Richard developed his writing skills through a career in marketing and has had articles published in various trade journals and other magazines including Country Life, The Field and Country Living. He still contributes monthly articles for one of the local free magazines. Indeed, he edited The Ark magazine for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, a national charity, for over 10 years.
He has had four non-fiction books published – Rare Breed Pig Keeping (2003); Shetland Breeds (co-author), 2003; Pig Keeping (2010); Higgledy Piggledy (2010); giving a lie to one of his main interests. He is proud of the fact that he won a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Food & Farming Awards for his work in conserving rare breeds.
Still working as a company director, Richard is looking to develop his writing further through short stories and a possible novel into retirement and joined the Somewhere Else Writers Group in 2015 to try and further these aims.
I have included two short stories, Gudmundower’s Soup and Our Christmas Catch-Up.
Gudmundower was frightened. He did not understand where he was or why he was there. And then someone approached.
“Where am I? What is this place and who are you?” he stammered nervously.
“I am St Peter and you are at the Pearly Gates.” He could see that this meant nothing at all to the fearful peasant before him. “Let me explain. This is a prelaunch trial and you, my friend, are one of the lucky ones! You see, this is Heaven and it is where God lives!”
“Ogfrin the Almighty?” Gudmundower’s eyes were wide open and he backed away.
“No, no. I’m afraid Ogfrin does not exist. Nor do all those other gods that other tribes worship. You see Gudmundower, there is only one god – God – and he did everything to create the world and all the creatures in it and He sat back and before He knew it, there were a thousand other gods all getting the credit. So this is our master plan. In a few years God will send His son to earth to prove to everyone that there is only one god. Part of the deal is that when men die, they will arrive at these Pearly Gates and I will review their lives and decide whether they should come in here –Heaven – for the rest of eternity or be damned and go to Hell. But you’re one of the lucky ones because we haven’t finished building Hell yet. It was supposed to be up and running but Satan is way over his promised delivery date and the budget is all to blazes. The latest excuse is that the fiery furnaces keep melting.”
St Peter fished around in his robe, looking for the notes on Gudmundower’s life whilst the peasant looked nervously around him.
“Ah! Here we are. Now I know I said you’d be coming in here anyway but I need to practise my assessments, so please humour me for a little longer as I go through your files. Right, let’s see.” He paused as he read the notes on Gudmundower’s life making little noises as he read.
“OK, not too bad. I see you’ve done a fair bit of poaching but we won’t worry about that. God put all the animals and fishes and birds on earth for everyone. You have a wife, Frigor, and seven children. Mmmm. He read on mumbling occasionally. Gudmundower could not believe that someone he had never met before knew so much about him and wondered if this was some strange dream resulting from the magic soup.
“Ah, now,” St Peter interrupted his musings, “this isn’t so good. You beat your mother-in-law! Now, who was that? I just need to cross-reference – it’s here somewhere – ah! Here we are! Oh, it’s her. Yes, well she’s already here. And just between the two of us, I have a certain sympathy for you there, so we won’t hold that against you. But you mustn’t beat her while you’re here and I’ll speak to her to make sure she understands not to hit you too much either. Now what else? You got into trouble with the authorities for fighting with a soldier, so no problems there, so over all that‘s not too bad. I don’t think you’d have been going to Hell anyway on balance. Now my notes only go up to yesterday so you’d better fill me in on what brought you here.”
“It was no crime, sire!” Gudmundower implored with all his expressive power. “You see, I’m a charcoal burner and I work in the forest. My little child Urgo was sick with the fever yesterday and Frigor said that I must bring home some of the special herbs to cure her. After I had finished, I went deep into the forest in search of the herbs and it was getting dark and I had to go into the Badlands before I could find any. By then it was almost fully dark and I missed my path and wandered into a glade where there were two old hags around a fire and I was much affeared!” His story was tumbling from his lips, like a flood of relief and his eyes were distant as he searched his mind for the right words as he relived last night’s events.
“Go on,” said St Peter gently, busy adding to his notes with a stubby pencil.
“The old crones had a very bad reputation and everyone in the village was frightened of that part of the woods, because they ruled it with evil spirits, but they saw me and called me over and they were very friendly and invited me to join them for something to eat before returning home. They had a stew of mushrooms and other fungus and herbs and I was very hungry and frightened of what they might do if I spurned their hospitality, so I said ‘yes’. We sat while it cooked and I told them of the fears of the villagers, and they were much amused. There were various things hanging in the trees around us which they said were placed there to keep strangers away because they were afraid of being attacked. When I looked up I could see from the light from the fire a dead cat, a human skull they had found and a noose and I shivered. Eventually we had the soup and it was very good and we all became much happier. They insisted I have a second bowlful.
They were nice old dears and much misunderstood and I told them, I would inform the other villagers and they had nothing to fear from us. I told them that I, Gudmundower, was also a man of the forest and worked with trees all my life. But they did not know everything, I said. For instance, I said, looking up, that noose would not frighten people because the branch it was tied to was too weak to take the weight of a grown-up person and they were very grateful to me. I even showed them how the branch would snap if it had to take the weight of a man.”
The flow of words slowed down and he looked very pensive for a moment. “I put the noose around my neck,” the words came very slowly now and his grubby hand went up to the back of his neck to where the knot had tightened and he held it, “and I jumped off the log…. and now… I’m here.” The words trailed away and he stood frowning, trying to reconcile the trick his new friends had played on him.
He suddenly looked up at St Peter, his eyes wide. “The herbs. I still have the herbs.” His voice rose. “Frigor will never forgive me! Please, I must go back. It is important – oh, please, please.”
St Peter put up his hand as he finished writing. “I’m sorry. That simply is not possible. But please, be reassured, the child will recover. I promise you. Now come along, it’s time for you to come inside. There’s someone else on their way. That’s it, mind the scaffolding!”
Our Christmas Catch-Up
Well hello again! Another year gone and it’s time to send Christmas greetings once more so here’s hoping you are well and enjoying life just as much as we are here at Blossom End! Happy Christmas!!!!!
Everything’s been going so well for us again this year – but so busy, busy busy!!!! I expect you know that we had a bit of a setback when Darren lost his job last April. The system went down and they unfairly blamed him for it even though he wasn’t even there! He was busy meeting with a supplier at Aintree but he was the fall guy when it all went wrong. He’s got a mate he sees in the Red Lion who’s cousin had exactly the same thing happen and he won a huge amount of compo as a result so they’re working together to put a case forward for Darren.
This meant that I had to go full time at the hair stylists – well, they wanted me to for a long time but it’s killing being on my feet all day. I think it’s time I looked for another salon with a better clientele as some of the old dears who come into Sharon’s Curl Up And Dye don’t really appreciate fashion styling and just want the same they’ve had for forty years. I don’t understand the old. You’d think they’d want to keep looking young for longer but they just seem to give up. Some of them don’t smell very nice neither.
The kids are all doing great – we’re so proud of them!!! Wayne’s in his last year at uni now and we expect he’ll be head-hunted any time soon. We think a nice steady job at the Beeb until he gets some experience but he wants to go to Hollywood instead!!! Just imaging us going over there for our hols!!!! All those swish parties and being invited onto the film sets. It’s amazing where Media Studies can take you!
Madonna’s still not properly settled though. She’s had a hard time since she left school. I think she got in with a bit of a bad crowd – well, she’s always been easily influenced you now. She had a good job at the 99p Shop in town but she lost it when she had her head shaved and some grunge band’s name tattooed on her forehead. The manager said she was frightening the customers. Shame, because we used to get a staff discount with her there, which would have been handy for all the Christmas presents and food. I said to her, I said, ‘How would I have gone on down the years if I’d had the Bay City Rollers etched on my face’ but they don’t take no notice.
Darren Junior’s come on leaps and bounds since last year. Seems he’s in the Autistic Spectrum (no, that’s not Madonna’s fave band!!!!). The doctors say that explains his odd behaviour and that we mustn’t challenge him so that’s good to know. Seemingly there’s lots of kids like it. He seems happy enough, well, most of the time. I expect he’ll grow out of it.
We’ve got another house-full again this year. Heaven knows when I’ll get everything ready but it usually all works out. My Mum and Dad are coming and Darren’s. He’s promised to have a word with them beforehand this year. Also his elder brother’s coming with his new wife. Awfully pretty girl from Thailand – they got married out there while he was on holiday! She looks awfully young but they do out there apparently. She’s 17 but looks about 12 – when I think what Madonna looked like then!!!! She doesn’t know much English yet but she’s very sweet and gets on so well with Darren Junior. I think he feels a bit left out being the youngest so it’s nice that he has someone nearer his age. I asked Darren what they eat at Christmas in Thailand but he said they had Tesco’s and Lidl’s out there so it’d be the same as here.
Well, that’s about it for this year. Hope you have a lovely time and don’t do anything we wouldn’t do. We must catch up in the New Year – Happy Christmas from the Barkers!!!!!