The Lovers (a story fragment).

the-lovers-art-nouveau-tarotThe wind ruffled his hair. She liked how it sent his fringe tumbling over his eyes. This would be the last time she saw him looking like this, strong, handsome, his skin glowing with the last rays of a dramatic sunset. As if sensing her gaze he turned to face her. Sadness tinged his eyes. ‘Are you having doubts?’

‘No,’ she shook her head. ‘Though it is a long way down and the river fast flowing.’

‘It is, but we are together. That’s all that matters.’ He reached for her hand. Their shoulders touched as they sat on the railing of a bridge. They looked down at the raging river below them. The breeze smelled sweetly of honeysuckle. ‘Scared?’

‘A little,’ she tried to look nonchalant, swinging her bare legs over the gorge.

‘We don’t have to jump you know.’

‘But you’ll think I’m a coward.’

‘No I won’t,’ he laughed. ‘Anyway, other people have done it, and survived.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes,’ he leaned in to kiss her. ‘You do trust me?’ A flicker of apprehension crossed his face.

‘I do, I love you!’

‘Good,’ she felt him squeeze her hand.

‘Let’s do this!’ She followed his lead and slid her body over the railing. She screamed into the cool evening as her foot slipped, threatening to send her over prematurely. He threw an arm out to stop her, though she lost a shoe, and watched as it somersaulted towards a watery landing. Nervously they turned to face the tumultuous waters below. Holding hands grimly and with sirens blaring in the distance like birdsong, they stepped out into the air.

24 hours earlier…

He still held the gun. His hand shook as he pointed the smoking barrel towards the man who lay at his feet. ‘Put the gun down, Jack!’ His girlfriend shouted, her voice cracking with tension.

‘I can’t, Aimee,’ Jack’s face had turned ashen grey.

‘Oh F**k I think he’s dead! Oh F**k!’ Jack looked at the body slumped face down before him. ‘Let’s go. I’ve already called the police!’ Moments earlier Jack and Aimee, were stepping out of a restaurant laughing freely at an inside joke. The smell of grilled fish lingered in the air. ‘You are awful!’ Aimee playfully punched Jack’s arm before feeling his hands around her waist pulling her towards him. She closed her eyes as he nuzzled her neck.

‘Just give us your f**king money, lovebirds!’ Aimee opened her eyes to the contorted face of a man. He pointed the muzzle of a gun angrily at their faces. ‘Your money, now!’ Aimee clutched at her bag which the man eyed covetously.

‘I don’t think so,’ laughed Jack, moving his body in front of Aimee’s to shield her.

‘Jack!’ Aimee nervously placed a hand on his shoulder.

‘I’m not afraid to use this!’ The man waved the gun carelessly.

‘I think you are.’ Jack edged closer to the man. He was a scrawny, runt, it would be easy for Jack to overpower him.

‘I mean it!’ The man cocked the gun and aimed it at Jack’s chest.

‘Jack, let’s just do what he wants.’ Deaf to Aimee’s pleas, Jack rushed forward. He reached for the gun with one hand and used the full force of his body to unbalance the man. Aimee shrieked! Both men grunted as they struggled. Reaching into her bag, Aimee pulled out her mobile phone. She started pushing at numbers, hastily talking to the operator.

‘Police please, an armed robbery.’ Aimee finished the call as Jack spun round, in his hand he triumphantly waved the weapon.

‘Unlike you, I am not afraid to use this!’

‘You wouldn’t dare!’

‘Jack! Don’t be stupid!’

‘Yes, Jack, don’t be stupid!’ The man mimicked. ‘Look,’ he supplicated. ‘Let’s all go our separate ways. That way no one get’s hurt.’

‘What? And let a snivelling c**t like you, continue to roam the streets!’ The man looked offended.

‘It’s not like I wouldn’t follow you. Find out where you live.’ He eyed Aimee lasciviously. There came a flash of light, like someone had taken a photograph. A loud crack reverberated around the car park. Aimee watched as the man crumpled to the ground like a demolished building. He lay still. A deafening silence followed.

‘Why did you pull the trigger?’ Aimee cried.

‘It just went off in my hand.’

‘Oh f**k!’ Aimee watched as blood pooled around the body. ‘We’ve got to get out of here before the police arrive,’ she pulled at Jack’s arm. He blinked like he had just woken up from a dream.

‘Let’s get to the car.’

‘What are you doing with the gun? You can’t take it with us!’ Jack had flicked the safety catch, tucking the weapon into the waistband of his jeans.

‘Just get in the car.’ He fired up the engine.

‘How do you know how to handle a gun like that!’

‘We handled lots of firearms on the farm. It’s no big deal.’ He sidled the car onto the main road, switching the headlights on when they were away from the scene. Bumper to bumper in traffic they both watched as a cavalcade of sirens flashed past them, heading in the opposite direction.

‘What are we going to do?’ Aimee dabbed at her wet cheeks. ‘Can we even go home?’ Jack shrugged.

‘Damn there’s cameras everywhere! We’re going to have to ditch the car.’

‘Where?’

‘We can ditch it somewhere near my brother’s, then borrow one of his cars.’

‘My grandmother has a place in Snowdonia, we can go there for the time being. Lay low for a bit.’

‘Sounds like a plan.’

‘Do you think someone saw us?’ Jack sighed.

‘I have no doubt.’

© Christine Lucas 2016.


The story behind the story: 

I was inspired to write the above after reading Taya’s short fragment of dialogue (the bridge scene) on her blog page, Dragonition. She has some fantastic ideas on her blog for writers of any ability. Go check it out!

I found the task quite challenging. To take someone else’s idea and change it into my own was harder than I imagined.

I read quite a lot but not everything inspires me to tinkle on the keyboard. Yet, I have so many characters and scenes flitting around my head at present; so this exercise came at the right moment for me. It’s been very cathartic. Who knows, I may even try and add to the narrative and elaborate on why I’ve used a tarot card for the title.

I hope you have enjoyed reading it? Let me know in the comments any thoughts you may have.

Christine x

‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’

To coincide with David’s few days off work this week, I planned a nice little day out to (you guessed it,) the Lake District.

The day started all bleary eyed at 5am. We drove the two hours to Rydal’s, White Moss car park and arrived a little after 8am! Just in time for an early morning swim!

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We took the path towards Rydal Caves, which meandered past Rydal Water that looked calm and magical.
20160915_085012The sun burned through the morning mist, promising a beautiful early autumn day. Rydal Water has become one of my favourite swims of the year! At 9am, not many dog walkers/tourists were about, at one point it was just the lake, myself, David and two swans! Bliss!!

After a good hour at the lake side, David and I headed on towards Rydal Caves.

From there we walked Loughrigg Terrace with beautiful views of Grasmere.

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It took another hour of sweat and toil to ‘climb’ the steep pathway towards Loughrigg Fell. When we got to the top, sadly low lying cloud drifted over, obscuring the views, though Windermere glistened golden in the distance.

After a relaxing picnic we headed back down to Grasmere, where the clouds dispersed and the sun came out again!

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Wearing a fresh swimsuit, I waded out into the waters for my second swim of the day! Grasmere is a busier lake than Rydal Water but it didn’t dispel from the enjoyment. Also, I wasn’t the only one splashing about the waters that day! It was nice to see so many people (and dogs) enjoying the lake.

20160915_144456-2I have desired to bag two swims in one day for a while now, and to achieve it was an amazing feeling! On leaving the shores of Grasmere, I had the biggest grin on my face! We took the riverside walk to the car park, that had a car-number recognition camera, £7 for the day. The path followed the River Rothay, which was dappled in golden afternoon light. The day couldn’t have been more perfect!

I think it will be difficult to better such a day, but we’ll see!

Christine x

Afternoon Tea at Browns – Liverpool

20160908_143323On Thursday I met up with an old ‘boss’, and friend, Sue and her guide dog Cath, for afternoon tea.

All week I had been perusing the British Afternoon Tea Guide for places to ‘lunch’ in Liverpool. With not having afternoon tea before it felt a sort of mine field! At first I booked what I thought was a nice cafe Patisserie Valerie. Then I started to read reviews and recently their customer service has been somewhat lacking. Not wanting to book a place where we’d have a ‘terrible’ experience. I cancelled the booking and went in search again.

browns-bar-brasserieThe last link I clicked on was Browns in Liverpool One. They can be found in many locations across the UK and their website states that the restaurants are housed in historic or listed buildings. Their afternoon tea menu sounded nice and at £12.50 per person. I thought it was reasonable.

I booked ahead, although at 2.30pm they had tables available. We were seated quickly and even Cath was given some space to lie down. The restaurant had a light, airy feel to it, though this played with the acoustics and I found it hard to hear with other background noise. What I did like was the addition of a grand piano near the entrance, though when we were there no one was playing it!

20160908_143319Sue ordered a coffee and I a pot of loose tea which filled approximately four small cups. When being served, Sue was kindly told where the milk jug and sugar was placed on the table, a nice touch by the waiter.

The afternoon tea arrived on a chrome cake stand with three tiers. The bottom had six small buns with soft fillings. The second tier had the cakes and the top had scones with pots of preserve and clotted cream.

The revelation of the afternoon was how gorgeous the red velvet cake was. One slice was not enough!

red-velvetI was looking forward to the scones, but they seemed a little dry. Indeed the whole menu made you want to drink tea by the gallon. Cakes are thirsty business!

If there were any negatives from a pleasant afternoon it was mainly due to personal preference. The tea on offer for me was a little weak, even after an hour it remained bland. They need to address their pot of tea to a cup of coffee ratio. Sue felt like she had been short changed. Luckily I shared my tea with her, even though the pot went cold very quickly.

Overall I’d give Browns a 7/10. The serving time was good, we were made to feel welcome and the afternoon tea wasn’t of poor quality. We even got to take home some uneaten cakes, though they don’t do doggy bags! Maybe we should have chosen the champagne afternoon, then the score would have been a little higher! :p

My Love for the Red Panda.

‘Panda’ from the Nepalese, nigalya ponya meaning bamboo footed.

23666_10150140661800271_1831177_nThe red panda was the first ‘panda’ to be know to the West as early as the 1800’s! In 1825 Frenchman Frederic Cuvier published an account describing the red panda and named the species, Ailurus fulgens fulgens, or shining cat.

By the 1840’s English naturalist Brain Houghton Hodgson had written a detailed study on the red panda or ‘Wah’. Focusing on habitat and diet.

It was not until 1869 that the giant panda was identified. However to distinguish the species, the first panda was renamed the lesser panda.

39755_425944215911_56676235911_4773054_7286609_nIt’s been eight years since I saw my first red panda, having been oblivious to their existence until then. For me it was love-at-first-sight! They seem to be a number of animals all rolled into one, which has caused countless debates as to what family or classification of animal the red panda truly is.

Are they bear-cats? They are cat sized (always a plus in my book) and rather bear-like, though they are not part of the ursidae family.

They bark like a dog: There is little published evidence but the red panda is highly susceptible to diseases like canine distemper.

Their vocalisations sound similar to birds:

A living fossil: Recent DNA studies have concluded that the red panda is in its own family of the Ailuridae, being part of the super-family the Musteloidea, (weasels, skunks and raccoons).

The only similarity with giant pandas is their diet (bamboo) and the false thumb, an elongated wrist bone that acts like a sixth digit. It helps with holding food and climbing, especially head first!

Red pandas are found largely in temperate, deciduous forests, from Nepal to China and Myanmar. There are two subspecies, Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani. Their red fur, one of the densest of all mammals (for insulation), is perfect camouflage during autumn.

Due to living in Himalayan regions, red pandas prefer cooler days. Winter is the best time to find them active.

Although they have a penchant for bamboo, eating up to 45% of their body weight a day, red pandas are classed as carnivores. They eat fruit, insects, eggs and small birds.

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Feeding Red Pandas at Paradise Wildlife Park

Red pandas have a slow metabolism due to being unable to digest bamboo properly, hence being rather sedentary. I’ve noticed many zoo guests just walk past red panda enclosures because they have been asleep up a tree. In most cases you need to visit several times in the hope of catching one awake. Being a crepuscular animal doesn’t help either as they are more active at dawn and dusk.

They are solitary animals, only coming together for mating. The female is only receptive one day a year. The breeding season is usually January to April with birth around June/July. The litter usually consists of one to four cubs, but usually two.

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Photo by David Evans

In 2010 I was honoured to witness Chester Zoo’s female red panda, Lushui move her cub, Lily from nest to nest. They do this to avoid predators. Cubs come out of the nest from around three months, and stay with their mothers for about a year before finding their own territory. Their lifespan in captivity can reach 15 years.

However beautiful red pandas are, they are classified as endangered by the IUCN. The main threats to them are deforestation, hunting, poaching and illegal trade. In China there is a traditional custom dating back to around the 13th century where red panda pelts are given to newlyweds as a sign of ‘good luck’. Red pandas are also predated upon by snow leopards and martens.

Conservation: Exact numbers of red pandas in Asia are relatively unknown, estimates say up to 10,000 adults. There is a worldwide effort to protect the red panda and its habitat. In many of the countries where the red panda is found, their habitat has been designated areas of protection, though these areas are hard to police. The Red Panda Network liaise with ‘forest guardians’ to educate and highlight the need to conserve red panda habitat. They are also working directly with the creators of the Panchthar-Ilam-Singhalila (PIS corridor), which will be the first Red Panda Protected Forest.

In captivity there are two long term initiatives for breeding, the Red Panda Species Survival Programme (SSP) and the European Endangered Species Programme (EES) which offers a ‘stud book’ of potential mates.

Popular culture: There have been a number of depictions of red pandas on many platforms over the years. Another name for the red panda is the Fire Fox. Mozilla use this name for their web browser, though their logo is ambiguous.

Cinema: In 2008 DreamWorks released Kung Fu Panda with Shifu, being a lose representation of a red panda! A year earlier an animated Barbie film, the Island Princess had a red panda as a friendly aide.

In 2013 Pocket Gems released a game called Animal Adventure with a red panda as one of the main characters.

14115498_10153971399038869_7066728288936528819_oThe future…is still uncertain.

At the time of writing, the WWF have announced that the giant panda’s status has improved from endangered to vulnerable. Hopefully the red panda being under the ‘umbrella’ of conservational efforts for the giant panda, will start to feel the effects of these protection methods soon?

 

And finally: Sadly, earlier this year, the Red Panda Network announced that poaching of the red panda had increased in 2016! Their annual International Red Panda Day (17th September 2016) will focus on anti-poaching initiatives.

The road ahead may still be long but there is hope for the future of the red panda. Conservation efforts are starting to produce results for not only the giant panda but tigers also, why not for the red panda? They have so much going for them. To me they are sweet, endearing animals, they are all superstars, none other than Ming Ming!

Thanks for reading.

Christine x


Further reading:

Angela Glatston: Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda.

Whence the Red Panda? Flynn JJ, Nedbal MA, Dragoo JW, Honeycutt RL.

http://redpandanetwork.org/red_panda/about-the-red-panda/

http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/red-panda

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_panda

If you have been inspired by what you have read, then why not continue the message? You can join in with this years International Red Panda Day at your local animal park/zoo.