The Spirits Of Christmas
A Dead Medium
Featuring Barbara Smith
Madam Smith Of The Circle Of Sacred Seers
Barbara Smith dropped the four shopping bags onto the kitchen table and watched as the colour slowly returned to her fingers. Christmas was fast approaching and she had many more shopping trips to get through before she would have everything that she needed for that one solitary day of the year. It’s only one day, she thought. One day but it took half a year to prepare for it. There were lists to write, presents to buy, cards to post and sugary or fattening food to stock up with. It had always puzzled Barbara why people, and she included herself in this, spent the whole year checking how many calories are in this and how much saturated whatever is in that, but come Christmas they’re all out there buying goose fat by the jar full. The obvious reason was for the sake of tradition but Barbara thought it a rather poor excuse for watching your weight for twelve months only to put on two stone in two days. Every year she seriously considered serving up fresh salad and a low calorie pasta dish on the big day but every year she still ended up buying the same traditional fare, a turkey the size of a highland terrier, which just barely fitted into her oven, and a waist-high sack of potatoes. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a fat golden bird and all the trimmings. It was the same every year but this year something was fundamentally different; this was the first Christmas Barbara would be spending in the company of the dead.
It must have been about three months ago now, Barbara mused, it’s gone rather quickly in fact. Three months had passed since she had inherited the gift of sight from a woman who, in the space of one week, she had grown to respect after spending two decades thinking of her as a miserable, old crone. May Elizabeth Trump was the last person she would have ever thought she would miss but each time she thought of her she felt her eyes begin to well up. I had always ridiculed Margaret for being May’s one and only friend, Barbara thought. She had been right all along, Margaret saw May’s hidden capacity for compassion from day one, where all I saw was a grumpy old woman who would shout the odds at you should you ever step an inch out of line. That was all before she died of course. May’s death had been the making of her, it had shown her all the things she had been searching for her whole life. It was only after May’s spirit had announced itself to them that she’d realised just how wasted her life had been. All those dark creepy nights spent poking about in old houses or playing around with macabre picture cards, all in the belief that she had some kind of psychic power which would allow her to see past the grave. All those years of treating a draughty window as a cold spot or the sound of a scurrying mouse as the whispers of earth-bound souls. May was her first real spectral encounter and, after 68 years of envisioning the moment, it hadn’t been quite how she had imagined. Not that it really mattered in the end. Something had rubbed off on her and, whether it was a gift from May or just her own psychic ability finally kicking into gear, Barbara had started to see ghosts on a regular basis not long after. In fact, nowadays she saw more of the dead than she did of the living, especially as they had the knack of appearing at the most inconvenient moments. Once the word had got out that Barbara could see them, all the local spirits had descended on her with one hundred and one different requests. A lot of it was about contacting their surviving relatives or even ancestors, some of the dead folk had been around quite a while, but there were a few who just seemed to like the company of the living. There were three such spirits huddled by Barbara’s kitchen sink as she walked over to her kettle.
“What’s in the bags, Madam Smith?” Gerald asked as he pointed a bony finger towards the kitchen table. His voice was nasal and had a hollow, whistle-like quality that made him sound as if he were speaking through panpipes. Gerald had started to hang around Barbara about two months ago. He was 6 foot tall and painfully slim, by Barbara’s reckoning, and he wore in a two-piece black suit that draped off him as if he were no more than a coat hanger. Barbara had the suspicion that he had lost a lot of weight just before he’d died but he refused to confirm it. Gerald didn’t like talking about his death, something Barbara had very quickly discovered. He had a habit of suddenly walking off through the nearest wall whenever Barbara had broached the subject, which she found to be a very effective conversation stopper. Yes it was pretty rude behaviour, even for a dead man, but Barbara often used it to her own advantage. Gerald always spoke in short blunt sentences and his tone was generally sober even with the whistle. He tended to question everything but he never seemed to actually listen to the answers people gave him. Barbara could very quickly lose her patience with him, which was usually when she would start asking him about his death knowing that it would compel him to leave.
“What business is it of yours?” Barbara replied with a sharp tone, as she shook the kettle to check if it contained enough water and then switched it on.
“There’s no need to get defensive, Madam Smith,” Brian said through his semi-permanent smile, “he was just asking.” Brian had started to darken her door a couple of weeks before Gerald had appeared. The two ghosts were like chalk and cheese in both appearance and personality. Brian was no more than 5 foot tall and had a wide, circular stomach. His multi-coloured sweater with its thick vertical stripes made him look like an over-inflated beach ball with legs. Barbara quite liked his company, on most days he was usually rather chipper and he had an infectious smile.
“He’s always asking something or other. That’s the whole problem, you know that!” Barbara heaped a spoonful of coffee granules into her favourite mug and then turned towards the fridge.
“Have you got an issue with that?” Gerald said.
“On most days, yes I have, Gerald.” Barbara pulled open the fridge door and took out a half full bottle of milk. She raised the bottle up to her nose and took a deep sniff before bringing it to her coffee mug.
“What is in those bags then, Madam Smith?” The voice was as quiet as the squeak of a less than boisterous mouse. It had a timid, shaky quality, as if the issuer suffered from perpetual anxiety.
“It’s just some Christmas shopping Martha, that’s all,” Barbara replied. She couldn’t see the nervous ghost. She’s probably hiding behind Brian, she thought.
“Christmas! Christmas shopping you say,” Brian was still smiling but there was a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “I didn’t think you were into that old rubbish, Madam Smith.”
“Is it that time again? God help us!” Gerald announced, his whistle seemed to hit a slightly higher pitch than usual.
“I don’t like Christmas,” Martha squeaked, “all that noise makes me nervous.”
“Everything makes you nervous Martha,” Brian pointed out.
“I know,” Martha sighed, “but at Christmas time I get even worse. It’s all the noise and hullabaloo that goes with it. The shrill cries of excited children, all that doorstep singing business and those bangers always give me an awful fright.”
“Bangers, Martha? Don’t you mean Christmas crackers?” Barbara asked as she poured hot water into her coffee mug.
“Do they go bang, Madam Smith?”
“Yes, I guess they do.”
“Then they’re bangers in my book and they’d make me jump clean out of my skin if I still had any.”
“What’s the point of Christmas anyway?” Gerald whistled.
“Beats me,” Brain shrugged. “I remember celebrating it back when I was alive and it all seemed like too much hard work for very little gain, even back then. All that messing about and wasted money just for one day. You get up too early in the morning, still half cut from the few celebration tipples you drank the night before, and then spend the day feeling like death warmed up. You open a few presents, which are usually nothing more than a few pairs of socks and a satsuma, and then you have to stick your arm up a turkey’s backside and drag out its innards.”
“It can be hard work, I grant you that,” Barbara said, as she leant against the kitchen side and sipped her coffee.
“I can handle hard work,” Brian said. “Christmas isn’t hard work, Madam Smith, it’s tiresome is what it is. In my experience, hard work usually leaves you in profit at the end of the day. A day’s pay for a day’s work and all that; I don’t see any profit in Christmas!”
“What about spending time with your family, you must have enjoyed that?”
“What, that bunch of free-loaders?” Gerald said.
“Too right Gerry,” Brian agreed. “Like vultures around a carcass they were, if memory serves.”
“I was always nervous around large groups of people,” Martha added.
“What, even your family?” Barbara asked.
“I think so. To tell the truth, I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t nervous.”
“You’re better off not remembering if you ask me,” Brain said, managing to sound grumpy and regretful even though his smile refused to break. “Whenever I think back, all I can remember is hardship and disappointment.”
“I can’t think of anything good about Christmas,” Gerald said and Barbara suddenly realised that is was the first time she had heard him say anything that wasn’t in the form of a question.
“Can you?” Gerald suddenly added and then Barbara sighed.
“I can’t believe that none of you have any happy memories of Christmas,” she said. “I have nothing but fond memories of this time of year. Yes it can be tough and yes sometimes we all don’t get on as well as we should but that all pales into insignificance when you look into the children’s eyes as they find out that Santa Claus has been and filled their stockings. Christmas is a wonderful time and, even though I dread all the preparation, every year it always seems worthwhile on the day. It fills my heart and it always gives me a positive start to the new year.”
“What absolute rubbish, Madam Smith, I had always thought of you as a woman of stability not a gooey eyed school girl.” Brian’s smile drooped for a fraction of a second but sprang straight back into its usual upward curl.
“Don’t you remember when you were a child and excitedly waiting to hear the sound of sleigh bells?” Barbara asked.
“Nope,” Brian replied.
“No, not really,” Martha squeaked.
“Should I?” Gerald whistled. Barbara sighed again and then took a long, slow slurp of coffee. This wouldn’t do, she thought, as she put her empty mug onto the kitchen side. She looked over at the sink and saw the plug hanging by its little silvery chain.
“I don’t know if this will actually work on a ghost but I would like to try,” she said as she picked up the black, plastic sink plug and unhooked the other end of the chain.
“Try what?” Gerald asked.
“I want to see if I can regress you through hypnosis and see if I can bring back those festive, childhood memories.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Madam Smith,” Brain said.
“What if they’re bad memories?” Gerald said, or asked, Barbara wasn’t certain which.
“We will find that out, won’t we,” Barbara said in a commanding voice. She took a couple of steps into the middle of the kitchen and dangled the sink plug in front of the three ghosts.
“I take it that you’ve done this before Madam Smith,” Brian said.
“Of course I have!”
“And it works does it?”
“Most of the time yes, well quite often at any rate.”
“Is it dangerous?” Gerald asked and Barbara was sure it was a proper question this time.
“I doubt it.”
“So you’re not actually sure,” Brian pointed out.
“You’re dead already, what harm can it do to you now?”
“She’s got a point,“ Martha piped up and Barbara could sense a little more confidence in her voice than she was used to.
“Can you see the plug, Martha?” Barbara asked, she tried to peer around Brian’s large frame but still couldn’t catch a glimpse of the anxious spirit.
“Yes I can, madam Smith,” Martha replied. Her voice had regained its trademark squeak.
“OK, are you all ready?”
“Ready for what?” Gerald said and Barbara took it as a yes. She started to swing the sink plug gently to and fro.
“Keep your eyes on the plug,” she said in low whisper. The two ghosts that she could see followed the sink plug as it swung from side to side, Barbara hoped Martha was doing the same.
“You are feeling sleepy.”
“No I’m not!”
“Please take this seriously Brian!”
“But I’m dead, I can’t sleep. If I do I just transcend dimensions, I thought you knew that about us.” Brian replied and Barbara had to admit he had a point.
“OK, just shut up and concentrate on the plug then!” Barbara continued to swing the sink plug.
“Are you concentrating, Martha?”
“Yes Mummy,” her voice was still squeaky but there was no fear or anxiety in it.
“Where are you, Martha?” Barbara said.
“I’m tucked up in bed, I’m waiting for Santa Claus,” Martha said in an excited voice.
“I think it’s worked on Martha, don’t you Brian?”
“Be quiet, stop talking. If Santa knows we’re awake he won’t leave any presents!” Brian whispered in the high-pitched , clucky tone of a young boy. “He’s bringing me a bike this year for sure. It’s going to be a bright red one, just like the one in the toy shop window, now be quiet or he’ll never come.” This is working better than I thought it would, Barbara surmised. It’s usually pretty hit and miss when I try this on living folk.
“Are you alright there, Gerald?”
“Oh I will be soon enough,” Gerald’s voice sounded lighter, less of a drone, and his whistle wasn’t as prominent. “One hour to go before my shift ends and I rush off home and climb into my Santa suit. The kids will be so excited, it’s been a good year and we’ve managed to get some cracking presents for them. I can’t wait to see little Billy’s face when he unwraps that train set, he’s been ogling it through the toy shop window for months. This is going to be the best Christmas ever!” Gerald was smiling. Barbara couldn’t believe it, an actual smile. She had always thought that his face would crumble like a rock-slide if he were ever to curl his mouth in such a way.
“Right then, the night has passed and it’s now early on Christmas morning,” Barbara said. All three ghosts let out wide yawns and stretched their arms.
“Where are you, Martha?”
“He’s been,” Martha cried out. “Santa’s been and look at how full my stocking is, it’s fit to burst!”
“Oh no!” Brian said, “I must have dosed off and missed him again.” “What have you got there Billy? Wow, that’s a mighty fine train set,” Gerald’s eyes glistened brightly as he spoke. He stretched out his thin, bony arms as if expecting an embrace.
“A bicycle,” Brian cried, “I’ve got a bicycle. It’s red and it’s bright and it’s so shiny, I bet it’s as fast as a rocket ship as well. This is just the best Christmas ever!”
“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy. Santa has been and look, he’s even eaten one of those mince pies we made.” Barbara still couldn’t see Martha but there seemed to be a faint glow coming from behind Brian. Gerald closed his arms around something unseen and a single tear escaped his eye. Barbara decided that enough was enough and clicked her fingers.
“Awake!” She commanded.
Brian was the first to react. He took an involuntary step backwards, his wide, unblinking eyes darted around the room. His infectious grin flat lined across his face and he looked like he’d just been abruptly awoken from a sleep that he hadn’t realised he was having, which wasn’t so far from the truth. Gerald casually wiped the tear from his eye and then started to clap his hands together. He was still smiling.
“Was that an enlightening experience?” Gerald said as he tapered off his applause. A small glowing form floated out from behind Brian. About four foot tall and hovering a foot above the floor, Martha shone like a florescent bulb. Her young, innocent face wore a dazzling, confident smile. She moved like a drifting feather and her eyes spoke of a new-born wisdom.
“How did I lose such golden memories?” Martha said in a silky smooth voice. Her usual air of anxiety had gone, along with her nervous squeak.
I don’t rightly know,” Brian said as his twitching eyes finally settled, “but I don’t plan on letting it happen again.” Gerald pointed a bony finger in Brian’s direction.
“How do we do that?” He asked as he tapped the air.
“We just have to keep reminding ourselves somehow,” Brian replied.
“That’s not what worries me the most,” Martha said as she floated around to face the other two ghosts. Barbara was beginning to feel unnoticed.
“No?” Gerald said as he lowered his finger.
“What worries me is that there might be others who are suffering ignorance as we did, both alive and dead. People who have forgotten the joy they experienced during the Christmases of their past.”
“Not only that,” Brian added, “there’s bound to be a lot of poor souls out there who are failing to truly appreciate the present festivities.”
“Are we forgetting the Christmases yet to come?” Gerald pointed out.
“We need to get out there and remind these people of the true meaning of Christmas,” Martha suggested.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Brian said.
“Neither could I,” Gerald nodded in agreement.
“That wasn’t a question Gerald!” Brian observed. “You just spoke and it wasn’t in the form of a question.”
“Wasn’t it?” Gerald asked.
“Well that didn’t last long then, did it,” Martha said. Barbara was getting a little tired of being ignored.
“I’m still here you know!”
“Sorry Madam Smith,” Martha said as she pirouetted in mid-air to face her.
“Yes of course, sorry, Madam Smith.” Brian’s smile drew back across his face. It was as infectious as ever, Barbara had to fight against her own facial muscles as they attempted to return the expression.
“I take it that my plan worked.”
“It did?” Gerald offered and Barbara heard it as a statement more than a question.
“Thank you Madam Smith,” Brian said as he clasped his hands in front of him in a big fist which he gently shook. “You have really opened my eyes to all the joy that this festive time of year can bring to the world. I can’t thank you enough, in fact, you have given my death more meaning. No longer will I mope around feeling regretful at what little my life really amounted to. I will now devote my ghostly existence to bringing enlightenment and joy to any who may fail in achieving this for themselves.”
“Will I follow in your footsteps and tell those who prioritise all other things above spreading goodwill through the many years to come?”
“I’m sure that you will, Gerald,” Barbara replied, even though she knew there was no question of it.
“I too will join in your crusade to rid the world of bad memories by washing them away with the good,” Martha said as her glow reached an intensity that Barbara had never before seen. What kind of monster have I just created, Barbara thought as a new voice entered the room.
“What’s going on here then?” All eyes turned to look at the new arrival who had just stepped through the wall. He wore a pinstriped three-piece suit and stood tall and proud, while swinging a pocket watch on a long silver chain in tight circles with his right hand.
“Hello Jacob,” Brian said. “Madam Smith has just reminded us of the meaning of Christmas and now we’re going to share the festive spirit with the world.”
“Is that so?” Jacob said, still swinging his watch. “How do you plan on doing that then?”
“I think we are going to find miserable, lonely people and teach them to how to celebrate the festive season properly.”
“That’s right Brian,” Martha agreed.
“Really, do you know who you are going to start with?”
“No we don’t, do we?” Gerald said.
“No we don’t,” Brain added, “not yet.”
“Then in that case, I know just the person,” Jacob announced.
“Who?” Martha asked.
“My old business partner,” Jacob replied, “that’s who.”
“Lead the way, my good man,” Brian said as he headed towards Jacob and the kitchen wall.
“Wait for me,” Gerald said, “are we all going in together or one at a time?”
“One at a time would be best, I think,” Brian replied as he and Jacob stepped through the wall.
“I’ll go first,” Martha cried out as she swooped past Gerald.
“Do you want me to be last?” Gerald asked as he lumbered through the wall and disappeared from sight.
Barbara sighed and picked up her coffee. Cradling the warm mug in her hands, she thought about what the three ghosts had said. There’s something familiar about all this, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Dead Medium: Not Your Average Ghost Story By Peter John is to be released as an audiobook. Read by the talented narrator Joel Froomkin, this Amazon Kindle dark comedy bestseller will be available on Audible very soon.
“The Strangest Things Happen When You’re Dead.” – May Elizabeth Trump.
The deathly silence is about to be broken. She disliked the company of others and death did little to warm her spirit. She had led an independent life and she faced death in much the same way. She was finally alone, finally free from the mindless babble of others, at least that’s what she thought. May Elizabeth Trump was the rarest of spirits and she was none too happy about it either. She was a dead medium, a ghost who can speak with the living, and her services were to become in great demand. Flung into the limelight and smothered with unwanted attention, May soon discovers that it is not only ghosts with long awaited messages that have taken an interest in her. Something dark was lurking in the shadows, stalking her. Even the dead are not left to rest in peace. Dead Medium: A humorous, character driven story and a unique vision of life after death. Not your average ghost story.
It was another dark night. Every night was dark in that small village in North Wales, street lights were things that happened to other people. The only outside illumination in the whole village was the sign hanging from the side of the pub. The Hare kept the adults occupied during those late autumn evenings, but us kids had very little to keep us entertained; fourteen years old and bored is never a good combination. The village had a sports field, but when it’s so dark you can’t see more that two feet in front of you, games such as football become rather difficult and, on occasion, quite painful. There were no Playstations or Xboxes back then and the closest thing we had to a youth club was the village’s one and only bus shelter. Any time past six in the evening and we had that small concrete hut all to ourselves. It didn’t keep out the cold, but when it rained and you were lucky enough to be up against the far wall, it would keep you half dry. Six scruffy teenagers crammed into a space designed for three old ladies and their tartan shopping trolleys, but it was all we had. There was Jenny and George, brother and sister. Brian, a tall skinny lad with glasses and the first person we all came to if we had difficulties with our homework. Sarah, the eldest of the group, and Johnny, who would have preferred to have spent his every waking hour playing football. The first hour was generally spent swapping football stickers under torchlight while making fun of one member of the group or another. We all took a turn to be the brunt of the jokes, though it was never voluntary. None of us were popular at the school we attended, five miles down the road in a town that was large enough to warrant its own post office. We were a collection of would-be loners and it was easy enough to find something to taunt one another about.
After the final sticker had been swapped and there was a short discussion about who would complete their album first, the ghost stories began. Jenny, the youngest of the group by 3 months, always squeezed her way to the far corner of the shelter at the first mention of wavering shadows, bogeymen and witches. Her older brother, George, would sidle up next to her in such a way as to seem coincidental and every time she jumped he’d place his hand upon her shoulder to reassure her. He would never admit to this however.
The stories would always end up about Gypsy Lane, the supposedly haunted road that ran down the back of the village. There were no houses, or any other type of building on that road, it merely cut through two large fields. Bordered by two high hedges and kept dark even in the daylight by a thick archway of branches, it looked the part, especially during a full moon when what little light there was snaked through the gnarled branches and danced on the tarmac below.
We had never before ventured there after dark, we didn’t usually have the nerve, but this one night something had gotten into us and bolstered our courage. One can of bitter, half a litre of weak beer swiped from a parent’s drinks cabinet (yes we still had them back then) shared between six curious mouths. We each had no more than a taste and we all agreed that it lived up to its name but it gave us a boost, which was probably more psychological than chemical. Two by two and with three torches between us we walked through the dark deserted village. The only noises we heard were the sound of slurred voices and the clinking of piano keys as Old Mr. Foot played ‘Roll Out Your Barrow’ as we passed The Hare.
After several minutes, the noise of the pub faded away and a silence dropped over us, only broken by the occasional hoot of an owl. The moon was only a crescent but it reflected enough light to make shadow puppets quiver on the edge of the road. None of us had spoken during our slow wander. We were all worried that our nervousness would come out in our voices. As we arrived at the opening to Gypsy Lane the first person to speak was George.
“I’m not sure Jenny should be here with us,” his voice was gruff, as if he had a throat full of phlegm. He coughed before continuing. “I… I think I should take her home. I’m not chickening out or nothing, I just think she’s too young to be out here.”
“Oh shut up, George,” I said. “I’m only three months older than her and I’m not scared.” It was a lie, one that I’d been telling myself since we left the bus shelter.
“Well I’m not scared neither,” Jenny said, stamping her foot against the ground. The rest of the group remained silent.
“Okay then, Sis,” George said, shrugging his shoulders. “If you’re sure?”
We stared down gypsy lane, as far as we could in the darkness. The overhanging branches were visible enough with the moon light shimmer through them. Without another word, we began a slow walk under them. Sarah led the way, shining her torch from one side to another. Johnny held up the rear with the rest of us spread out in between. The lane was narrow, barely room for anything larger than a car. The hedges either side loomed over us and seemed closer with every step. A rustle in the branches above made Jenny whimper and I had to turn a sharp inward breath into a yawn in an attempt to hide my own fear.
A few metres ahead a dark patch in the hedge became apparent. Brian was the first to see it, we always assumed he had better eyesight than the rest of us due to his thick rimmed glasses. Sarah shone her torch directly at it but the weak pen-light barely penetrated the darkness. Walking closer, we shifted towards the other side of the road, all peering at the dark patch. Stopping directly opposite, we stared into the rough circle of black. The slightest of movements caused Jenny to hide behind her brother.
“What is it?” Johnny asked as he stepped up behind us. The rest of the group merely shrugged but I couldn’t resist the urge to speak.
“It’s an entrance to the pits of hell,” I said calmly. Still afraid yet bolstered by the thought of playing a trick on my friends. Jenny grabbed her brothers coat, as if to anchor herself to him. Sarah snorted and tipped her eyes.
“Can we go home now?” George said, gulping.
“There’s no such thing as hell,” Brain said, taking an involuntary step further away from the dark patch.
“There’s something in there,” Sarah said, edging closer, still shining her feeble light.
“Stay back!” Johnny said, lifting his own torch towards the hedge. It flickered and died in his hand. “Damn it, I shouldn’t have used it to read in bed last night.” I crept up behind Sarah and we both moved within a few feet of the dark patch. Sarah’s torch made the leaves of the hedge shimmer, but otherwise was of little use. Brian first and then the rest of the group huddled up close behind us. I strained to see beyond the blackness and I fancied I could hear slow, heavy breathing.
Suddenly, the large, black and white head of a cow burst through the gap in the hedge, giving out a loud, drawn-out moo. Screaming, Sarah jumped backwards, stumbling into me, forcing us to fall into a pile in the road. Brain turned about-face and ran straight into the opposite hedge. Johnny dropped his defunct torch and dove onto the ground like a goal keeper saving a penalty. Jenny and George seemed to have barely moved other than swapping positions so it was now brother hiding behind sister. A few seconds passed with us staring at the cow and the cow staring back at us. It let out another, softer moo. With synchronised movement, who ever was not on their feet climbed to them and we all started running back down the lane towards the village.
I remember that night whenever the shadows draw near or when strange noises echo through the house. It reminds me that not all ghost stories are true. The supernatural is often just plain natural.
©2015 Peter John. Author of the Paranormal Comedy: Dead Medium
After reading my novel ‘Dead Medium’, many people have asked me just what hat I pull my characters out of to make them feel so real and lifelike.
“Peter has a brilliant voice as and author and he brought each character to life from the moment they stepped onto the page”. Amazon reviewer -Future Slayer Girl.
“Colourful characters, brilliant one-liners and an imaginative and captivating story”. Amazon reviewer – Busby.
“The plot thickens and you are taken into a unique story filled with memorable characters and lots of humor”. Amazon reviewer – Donna Johnson.
“This is a very entertaining and original story peopled with such well-drawn characters, I felt like I got to know them personally”. Amazon reviewer – DragonOne.
“This is a fun read where the characters came to life along with their surroundings”. Amazon reviewer – Sheryl.
I always tell them that I take inspiration from day to day life and, when you drive a bus through London, there is plenty of life to choose from. In an attempt to expand of this answer I have written this article about the pros & cons of being a writing bus driver.
I consider myself lucky in many respects. I have a certain advantage as I perform a frontline job in such a diverse city. I find inspiration in the quirkiness of the various people who I meet on a day to day basis. Take for example “The Stickman”. A man in his fifties who always boards the bus with a thickly varnished, wooden walking stick. He is generally late to the bus stop and I have to wait while he slowly hobbles up to the bus. Now you may consider this to be nothing remarkable, however, on a Monday and Tuesday he holds the stick in his left hand and favours his left leg. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday he holds it with his right hand and favours his right leg. I have yet to see him board the bus at all during a weekend. However, I often see him with both his legs pumping away, as if he were treading grapes, on his old Raleigh Arena, dressed in bright yellow, skin tight lycra shorts and matching t-shirt. Now I can’t help but think that there is a story in there somewhere. Even though I have yet to hear him utter a single word, he has given me a firm foundation to a great character. Now all I need to do is build on that and “Grizzly Adams” would make for an interesting merge. Grizzly has a big, black beard and a mop of thick, curly, black hair. He boards the bus in the late morning and also in the early afternoon, usually just before the local schools kick out and the bus becomes like a moving playground. Grizzly is normally on the bus for between 20 and 30 minutes and he spends this time telling anyone he can get to listen about the time he spent as a minicab driver.
“You wouldn’t believe who used to get into my cab!” I have often found myself silently agreeing with his assumption. He would then ramble on about all the celebrities that had climbed into his taxi cab and also the strange and unlikely places from which he had to pick them up from. My personal favourite yarn he often strings is about how he was once propositioned by an Egyptian princess, due to his striking good looks and irresistible charm. I myself cannot comment on the ascetic quality of his face as it is always covered by thick, black hair. As for his charm, however, he does have a knack for getting people to listen to him and on some days he attracts quite a crowd.
Vic is a relatively new patron of my bus, having only been travelling on my particular route for about two months. For most of the first month he wore a neck brace. He was obviously suffering from some kind of injury the cause of which is a mystery to me. Vic always wears the same brown tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. His trousers, however, vary often and they are always of a colour that not only fails to match his jacket but seem to dramatically clash. For example: his baby blue chinos or his bright orange polyester slacks, which have such sharp creases running down the front that, if he were to walk through an overgrown field, he’d end up cutting the grass with each and every stride. Each and every time Vic boards my bus he is in mid conversation on his mobile phone. He swipes his pass and barely registers my existence before taking a seat at the back of the bus where he continues with his telephone conversation. Now Vic doesn’t have a quiet voice; it bellows down the bus like a gust of strong wind and is generally littered with profanities. I have often asked him to curb his language, especially when there were children on board, but all my requests are usually met by various obscene hand gestures. Now I only started referring to this particular gentleman as Vic after I first saw him minus his neck brace and first set eyes on his dog collar.
The most difficult setback to bus driving, where writing is concerned, is the shift work. Instead of setting a regular time to sit back in peace and quiet to put pen to paper I have to fit it in whenever and wherever I can. I am never without a notebook and a pen and I try my best to keep my little 10” net-book handy whenever possible. The stress levels can also cause a hindrance and be pretty much counter productive. After a particularly difficult run my mind can lock up and my brain ends up feeling like a clenched fist. Not a great deal of writing takes place at times like these but, if it does, it tends to end up as no more than a penned rant.
All in all, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to find myself in a position where I could write full time and give up bus driving permanently. Writing for a living is my dream and I am constantly striving to make that dream come true. However, I am certain that I would miss the inspiration I gain through working with life buzzing around me and I would probably ride few buses whenever I felt in need of a muse.
“I’ll See You Out There!”
If you have a funny story about buses or a quirky character that you frequently cross paths with I would love to hear about it. If you suspect that you yourself might be either The Stickman, Grizzly or Vic I would be thrilled to hear from you. You may have even unknowingly photographed me at one time or another, I am always being dazzled by the flash of a camera as I drive down the road.
Out of the hundreds of people who board my bus on a day to day basis, any one of them could be you.
All the best. The dreamer of words and worlds (and the driver of buses).
“I’ll see you out there!”
A wonderful new review of my paranormal comedy ‘Dead Medium’ .
“Jean-Paul Sartre sprang to my mind the moment I started reading Peter John’s “Dead Medium”.”