Doorway Writing Group October 2017

Doorway Writing Group October 2017
We had a quiet but fruitful session this month as we resumed after a short break.
A number of guests had a go at the crossword: some working together – discussing the clues in groups, some taking a copy home to try out later.
We wish K good luck with his new tenancy. We will miss the intriguing circus anecdotes but here’s to his next chapter in a more settled life.
J contributed a poem – as thought-provoking as ever – and part two of a story. Read on and enjoy!

Tadpole Village (a poem by J)
“Life is waiting”*
The tadpole village is emerging
That the planners have spawned
Transplanted from the drawing board
New houses, new roads, schools,
New beginnings.

The village of Hannington
A little farther on, also, is a new village
Transplanted in the aftermath of the
Black Death Epidemic
The old village deserted, buried, abandoned…

Like Blakehill airfield, after the war
Now the flight path of westbound geese
Honking at sunrise in V formation
While amongst the brambles and thorns
A new heart is beating, in chrysalis
By a single thread suspended
And waiting for a butterfly
*From The Cider House Rules (1999)

Part 2 of story by J, first posted in May 2017 blog, (renamed A Pilgrimage of Chaos)
Bright autumnal sunshine.
Freddie tossed a pie crust across the path in the park.
Repeats… That was Freddie’s CV for today.
“Hi,” said a voice on the bench beside him. It was Nigel, his adviser from an hour ago. Freddie was a little surprised.
Nigel took his sandwiches from his briefcase.
“I always eat my lunch here, you don’t mind sharing the bench, do you?”
“No, not at all,” said Freddie. “I won’t be here long.”
They began eating together in silence while pigeons squabbled and fought for the crusts beneath them.
Nigel paused, mid-sandwich and swallowed.
“You know I saw you an hour ago, you cleared your throat and a most peculiar thing happened.”
Freddie felt his brain jolted as he anticipated the thread of the conversation. HE KNEW THIS PERSON.
“20 years ago at least,” Freddie ventured hesitantly.
Nigel nodded. “You were the boy in the car park over there that night.”
Freddie tried to straighten himself clutching his knees, almost shaking as his brain reeled back the years to an empty car park in the small hours of a drizzly Sunday night.
Freddie sat absorbed, as Nigel continued, picking at imaginary threads on his jeans.
“Yes a long time ago, but what a night. After you panicked me I went back home before my parents knew I’d gone. I just lay there waiting for morning, you know life is worth hanging on to I told myself, and I learnt that emotions make a tyrannical master.”
“Yep,” Freddie nodded.
“When you weren’t there I was sure you’d jumped. I never ran down those stairs so fast. I paced up and down for over an hour in front of the car park and I came back next morning and as I stood there looking up…” He paused.
Nigel nodded eagerly, encouraging.
“Well, I felt that…my life had… HUMAN VALUE!”
“And now here you are, so many years later.”
“Anyway strange meeting eh!”
“Take care.”
“Yes, good luck!”
Freddie walked the familiar lanes back home, musing under colossal, portentious clouds.
Nigel walked away, patted his briefcase and turned, just in time to see two screaming seagulls circling the air with the remains of his lunch.

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Doorway Writing Group August 2017

Writing Group August 2017
Our Writing Group had the pleasure of a visitor today: the charming Josh who is hoping to set up a creative writing hub in Swindon (initially via breakfast and lunch clubs) and beyond that to involve youth theatre groups in drama projects revolving around issues of homelessness. He seemed pleased at the opportunity to chat with some of our guests – especially those involved with the writing group – and has hopefully gone away fired up and ready to launch his exciting ideas in September.
Today’s Writing Group crossword generated the usual level of interest and two guests – the wonderful J and K – contributed some writing for you to enjoy: two poems and Jakarta memoirs part 3. Happy reading!
Tidying up (a poem by J)
Taking a look at myself
A frame to keep the world without
Peace within
And that is where my heart belongs

Taking a look around
Torn and crumpled memories
Mended, reassembled
Fragments of the sun
Where my heart belongs

Taking a look at you
An anchor when my life
is drifting
A smile for my pain
is lifting
Every precious grain
is shifting
All things must pass
To stand at last
And that’s where my heart belongs

Kandu Kicks Tournament 2017 (a poem by J)
A red kite soars above the fields of Stanley
as the driveway unravels
a gentle descent to Stanley Park.

The changing rooms are buzzing like a beehive
Teams emerge in multi-coloured procession
A shattering of rainbows.

On the pitch we find,
people are kind
We didn’t win but never mind.
There’s still a goal in front
and a goal behind.

Antics and injuries
Graces and furies
A day well spent
Our innocent intent.

Standing in line
The cups awarded, speeches made
and people applauded.
Changed again, back on the road
Off to reclaim the rainbow goal.

Djakarta Memories Part 3 (by K)
Building the tent was something of an exercise in trial and error, it being a new tent, and a new ‘tent master’, who seemed to know as little about it as everybody else. Never the less at the third attempt and after the fourth tropical deluge (of rain) it eventually stood fairly respectably. The seating had come from a different tent and wasn’t quite the same shape as the tent we were using but after two weeks we had managed to assemble everything and rehearsals began. There were four Italian acrobats, five Italian clowns, a German troupe who both rode a motorbike along a steel cable and balanced on ‘sway poles’, 10 metres above the ground, five American trapeze artists, two of whom also did a second aerial act. The animals were presented by people called Chipperfield, except the tigers for whom a German trainer had been engaged.

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The Diary of John Bloggs – Chapter Two

Chapter Two

I’m skipping a few years… but let’s just say working. Never been afraid to work. Have a strong work ethic. Left home as such. Got my place, a one bed flat. Housing association. Can’t believe I was paying in those days £40 a month rent in 1976. Yes readers it’s correct!  I also remember what a great summer we had that year.

Hope I’m not rambling on too much, but had a sort of settled life for a space of a few years. Then in 1979 it all came crashing down. The company I was working for went from profits to bad debts and was wound up. Hell what am I going to do. So looking around found casual work involving the building trade. The first job I did was digging out a walk pathway.

We’re now in the 80’s. I’m just about keeping my head above the water with paying rent, which was rising with the times.

I’m in the mid 80’s now. Hear about work in the Docklands, East London. There’s going to be a massive redevelopment – regeneration to happen. Well think this could be a lucky break for me. Left my flat with the bills paid.

Gone to London. Working on new access roads. Very good money. Hotel accommodation paid for by employer. Two years of nose to the grindstone but also got charmed by the London nightlife. Pubs, clubs got right into it. Looking back now I don’t know how I did it. Worked seven days a week and went out seven days a week.

Then in 86 I sensed all was not right. And it was to be a pivotal point in my life. Company I worked for taken off contract. A bigger more power company. Trained their own guys up in road surfacing. You will see the road and spill offs should you watch the London marathon on tv. When in the docklands, the race covers a long stretch of road that is brick red. That’s what I worked on. This was before Canary Wharf was started.

Hell hang on I thought. Friday job gone. Accommodation with it gone. I had not been paid for nearly a month. What the! So that’s the night I walked the streets thinking someone help me out of this.

Next morning ended up in St Mary’s Hospital Paddington. Blisters like balloons on my feet.

End of Chapter two.

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The Diary of John Bloggs


I first became aware of John on Twitter around 5 years ago as @bullringbash

He stood out, amongst the crowd of organisations and individuals in the homelessness sector, since he was obviously challenging people’s stereotypical visions of those who are homeless in a very unique way.

Not only was John candid and eloquent but he knew what he was talking about (he has been homeless on and off for 30 years) and he spoke in a very refreshingly honest manner.

Over the years we had sporadic contact with each other until in June this year I finally managed to meet up with him in London whilst visiting Mark Horvath @hardlynormal who was over from the US for a brief visit. He turned out to be even more of a legend in person with a brilliant sense of humour and a very engaging personality.

Mark Horvath managed to convince John to sit still long enough to film two video interviews which have been uploaded on to the Invisible People website.

After meeting up with him John ended up in hospital with serious health issues and he is currently in a hostel in London whilst negotiating his way through the tangled web of statutory services, hostels and the ‘priority need’ criteria for accessing accommodation.

It was while he was posting on Twitter about the joys of being able to eat toast (not something that is ever considered to be a luxury) that I came up with the blindingly brilliant idea of asking him to speak out about his life and his experiences on the street whilst he had access to free wi-fi.

And so this is the story of John Bloggs… in chapters and in his own words. Typed by him on a smartphone and then uploaded onto the Doorway blog by me under his own account.

I have no idea how this is going to play out but this is the whole reason that I set up the blog in the first place. A platform for those who are rarely listened to in our society – giving people who are marginalised a voice to speak out…

Lisa Lewis, Doorway July 2017

Chapter One

The Diary of John… who wears a label… but being homeless is not an identity. Just an event in a person’s life. For some it’s just one page in a book of life. For others a chapter. For a group of people termed ‘entrenched’ it’s many chapters in their lives. Including how my life has unfolded in front of my eyes. Age is just a number but the benefit of the reader I am now 65 years old.

Homelessness. A very emotive word. But when you’re young it does resonate later on in life. There have been lots of celebrations going on about the film ‘Cathy Come Home’ which is now 50 years old. Well my thoughts are what’s to celebrate when you have lived that experience in the past. By this I mean living in many B&Bs at the age of six years old till almost nine years old.

My parents in the early fifties decided to emigrate to Tasmania on what was called the £10 assisted passage. We were literally at Southampton docks ready to go and my mother found out she was pregnant. Terms of assisted passage was no children under two years old. Well this is my understanding of what happened and told at an early age.

My next memory was seeing my brother born. Just after. The next time I saw him he was nearly seven years old and we were on the move. No end of different B&Bs and which also meant I went to lots of different schools with all the moving. At some I was behind with school work at others I was in front. But found out later the seeds were sown. A destiny pathway. Forever moving later on in life without any roots.

Eventually we settled down. My brother came back to the family. He had been living with my mother’s parents in Cornwall. I did not know him at all. Stranger! Even had an accent I did not understand.

He felt the same. This was not home for him either. Kept running away back to what he thought was his parents. I can’t imagine he is nearly sixty now. We have not spoken in thirty-five years. Only just recently found out where he lives too.

End of Chapter One.

I will intersect here… In my early sixties I find out I have a daughter which I’d heard about in passing conversation. 33 years ago. Talking to two guys I had worked with on a short term contract I met again some years later who told me about her. But thought just telling me stories in a pub! I did check but could find nothing. But 30 years later and looking through the internet on a New Year’s Eve cause don’t drink no more find this name. Look it up on Facebook which I’ve never used before. More on this later.
It’s part and parcel. Things you can miss forever. That people take for granted. Sitting at a table as a family eating a meal together. Well all I can say is what’s that?

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Doorway Writing Group July 2017

Our July writing group was quiet but fruitful. Four guests took a keen interest in this month’s crossword, ably aided and abetted by various volunteers.
At the writing table, we spoke about the trials of writing on demand: always a challenge. We agreed that the ‘you will now sit down and write for an hour’ approach only really works for the most disciplined among us. We discussed the paradoxical relationship between tiredness and creativity. If you’re trying to make yourself write something when you’re tired, you often get nowhere but why is it then that some of our best, or most exciting, ideas come late at night, in the middle of the night or early in the morning when we are actually pretty short of sleep? And we all know how incredibly hard it can be to resist the urge to ‘obey the Muse’ and start writing at such times. No wonder we creative types are so often all over the place!
On the subject of creative types then, you are cordially invited to feast on this month’s contributions from J and K. Bon appétit!

Station to Station (a poem by J)

The stars revolve, an old tuning dial
wandering through the sky from
dusk till dawn
constellations, station to station
chanting the universal symphony
playing the music of the spheres.
Tuning in to the uncharted frequencies
of the imagination
exploring the brittle silence of the night
wrapped in mystery senses orphaned in the darkness
keenly awaiting the birth of the world.

The Zigzag Army of the Homeless (a poem by J)

We shall find them on the benches
We shall find them on the street
until everybody has a home
or at least a bite to eat

The ragged troops have mustered
drilling for the change
sending out observers
and keeping out of range

The orders are pretty vague
the ranks are vaguer still
there’s no chance of promotion
and only time to kill.

The Next Best Thing (a poem by J)
The world is going crazy
for the next best thing
in the pharmacological playground
it’s the only thing that swings

We are brought up to believe
that only the best will win
but in the meantime we are keenly
pursuing the next best thing

The next best thing
never satisfies
The next best thing
is a warning to the wise
Just believing in the best
forgetting all the rest
Substitution is no solution
to what will really pass the test.

Djakarta Circus Memories – Part 2 (by K)
Djakarta in those days was a city of two halves, the rich and modern who lived alongside the poor and traditional. Labour saving was unheard of, even to the extent that wheelbarrows didn’t exist. Instead they had four handles so that it could be carried by two people. In effect a sedan chair to carry bricks. The circus ground was close to the disused racecourse – although disused it was still being maintained and mown frequently. Quite why this was, I never discovered since most people agreed that horse racing would never be allowed again.

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Doorway Writing Group June 2017

Doorway writing group June 2017
Five fabulous guests had a go at the crossword this month and we had a fun conversation about some of the words. Could we, we wondered, challenge ourselves to slip some of the more unusual words casually into conversations over the next week? Ideally during chats with unsuspecting individuals. We could, for instance, just en passant mention a) our intention to travel by charabanc (3 DOWN: a tourist coach), b) our tendency to indulge in a cold collation (9 ACROSS: a light informal meal) or even c) the fichu (24 ACROSS: a woman’s small triangular shawl for the shoulders and neck) which we’ve just bought for a friend’s birthday. Hmmmm, could prove interesting!
Certain crossword answers also led us onto some fascinating aspects of our life stories: a chat about time spent living in Malta or working with the circus. This in turn helped us to encourage K to write a short piece for our blog. J was – even by his standards – extremely prolific this session: providing us with a feast of song lyrics, poems/haikus and even a bit of – tongue-in-cheek political campaigning. Enjoy!

Doorway Music (by J)
You might be looking for shelter
A place where you belong
If you’ve a heart still beating
There’s a place for a song

Your conscience might be grating
Just trying to survive
One more rainy weekday might just skin you alive
You’ve forgotten what it’s like to have peace of mind
Get the music started and begin to unwind

There’s a hand for holding on
A guitar to string along
A roll on the drums just keeps a-rolling- on
One life that’s ended, one life that lives on
That’s Doorway music
Going for a song.

Mr Marzipan (by J)
You can’t just call me yeller
Because I’m sweet and slightly nutty
When it’s your birthday then you can
Call me Mr Marzipan
Under the icing
Where it’s chilling
A slab of sunshine
Not too filling
No one else in this whole lan’
Quite like
Mr Marzipan

Rope Walk (by J)
This is not a lifeline
It’s a rope walk
Not even a good time
A rope walk
Ask me if I feel fine
Yes, it’s fine
Like a rope walk.

Empty handed, washed up
Like a piece of driftwood on the sand
Wondering how something
That started so innocently
So quickly became so hopelessly
Out of hand
And I’m so tired of the trouble and the strife
To send another postcard from the jagged side of life
On the rope walk.

Votes for Poldark (by J)
There’s a new face on the high Street
A blast from the Cornish past
Is back
So it’s nearly time
To cut the loss
And cross
For Ross

Haikus (by J):

Furtive question mark
Cat’s tail swish behind the hedge
Trailing lobelias

A roadside romantic
Belisha beacon
On and off and off and on
We’re over… to you?
How do!

Circus Life – Episode 1 (by K)
17 lions, 12 tigers, 3 elephants, 7 Polar bears, 1 Rock python, an American, a German, an Irishman and an Englishman all got on a ship at Gravesend. They took a tent and some seats and 30 caravans, and it was called Chipperfield’s Circus. The rest of them (another 57 people) all flew to Jakarta and got sunburn, but the ones who went on the ship turned brown instead….
Episode 2 eagerly awaited!

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Doorway Writing Group May 2017

Doorway Writing Group May 2017

The writing group crossword generated a lot of interest again this month, resulting in a total of seven guests beavering away – in groups on three separate tables – to complete it.

At the writing table, we talked about when and how we write things. We discussed how to cope with inspiration when it ‘attacks’ – often at the worst possible moments e.g. in the middle of the night, or when you’re on a bike, running, in the shower etc. We mentioned a few famous songs composed in the middle of the night by people still half asleep; Paul McCartney allegedly wrote the melody to Yesterday pretty much in his sleep – maybe that’s the best way to write things then!

Here is J’s latest offering – not written in his sleep, but certainly a short story you can savour and maybe dream about….

Earshot – a short story by J

Freddie laughed nervously, nervous scratch, nervous laugh, he was a bundle of nerves this morning, sitting in the job centre like a dog in a pound pondering life’s uncertainties. His own life of elaborate detours, loose ends and letdowns.

What had prompted his reflective mood, maybe the memory of one shiftless night long ago 20 years or more; climbing the stairs of the multi—story car park, like a moth under the austere strip lights. He opened the side door: Level 13, an acre of deserted concrete, the acrid fumes of departed vehicles hung in the air. He noticed a shape, a bundle of clothes? No: a figure; a boy hunched over the parapet only just taller than the wall itself. Freddie cleared his throat apprehensively and leant with his back against a pillar transfixed by an emotion comprising guilt, fear and helplessness.

Nigel, a 14-year-old teenager heard the sound snapping his train of thought like a dry twig, switching the synapses from fear to flight, he bounded towards the exit door and fled down the stairs. In the same split second Freddie turned and saw the figure vanished! He raced to the spot and peered over the edge, the morning still too dark to see any sign of a body on the pavement below. His hurried footsteps echoed in the stairwell and relief surged through his trembling frame while he paced the empty pavement back and forth for nearly an hour.

In the hour of the first birdsong, the grey light of morning creeping across the sky, a thoughtful teenager trampled the gravel drive to the home where his family lay sleeping; quietly opening the kitchen door, he crept back up the stairs.

That was the story of ‘Freddie’s Phantom Adoption’, unnoticed even to themselves, two strangers giving life to each other in the barren spaces of a slumbering town.

Time moves on another 20 years. Nigel checked the time for his next appointment and took a few brisk steps towards the waiting areas. He beckoned, “Ah Mr Norton, please step over. Take a seat. Now, what have we been up to?” His finger hovered over the ‘enter’ button of his keyboard. Freddie had a nervous cough….

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