The Beacon Hill

The Beacon Hill

A Story by alanwgraham
"

on top of a hill I dream of times past

"

The Beacon Hill

 

It’s a good place to be upon the beacon hill               

a place to be alone,                       

a place to think back                    

a place to think forward 

perhaps just a good place to be! 

              

one day as summer waned

I climbed the hill

the grass grew lush

the stems, seed laden

triggered thoughts of

life’s impulse to survive


my thoughts pulled back

to that sad recent time

with son and daughter

dad’s ashes sprinkled

on the short January grass

to feed new growth

life still to come

 

I lay down drowsy

tumbled into sleep

dreamed of days past and future,

woke in a dwam

I rose and guddled

my senses befuddled

 

I met two strangers

each walking alone,

both also seem bemused

we greet each other cagily

but for some enigmatic reason

something draws us together 

‘lets sit awhile,’ I say

‘the mist will clear,

the views are fine’

we shake hands warily

we introduce ourselves

‘I’m Bill’, ‘I’m Walker,’ and myself ‘I’m Alan.’

 

As we sit I look aslant at the other two

I realised we are all of a similar age

around three score

as I look at them more closely

there is something unsettling

something familiar

when both light up pipes

that smell drags me back

but strangely, I am not surprised

 

just then the mist opens

a window to the river Forth

a mighty steel battleship appears

steaming to war,

we all gasp, the window closes

‘That’s HMS Anson, our battleship is on it's way to Scapa Flow, then we had two years on the Arctic convoys.’ Bill offered.

We both stared at him.

Walker looked dumfounded.

‘What, man! I went down to South Queensferry to see my son going off to sea in the Anson. My wife wasn’t too pleased that she wouldn’t be seeing her only son for a year or two. If we ever saw him again!’

 

Bill gave a sardonic laugh. ‘I couldn’t wait to get away from mother,' that’s why I took that job in London when I was 17 in 1939. All these thrashings I got and I still don’t know what for! I can still remember the feeling of freedom , like taking the first breath after swimming a length underwater!'

 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

‘You won’t believe this but my father was on the Anson.’

 

Bill looked at me a bit strangely. Then added,

‘I said to my wife and family afterwards that I’d had a good war but that wasn’t the whole story. Our sister ship the Prince of Wales had been sunk by the ‘Japs’ in December 1941 so we were under no illusions.

 

What made matters worse was that the Marine band were stationed deep in the ship on the direction finders and we had no chance of escape. Unless you were there you’ve no idea how hard winter in the arctic was - thick ice plastering the ship, us out on deck in our donkey jackets and balaclavas chipping it off - trying to sleep between watches in these hammocks with the ship rolling and pitching in endless storms.’

 

In '43 when we got word that the Scharnhorst had finally come out from Norway we were all excited and scared at the same time but it was the Duke of York that finally sunk her. Bill shivered as if he was still there in the ice.

 

It wasn’t all bad though, the camaraderie with all our messmates mucking in and us looking after each other and making the best of it, sneaking on deck for a fly smoke and those endless games of whist and poker. Then, between convoys the time at Scapa was like a holiday compared to the Arctic even though we were kept busy. When our Marine band played for Gracie once - it was a great occasion.

 

It might have been war but you were never lonely! I made some great friends - Lou. I remember he came to stay at home at Falkirk when we had a pass from Rosyth. After he had spent a weekend with my mother all he said after was, ‘you’re better out of it Bill!’ We said farewell in 1946 after demob and never thought we would see each other again. Exactly 50 year later I got a letter from him and we met up - the years melted away! I can tell you, there was a tear or two in my eye.

 

I thought to myself that I’d never seen a tear in my dad’s eye. Although it’s just come back to me that mum said that the only time he ever cried was when they sang the hymn ‘By cool Siloam’s shady rill’ in the church. I thought, ‘very strange’, but then it suddenly struck me that it must have been my christening hymn. Now it brings a tear to my eye!

 

I felt like giving my head a knock, what the hell was going on?, Had I taken some hallucinogenic drug by mistake?

 

‘You know Bill, a few weeks ago I phoned my fathers friend Norman Lewis in the south of England. ‘Norman Lewis!’ Bill looked as confused at all this as I felt.

‘When I was talking to my mother and looking at the Anson magazines I found an article about some of the crew visiting Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. Norman told me that he had gone with you. Why had I said ‘you’ to this man Bill - the word just slipped out. Bill looked at me quizzically.

‘Sorry, I mean my dad, and they had seen the imprint of a family melted onto a wall. Norman said he had never told his wife or son but now he was going to be interviewed about it by the BBC. He wanted people to know how awful it was while there were still some eyewitnesses alive.

After he gathered himself Bill said, ‘You know, I was there too, I saw …’  He paused, shook his head as if he could shake the demons loose and his face took on a haunted look. ‘No-one should even have to see that, never mind talk about it. It’s something you can never forget.’

 

 Walker suddenly broke into ‘Oh Danny boy’, in a strong tenor voice.

‘Do you men not sing?’ He asks - as if singing was a necessity of life like breathing.'

‘Does thirty years in the church choir not count!’ Bill replies, relieved we had changed the topic of conversation.

‘Not in public.’ I chip in feebly, ‘but I remember calling in to see my granddad with my Irish pal and he had us both singing Danny boy in no time.’

 

I stirred and shivered. It had grown dark but the mist had disappeared and a fine sunset showed to the west.

 

I sat up on the long grass and brushed off the seeds. There was a strange feeling of memories, familiar yet magical slipping from my grasp. As I put my hand down to push myself up I squealed. Looking down, there lay under my hand a still glowing pipe. I picked it up, took a puff and it all came back.

Notes -

My imagined recreation of my fathers visit to Hiroshima can be found here on WC as 'Walking to zero'

'Dwam' is a guid Scots word meaning, day dream or reverie

The Scots word 'guid' means 'braw'

 

© 2019 alanwgraham


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Featured Review

Im still laughing at your note saying guid means braw... That.s just pure dead gallus :)
Your piece here transported me to one of my favourite haunts, a hillside in inverness with an oak tree that looks like its been here since trees began. I think we all need a place to think, reflect and observe and I cant help but think you wrote this piece right there, under your own tree.
Superb.

Posted 8 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

8 Months Ago

Thanks for reading Lorry. I realise it does take some effort to read these longer stories. I've been.. read more
Lorry

8 Months Ago

I used to love munro bagging, but walks do me now. Slowing down these days and it aint ever coming b.. read more



Reviews

Such a lovely read Alan, there is such a feeling of peace to accompany the nostalgia, even though the character feels as if there ought to be some uneasiness or uncertainty at times, there is never a sense of fear or distrust. I like the rhythm of your story too, there is a lovely pace with nice imagery.
A real enjoyable read.
Thank you,
Laura

Posted 2 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Months Ago

That's very kind of you Laura. I suppose this story is my attempt to make some sense of bits of fami.. read more
Sorry I've been sketchy this winter . . . it kicked my a*s here, with a REAL winter for a change! I missed reading you. I hope you won't be self-conscious about your tendency to craft long stories . . . I always wish I could remember & fill up my stories with more details! Another thing I got to thinking as I was reading this . . . the "old wars" were so different than today's wars. There was so much camaraderie back then, guys getting together & keeping in touch, sharing the old glory days. Now people come home from war totally disconnected from the overall effort, it seems. Well, you've done a plum job of showing this camaraderie here. I'm not really a history buff myself, but I can become interested in history, the way you present it. My favorite history teacher (college) told stories like this, instead of lecturing with the names of generals & battles (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 3 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

3 Months Ago

Thanks Margie. It always seems like a birthday present has arrived when your calling card appears in.. read more
barleygirl

3 Months Ago

I disconnected my TV satellite yesterday becuz I cannot stand the clamor from now until the prez ele.. read more
Alan,
An intriguing write, full of wonderful detail.
Tom

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

5 Months Ago

Thanks Tom for looking at this. It's really family history wrapped up in story.
Cheers.
read more
kentuck14

5 Months Ago

Yeah,
I thought as much.
without a shadow of a doubt, an amazing contemplative write, crammed with recollections, as sad as sad can be, both from a personal and a more global perspective.. yet with a hint of hope in there too... I may be wrong, but I sense there is more truth here than one might first imagine.... we all need such a place to dream, dont we... cheers Alan..........

Posted 8 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

8 Months Ago

Thanks Neville. It must be something about growing older when you think back more to your forebears... read more
Neville Pettitt

8 Months Ago

I thoroughly enjoyed it Alan.. I have a similar sounding place I occasionally retreat to.. everyone .. read more
Great poem Alan, we all need a place we feel at home in, that lets us reflect, think and find ourselves.

Posted 8 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

8 Months Ago

Thanks Dawn. I agree. Some places just seem to have something special. For me, definitely mountains... read more
Dawn

8 Months Ago

I must admit, I do enjoy nature. And being at one with the peace and tranquillity of it all. Just su.. read more
And 'braw' means 'fine', for those not accustomed to such words!
I really enjoyed this piece, Alan. I love this sort of story; a ghost tale...sort of, but...
Well written and a treat! Needs a bit of editing for some missing commas, but I didn't see any other problems.
Well done.

Posted 8 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

8 Months Ago

Thanks for reading Angel. It's a personal story and I'm not sure how interesting it will be to other.. read more
Im still laughing at your note saying guid means braw... That.s just pure dead gallus :)
Your piece here transported me to one of my favourite haunts, a hillside in inverness with an oak tree that looks like its been here since trees began. I think we all need a place to think, reflect and observe and I cant help but think you wrote this piece right there, under your own tree.
Superb.

Posted 8 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

8 Months Ago

Thanks for reading Lorry. I realise it does take some effort to read these longer stories. I've been.. read more
Lorry

8 Months Ago

I used to love munro bagging, but walks do me now. Slowing down these days and it aint ever coming b.. read more

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Added on November 12, 2018
Last Updated on February 4, 2019

Author

alanwgraham
alanwgraham

Fife, Scotland, United Kingdom



About
Married with three grown up kids, I retired early from teaching physics but have always enjoyed a second life enjoying the outdoors, particularly the mountains. In my mid forties I experienced a manic.. more..

Writing