my voice I wondered alarmingly. Mei saying such a thing was way out of context. ‘Yes, it was summer time at the beginning of our secondary school years.’ She fell silent. ‘That day I had taken the long way home by walking along the rice fields. You were dressed in our navy blue and white school uniform chasing dragonflies so freely in the centre of the mass green fields.’ I stood and watched captivated by her air of freedom. She noticed I was watching and motioned me to come to her, and I did without hesitation. I continued, ‘You said to me close your eyes and listen.’ Beads of sweat dripped down my arm under the oppressing heat. I kept one eye half open and remember seeing the crimson clouds climb over the electric cables as the birds flapped their wings, skipping through the trees. Dragonflies chased each other gliding effortlessly over the top of the rice fields. The sound of the cicadas and other insects ran through my whole body absorbing and purifying me. Never had the rice fields appeared so beautiful to me until that moment. It’s sharp green freshness still remains with me now.

‘What else did I say to you that day?’

‘You said the insects communicate in a world without barriers.’ And it was also at that moment you asked me to be your brother.’

‘I want a normal life Shouzu, and I want to have children soon.’ The word soon struck me off guard at the time. Was she indicating that I should give her children?

‘Children? But you’re only twenty-three!’

‘I know, but I want a child more than anything. I feel incomplete right now. I don’t want to be a middle aged mother.’

I could not believe what I was hearing, but I knew that Mei was serious. I could somehow understand Mei’s confusion surfacing from under her intense breathing. She cried intensely over the phone. I could hear her gripping the handset. Eventually her waterfall of emotions turned into quiet sniffs of awkward silence.

‘Shouzu, thanks for listening!’

‘Un.’

‘I’m glad we had this chat! See ya tomorrow afternoon ne.’ She put the phone down and left me sitting with a slice of cold air chasing through me.

#

In the morning I went for a stroll and enjoyed several conversations with the locals and felt relaxed for the first time since having moved to Tokyo. I bought some fruits from the department store and was shocked at how expensive they had become. I then sat at a local park for lunch and watched the children play, reminiscing on my childhood days which flicked past too rapidly to appreciate and was stolen by studies. A mother played with her two children for over an hour without showing signs of tiredness. I wondered, did having children give her more energy. They certainly give you more direction and reason to live, I guess.

I attended the afternoon Mikoshi carrying festival, and even though the Mikoshi is a miniature model of a shrine, it is very heavy nevertheless, as the shoulder bruise still remains weeks after. Mei was supposed to meet me there but said she was busy and would meet me later. I watched as children and adults pulled along the decorated Dashi floats singing, playing the flute, and beating the drums loudly. Every now and then they would halt at a sponsor’s house and lift up the Mikoshi at least three times to show appreciation. Neighbours would rush out their houses splashing buckets of water over everybody. People offered food and drinks, which were all supplied by the local residents. And even though my dad is in his late fifties he still drags me with him to carry the Mikoshi and get soaked by waves of water. His childlike simper always makes me weak to reservation. My mum always watches from a distance so as to not to get wet.

#

I arrived to find Mei waiting by the gates to the local park where the evening summer festival is held every year. She greeted me with a wide smile and offered me a bean paste cake. She was even prettier that night. Her wavy jet-black hair tied back showing off her sweet little ear lopes that did not stray far from her face.

‘You OK, Mei?’

‘Un! I’m hungry, let’s eat.’

We merged into the crowd with hundreds of excited people. The afternoon’s Mikoshi sat in the far corner under a white tent finely lit by lanterns scribbled with sponsorship names stretching around the park. We walked past a crowd of children eating barbecued chicken, lifting up their weird masks to take a bite. Food stalls circle around the big brightly lit stage. The groups of Taiko drummers were exceptionally talented this year, each member taking their turn to beat while the crowd dressed in summer kimonos danced around slowly in a traditional manner. From time to time people shouted ‘rassera rassera rasse rasse rassera’ jumping in joy. I followed Mei to one of the chicken stalls. The smell of meat drifted in the air as children chased each other around with new toys. We bought some yakitori and sat to watch a group of dancers performing the So-ran Bushi fishing dance amazingly. After the performance the lights went out and everybody looked to the heavens. The flashes lit up the night sky with loud bangs. I caught glimpses of Mei’s bright-multicoloured cheeks. After the fireworks we joined in with the dancing and enjoyed the festivities until to the last moment.

#

A breeze cut through the warm midnight air as I stopped to look up at the sky catching sight of a shooting star. The crickets sang continuously. Mei stepped closer to me and pressed her warm chest gently against my own. My heart began to throb, as I gently pulled her head back by her hair and looked into her eyes. She smiled at me.

‘Tonight was fun wasn’t it Shouzu?’

‘Yes, it was great!’

‘Kiss me Shouzu. I want to feel you!’

‘But… are you sure?’

‘I don’t want to feel incomplete anymore.’ I pulled away. She looked down at the ground and said nothing.

‘I’m sorry Mei, I don’t want to spoil our friendship.’

‘Iie, don’t be sorry… I think I drank too much sake that’s all!’ She put on a brave face and held my hand. ‘I will see you tomorrow at the station,’ she said in a tearful voice. I walked her to her parent’s doorstep and watched as she slowly slid into the house, closing the door with her back towards to me.

     #

I waited for Mei outside Yotsukaido station next to the police booth. She arrived twenty minutes late wearing a red flowered blue dress. She waved at me holding two bottles of milk-coffee, her favourite. She handed one to me, along with an onigiri.

‘I thought you might be hungry since you hardly ever eat lunch!’

‘Thank you! Sorry about yesterday.’

‘Its been forgotten Shouzu. I’m sorry also!’

We climbed the escalators and headed towards the platform to catch the rapid train straight into Tokyo. Whether it’s crowded or not everybody stands in an orderly line at the stations. Mei looked around constantly as if waiting for something or someone to pop out from one of the corners. As stated by the cute TV weather girl, today was the hottest of the summer so far. The train arrived and we boarded. I watch as a European father and his Japanese mixed-raced son played with each other looking out the window. The father seemed so free and happy. His son looked at me smiling, and so I waved at him and said ‘hello’ in English. They get off at Chiba city central. I looked at the boy’s tiny fingers and big round eyes.

‘Mixed-raced babies are beautiful!’ I had said.

‘Sou ne, Shouzu-kun.’

#

After lunch in Shibuya we took a walk to Harajuku, popping into some of the shops, then onto Takeshita street.

‘It’s amazing isn’t it Mei?’

‘What is?’

‘Every fashion style imaginable can be found on this street.’

‘Yeah, Western, Japanese, trendy, funky, cosplay… everything!’ Her eyes lit up in excitement.

‘Are you ok today Mei?’

‘Yeah, I just sometimes feel like Tokyo is changing me into someone I don’t want to be. Everybody here looks like lost souls.’ She said staring at a young girl dressed in gothic clothes and inked in dark colours.

‘I want to visit London this Christmas. Why don’t you come with me Mei?’

‘Really! But why London?’

‘Just something different.’

   #

‘That’s all I can remember officer,’ I finished.

The male police officer sat in deep thought. The other officer who was female glared at me with an expression of restrained disgust, as a tear fell down her cheek. I was allowed to leave moments later to face my own despair.

THE END

By B. L. Crisp

Read: Rice Fields: A Long Sleep Part 1/2