I've written another book!
This time it's a childrens book, it's called Horton's Horticultural Emporium.
Here's the cover:
And here's an extract from it:
Chapter 1 – My Brother
All brothers fight, but not all the time. Big brothers are supposed to protect little brothers, and little brothers are supposed to look up to their big brothers. But this was not true of me and my brother Eddie. Even as a baby my older brother Eddie poked, pinched and prodded me to distraction. Until I was five years old I thought this was what older brothers were for.
Eddie was four years older than me, he was skinny and tall and his acne blotched face had a permanent sneer. He had the same tangle of brown hair as me, but that is the only way we were alike.
As far as I know Eddie had always had the habit of grabbing at things. He seemed incapable of just looking at something; he always had to touch it too. He couldn't keep his hands off anything. Everything from the TV screen to photographs were covered with his sticky fingerprints.
Even Mum was not immune, before I was born she had put up with a lot of pinching and biting from Eddie. She never told him off for doing this however, she only shooed him away in irritation. When he grabbed and scratched her friends she would just say, “It's a phase he's going through, he'll grow out of it.”
But he didn't grow out of it, and when I was born she took to saying, “Go and play with your brother.” every time Eddie annoyed her. So for the next eleven years I had to bear the brunt of my brothers habit. I was almost constantly bruised from being punched and sat upon, my hair was pulled and clothing ripped. Eddie would trip me into muddy puddles and shoulder barge me into hedges. Of the few toys I owned, most were broken within moments if Eddie got his hands on them.
But enough about Eddie for a moment, let me introduce myself, my name is Archibald Cullen, but just call me Archie. I have a rather quirky family, and despite being the most normal and mundane of them all, I never felt I fitted in. But I did find a place I belonged and this is the story of how I got there.
It all starts with my family, for although we didn't get along, if it were not for them I would never have found where I belonged.
Chapter 2 – My Mother
My Mother was a short, slightly plump lady. She had an unfortunate taste for tight clothing which only exaggerated her plumpness in a most unflattering way. She made me think of a sack of potatoes, all lumpy and shapeless, except she was a kaleidoscope of neon and primary colours and eye-popping patterns. She had long tangles of brown curly hair which she had highlighted at the hairdressers once a month. She wore enough make-up to ice a cake and spent hours in the bathroom every morning. She wore so much I imagined she must have to apply it with a trowel.
Mum never seemed to notice that Eddie was constantly harassing me, or maybe she didn't care. Right from my earliest memories I couldn't remember a time when my Mother had not had her mobile phone pressed to her ear. In fact for many years I thought that she must have been born with a mobile phone in her hand, for she was never seen without it. On her arms she wore metal bangles which clashed and clanked every time she moved. She had metal hoops in her ears too. Until I knew better, I thought she wore all this metal to improve her mobile phone signal.
And she never stopped talking on it. Once in the middle of the night, after Eddie had woken me, as often happened, I had gone to Mum's room to tell. She had been fast asleep in bed, but her mouth had been moving as if she were still talking, her empty hand pressed to her ear. Even in her sleep she did not stop talking.
She never seemed to talk about anything interesting however. It was always, “Did you see Marge? What was she thinking wearing those hideous shoes in public!” or “I can’t believe Brian and Melissa are going to get married. I've a good mind to phone the writers of that show and give them a piece of my mind. No of course I'll still watch it, I must find out what happens!” or, “Saturday? Yeah I'm free. What? The kids? Oh they'll be OK by themselves. Where shall we go?” Whatever the conversation it was always accompanied by peels of raucous laughter. I quickly learned to tune out the noise.
When she wasn't talking on the phone she was texting on it, and when she was doing neither of those, it was usually because she was watching soaps on the TV or because the house was full of her chattering friends. The house always seemed full of chattering ladies. The doorbell was always ringing, though the door was usually left standing open so the crowds of gossiping women could flow in and out like the tide. They were all young, painted with all shades of make-up, decorated with bangles and beads and hoops of gold and silver and gemstones. Of course every one of them carried a mobile phone. There was quite a cacophony of the latest ringtones when they all started going off.
Mrs Gemma Cullen, our Mother wasn't the kind of woman who was interested in children. How she had come to have two therefore was something of a mystery. Eddie and I rarely got a decent meal from our Mother. Often she forget completely because she was so caught up in hearing the latest gossip about some soap or reality TV show, or about the disgraceful thing her friend Marina had done on holiday in Corfu. But on the occasions when she actually cooked for us, with her mobile clamped between shoulder and ear so she could still chatter away, she invariably got distracted. So there would be custard on the fish fingers, ketchup on the ice cream and the chips would be either burned or still raw. Mostly we ate ready meals, Eddie and I quickly learned how to use the microwave ourselves.
Mum was no less neglectful of the other aspects of raising children. Laundry piled up, dentist appointments went by unattended, and birthdays were forgotten. For the early years of my life I thought this was how all mothers were.
I sometimes wondered where my Dad was but I never dared to ask Mum. Even if I had tried, it was hard to get a word in edgeways, or sideways or any other way with Mum because she was always too busy talking to other people. I sometimes thought that my Dad might have disappeared, vanished into non-existence because Mum had not paid enough attention to him. Unknown to me at the time, this was not all that far from the truth.
I soon learned that it was useless going to my Mum for protection from my brother’s constant torment.
Chapter 3 - The Garden
There was one place I was safe from my brother, the garden. Our house only had a small garden; it was overgrown with weeds and long grasses. In one corner was a rotting shed and a stepping stone path led through the jungle of vegetation to a gate that led to an alley at the back. The end of the garden was marked by an enormous hedge which I don't think had been trimmed since Mum had moved here; certainly the garden had not been touched in my lifetime.
It was inside this tangled overgrown hedge that my secret sanctuary lay. Underneath the hedge was hollow, the foliage draped down the sides supported by bare trunks. Between them there was only leaf litter and bare earth. At the edges weeds grew in the dappled light.
You might wonder why this was a safe haven for me, for surely Eddie would know of it too. And he did know of it, but he never came there even to taunt me. It was because of the wasps.
Many summers ago there had been a wasp nest in the hedge here, and of course my brother had been unable to resist poking it. To his credit he was smart enough not to poke it directly with his finger, but had decided to use a stick instead. As soon as I realised what he was going to do I retreated to the safety of the kitchen to watch through the window. He had poked cautiously at it at first, but when this provoked no reaction from the wasps Eddie had smacked the nest with all his strength. That certainly got a reaction. A swarm of angry wasps had streamed from the nest and gone straight for him. He had swiped at them with the stick, his flailing limbs only upsetting the wasps more until they formed a thick cloud of insects all around him.
He came running into the house covered in painful looking red welts and screaming his head off. This was beyond even my Mother’s ability to ignore.
“I'll have to call you back.” she said to whoever had been on the phone. Never in my life had I heard her utter those words before!
She phoned a wasp exterminator as soon as she and Eddie returned from the hospital. I watched from my bedroom window as the exterminator came and killed all the wasps, pumping toxic smoke into their nest. I felt so sorry for them, it wasn't their fault, they had only been protecting their nest.
The next day I had gone down to the end of the garden and crawled into the hedge. I found the wasp's nest still in place among the branches. Nothing stirred in it now; the floor was littered with the bodies of dead wasps. I took the nest down, it was so light in my hands, it felt like paper. Curious I peeled it open; it came apart in flakes like leaves from a cabbage. In the very centre were hexagonal chambers, all perfectly constructed. It was a marvellous creation.
But the wasps left me something even more marvellous, they left me with a safe hiding hole. When I emerged from looking at the wasps nest I saw Eddie watching from the kitchen window. His face was as white as a sheet aside from the ugly red welts where the wasps had stung him. Even though the wasps were gone, it would be many years before Eddie ventured to the bottom of the garden again.
Chapter 4 – Payback
Of course I couldn't always hide from my brothers bullying but I had my ways of getting back at Eddie too. I would have gone mad without some sort of release. My brother may have been much bigger and older than I was, but I was much smarter than him despite my younger age. I think when you are faced with great adversity you adapt to the circumstances. I adapted by getting smart.
I never got much sleep thanks to my brother, he would always come in when I was sleeping and pounce on me or steal my blankets. To pay him back for this, one day I caught a bluebottle in a jam jar. Now a bluebottle is not at all harmful, but it does make a wonderfully loud buzzing sound as it flies. The jam jar only enhanced the buzzing sound. I put some squashy blackberries in the jar for the bluebottle to eat and stretched a dish cloth over the top, securing it with an elastic band so the bluebottle couldn't escape. Then, while Eddie was at school I hide the jar with the bluebottle in his room. I put it on a high shelf behind some books. Eddie never read books so I knew he wouldn't discover it.
That night I waited, anticipating what might happen. About half an hour after Eddie had gone to bed it began. Eddie burst out of his room in a panic.
“There's a wasp in my room!” He shouted jumping on my bed and shaking me. “Get it out!” Eddie couldn't tell the buzzing of an innocent bluebottle apart from the buzzing of a wasp. Playing the part I went through to his room to look for the 'wasp'. He cowered at the door as I went in. The bluebottle had settled down again and the room was silent.
“You must have dreamed it.” I said, “There's nothing here, go to bed!”
Eddie, unconvinced nervously got back into bed. Another fifteen minutes went by, then the bluebottle became restless again. Eddie flew down the stairs taking them two at a time yelling for Mum. Mum was watching her favourite soap on TV and wasn't pleased to be interrupted. But even she couldn't ignore Eddie's yells. She duly came upstairs to investigate (during the ad break).
To my delight the bluebottle was playing its part perfectly and had gone silent again.
“What do you think you're doing playing silly games and disturbing me?” Mum ranted at Eddie, “There's nothing here, now go to bed and you'll be sorry if you disturb me again with this nonsense!” Her face was scarlet with rage and Eddie didn't doubt she meant it. “You'll be sorry if you've made me miss my soap.” She muttered as she stomped back down the stairs.
Eddie was quiet after that, but I heard him whimpering in the early hours of the morning when I got up to use the bathroom. At breakfast the next morning Eddie looked grey in the face and there were big, dark circles under his eyes. It looked like he hadn't slept a wink. I, on the other hand, had had a most refreshing night’s sleep.
After Eddie had left for school I went and retrieved the jam jar from the shelf in Eddie's room. One night was enough, it would have been cruel otherwise, cruel to the bluebottle that is. The bluebottle was none the worse for its overnight stay in my brother's room and it buzzed happily away when I released it into the garden.
Chapter 5 – The Cat
Eddie and I never had any pets, Mum didn't have time for children let alone animals. Thanks to Eddie I didn't have any friends, so I longed for the companionship of a pet. An older girl who lived down the street had once taken pity on me and shown me her pet gerbils. They had been marvellous, so funny to watch, and soft to touch. I knew Mum would never buy me gerbils. But I did once have a pet, it happened quite by chance.
I had been hiding in my den in the hedge when I heard the soft mewing of the tiny creature. The kitten was filthy and skinny, it had no collar and its Mother was nowhere in sight. Forgotten and alone, I felt an immediate sympathy with the small creature. I coaxed it towards me and wrapped it in my sweater, the kitten pushed its head against my hand and purred affectionately.
Keeping the kitten a secret from Mum wasn't a problem, I could have kept a lion in the living room and she would probably not have noticed. Keeping it hidden from my brother was much more of a challenge however. Eddie was always popping up unexpectedly, and always interfering with my things so I had learned to find places where I could hide my special things from my brothers prying eyes and probing fingers.
I decide it would be safest to keep the kitten outdoors, the main problem would be finding it shelter. Then I remembered the wooden fruit crates stacked up behind the supermarket. One of those would be perfect. The supermarket was at the end of our road, but it was a long and busy road with a steep hill and I had never been there on my own before. I was a little afraid as I set out along the street, only the thought of the kitten made me go on.
I got many curious looks from people along the way, for I was only a small boy at the time who should not have been out alone. I knew Mum would not even have noticed I was gone. I got even more curious looks on the way back as I hauled the wooden fruit crate along. It was much heavier than I had expected and almost as tall as me when stood on end. It took me a long time and I had to stop and rest several times on the uphill stretch, sitting on the upturned crate, gasping and red in the face from effort.
At last I arrived at my own back gate. I had left the kitten in a cardboard box with an old towel and a dish of milk. It was busy washing itself when I peeped in, it looked up at me with wide green eyes. I set up the crate under the cover of the hedge and transferred the kitten to it. The kitten would be safe and warm and dry here.
And it was. I took good care of the scruffy young kitten bringing it everything it needed. I stole food and milk from the kitchen, brought it old towels to keep it warm, made toys for it from feathers and bits of string. The kitten grew into a sleek and beautiful young cat and I was very happy. It was marvellous to have the cat as my friend, it never scratched or chased me. It would curl up with me when I hid crying in the bushes, or whenever I felt lonely, which was often.
Of course, this friendship could not last. It was inevitable really, but when it happened, it made me very sad all the same. The cat was grown now and naturally as cats will it took to wandering the neighbourhood. It always returned to the fruit crate under the bushes at the bottom of the garden though.
One day as Eddie and Mum and I were walking back from the supermarket, I saw the cat sitting on a wall ahead of us. The cat, recognising his friend jumped lithely down from the wall, landing neatly on four feet and started meandering towards me, meowing a greeting. I felt alarmed and charmed all at once. Delighted that my friend wanted to greet me, but alarmed at what Eddie might do.
I decided the best thing to do would be to ignore the cat completely, but the cat stood directly in my way making it impossible to ignore. I stopped, Eddie stopped just behind me. Mum, oblivious, continued walking, prattling into her mobile as usual.
The cat rubbed against my legs and purred.
“What's this?” Eddie asked, prodding me in the arm, “You have a pet?”
“No!” I stammered, “It's just one of the neighbours cats, I see it about sometimes.” It would have made no difference whatever I said. Eddie crouched down and cooed at the cat. I willed the cat not to go to him, but the cat didn't know it was in any danger. It sauntered over to him and sniffed at his outstretched hands. Eddie lunged and scooped the cat up in his arms. It gave a startled yowl and began squirming like a snake. Eddie roughly tried to stop it escaping, laughing cruelly the whole time.
“Stop it!” I cried running forwards and trying to prise the cat from my brother’s tight grip. “Let it go!” In its distress the cat had become a screeching ball of teeth and claws. As I tried to help it, a paw slashed out indiscriminately and left red streaks across my arm. I backed away clutching my arm and watched as Eddie disappeared behind the spitting ball of fur that the cat became. He was no longer trying to hold onto the cat, his arms flailed and struck at it as he tried to drive it away. But the cat wasn't done yet, it scratched and bit him in a fury before finally leaping gracefully away and trotting off across the street, head held high.
Eddie was covered in claw and bite marks, his clothes were torn to tatters. He stood there in the street, his face bright red, his bottom lip wobbled dangerously and I could see tears in his eyes. I felt laughter rising up in me. He had met his match in the cat. He glared at me as I tried to control my smirk, then he ran off down the street towards home.
After that the cat didn't return to the box under the hedge. It stayed in the neighbourhood, I think old Mrs Tenby across the road took it in and fed it. I saw it quite often on the street, but whenever it saw me or Eddie it would always pointedly cross the street to stay away from us. I'd like to think it gazed at me from afar with a sympathetic look in its eye, but that was probably just my imagination.
I was angry with Eddie for a long time for making the cat leave. My only consolation was that the cat had fought back and won. One day I thought, Eddie will poke something and get more than scratches or stings for his trouble.
Chapter 6 - Slugs
It was about a week after the cat left that I realised it was never coming back. I became more upset and angry at Eddie for scaring away my only friend than I had ever been before. It was raining and I was sitting in my den alone with water dripping through the leaves onto my head when I saw the most enormous slug. It was dark brown and glistening with slime. As I watched it slowly slide towards me, I forgot about my grief and the germ of an idea arose. I ran and fetched a glass jar and used a stick to encourage the slug into it.
Another of Eddie's many faults was that he always ate up my favourite breakfast cereal before I could get any and he never let me get the jam either. The morning after I had captured the slug I watched as he took the last two Weetee-Bics from the box and lavished great globules of blackcurrant jam on them as usual. Then he had to get up to get the milk from the fridge. This was my chance, while his back was turned I took out the jar with the slug in it from under my sweater and with a sharp smack on the bottom of the jar I deposited the slug right on top of the Weetee-Bic biscuits among the jam. The colour of the jam and the colour of the slug matched perfectly and surrounded by great spoonfuls of jam the slug was barely noticeable.
I quickly hid the jar and looked innocent as Eddie returned with the milk. He didn't notice the slug sliding across his breakfast as he poured milk into his bowl. I watched with fascinated horror and delight as he dug in with his spoon and lifted half the Weetee-Bic, slug and all, towards his mouth. He was really going to eat it. Would he even notice? Right at the last second I cried out.
Eddie glared at me.
“There's something moving in your breakfast.” I hated myself for telling him, but, it wouldn't have been fair to let him eat it. Not fair to the slug that is. Eddie was now looking at his spoon in disgust, his face took on a pale green hue and then with a clatter he dropped his spoon and raced for the bathroom to be sick. The slug landed on the floor in a pool of milk and soggy cereal. I quickly scooped it up and put it outside.
I had my pick of the breakfast cereals for some time after that, and Eddie didn't touch the jam for a year. He would come down to breakfast looking queasy and examined every spoonful closely before putting it in his mouth. It was brilliant! It didn't make up for the cat, but it soothed my anger at least.
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