Loretta Whitcomb

Another Perthshire Writer

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I have been writing all my life on and off, forced into child poetry slavery by my hard-hearted mother (Write me a poem, dear. Mum, you've only just had one! It was lovely, dear, now write me another.) In the 1970s I sold quite a few magazine stories and high point of fame and fortune was a brief humorous talk about living in Holland for Woman's Hour. It's been all downhill since then...


My auntie's got antlers
Sprouting out of her head.
She wears them all day,
She wears them in bed.
She works in a cake shop
Where local convention
Says, like the war,
Don't anyone mention
Antlers, though clients think
'Try our malt loaf',
Strung between the two horns,
Is just showing orf.

My auntie's got antlers.
It's really quite odd.
She backcombs her hair
And wears turbans a lot,
But they're hard to disguise
Bribed at Christmas with gin,
We drape fairy lights round her
And plug Auntie in.

Poor Auntie was lonely
With her extra head set,
So young George at the laptop
Looked for love on the net.
He found a web-footed pensioner
And a chap with two tails
From Cardiff, but Aunt vetoed
Moving to Wales.

But George persevered.
He stayed up all night
Till he found one last single
And it was love at first sight.
A tall, handsome fellow,
Just a year or two older
Caught Auntie's eye
Peering past George's shoulder.
Blue eyes shone warmly
And there, just above,
Small but perfect, a rhino horn -
Token of love.

Now Auntie's quite cheery
With Uncle in tow.
They sometimes lock horns,
But that's marriage, you know -
And their baby's a darling.
They've called the tot 'Fawn'.
She's cute and she's cuddly
Our own unicorn.

Betty Cowie

Only kindly people came
To the blank endpaper that is the crematorium.
Only kindly people came -
No mourners.
Staff from the Grange
Performing the last duty of care,
Helpers from the Friday Club
Where Betty nearly knitted and crayoned large.
Dear Lord receive the soul of this our sister Elizabeth Cowie -
But no sisters came. Were there any?
Nor brothers yet, nephews, nieces
Shedding a tear for poor Aunt Betty,
Sadly ugly Betty with her gnarled hands, blind eyes
And built-up shoe.
Her one talent, her party piece,
Remembering birthdays -
Especially her own.

And when Betty had been tidied away,
The kindly people filed out with small nods and whispers,
On their way to be kindly to others.


Flat Out

Doreen Hardcastle saw the curtain twitch as she walked down the path.
'Damned woman' she thought. 'Checking my every move. How long are Dennis and I going to and I going to have to put up with the old cow? She can't live much longer, surely.'

In the ground floor flat, Grace Fletcher let the curtain fall back.
'There she goes,' she thought, 'Off to church to pray for her sins, her fat bum coming along behind.'
She pushed the trolley back to the settee and holding on carefully, sat down with a whoosh. She found the TV remote and stabbed at it with her forefinger. 'We're so refeened,' she said to the still-black screen. The TV jumped into life. A bow-tied expert was exclaiming over a hideous painting. 'How lovely. Just the thing to hang in the lav, Dennis!' she cackled to the empty room.

Doreen found it hard to concentrate on prayer. Try as she might, the image behind her closed eyes was the far from saintly one of Grace Fletcher. Infuriating woman!. That music! Beethoven thundering up through the floor, ruining her afternoon nap. The procession of people coming to Grace's front window for a chat, laughing, joking, trampling the ornamental shrubs. Grace Fletcher let down the tone. She threw crusts out! She said they were for the birds... It was all so different when she and Dennis moved in all those years ago. Such nice neighbours then. Dr and Mrs Gardiner. Janet Macpherson, PhD. But the Gardiners moved on. Flats were rented out. Eventually even Miss Macpherson left to go into Linton House. When Grace Fletcher moved in from that big old house round the corner, Doreen had suggested to the daughter, that at her age, surely mother would be happier in a home? The daughter had bridled. Really, she hadn't said Grace was going ga-ga or anything, though surely it couldn't be long now..

Doreen could hear the music as she turned onto the front path. Grace's window was open treating the street to Tchaikovsky or some such. Doreen wasn't musical. She checked the flowerbed as she hurried past. There was a definite bare patch under that window. When Dennis got back from his sister's, they must decide their next move...

Behind the window, Grace saw Doreen bob past. She had grown bored with daytime TV and put Radio 3 on, going to stand at the window, though there were few passers-by to relieve the Sunday boredom. Shostakovitch, her favourite, blared out behind her.

Halfway up to her own flat, Doreen, furious at the row, stopped. It was too much! She'd go and bang on the old besom's door. Crossly, she turned round, missed her footing and with a cry, tumbled forward.

Shostakovitch did pianissimo as well as forte and in the sudden quiet, Grace clearly heard Doreen's cry and the bump, bump of her fall. She pushed the trolley out to where she kept a zimmer frame for rare trips out. Opening her front door, she edged carefully into the lobby.
'Mrs Hardcastle?' she called.
She peered round the corner towards the stairs. At the bottom a sturdy calf and sensible shoe stuck out at an odd angle. She humped the zimmer nearer.
'Mrs Hardcastle?'
Doreen lay in an awkward heap, moaning. Her eyes were shut and blood oozed from a head wound. Grace banged on the door of the other ground floor flat.
'Michael!' she called.
Michael changed light bulbs and opened tins for her. He'd know what to do. But there was no answer. Was there anyone in upstairs? She couldn't climb them, anyway. She took off her cardigan and laid it over Doreen.
'Just stay there, dear' she said to the inert figure.
Slowly, she made her way back into her own flat. Her hands were shaking and she dropped the telephone, but eventually managed to dial 999.

Thanks was a potted cyclamen brought by a florist, though as Grace told her daughter, the ambulance men said that if Mrs Hardcastle had lain there much longer - well. As it was, Doreen was never quite the same again. The broken bones mended, slowly, but the head wound left her confused and forgetful. She remembered nothing of the accident. She started to let saucepans boil dry forget she'd left taps running. With all the stress, Dennis aged visibly. Sheltered accommodation was thought best. Behind her net curtain, Grace watched them go. She wondered what the new people would be like. If they were friendly, perhaps she wouldn't have the radio up quite so loud...