Friday 26 December 2014

4Q Interview with Santa Claus.

After many months of tracking down this famous figure, the Scribbler was finally able to get Santa Claus to agree to answer 4 questions for the 4Q Interview.  The query was submitted to the admin division of SC Enterprises, North Pole, on July 15th, 2014. We received a last minute email only an hour ago.  The note was apologetic for its delay, albeit a cheerful assertion of Mr. Claus’ demanding schedule. It went on to thank us for our patience and delight in participating on the Scribbler.

It was difficult to consider only four questions for one of the world’s most famous people.  We decided to pose a dozen and let Santa choose.  Here they are. 

4Q: Are elves real?
SC: Ho, Ho. Ho! You don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that Allan.  Is gravity, space, time or magnetism real? They’re totally unexplainable but certifiably so; that’s what elves are. Centuries ago, these supernatural beings were made known to civilization through Germanic and Nordic mythology and all kinds of elves exist. It’s true that they have magical powers. They’re especially beautiful figures. And they’re clever. Oh, whatever would I do without them?  
In our ultra-secret complex, we have over twenty thousand of the rascals, they breed worse than rabbits. The logistics sometimes can be a tad overwhelming.  Thank goodness they are all happy, there are never any conflicts. Lucky for the Missus and me the elders keep everything in order.  I always say the more the merrier, especially since we just secured the Toys-B-Us account. We’ll be making all the toys for the 14,329 locations as well as our own 100,000,000 pieces I give away. All profits will be invested in the elves retirement program, of course.
Oh yes, they are very real. I remember JR (Tolkien) and I having a long talk about this eighty years ago or so when he began writing. An interesting man that had odd ideas of his own elves and my goodness but his characters are popular toys today.  As far as the elves that only I can see, I can’t describe them to you. They need to remain part of your imagination. I can tell you this for sure, they are mischievous and quite short. Ho, Ho, Ho! 

4Q: How is it Santa that you can truly know if every boy and girl is good or bad, who should get gifts and who shouldn’t?
SC: Well now that’s a good question coming from you. You were a bad little bugger sometimes. I still showed up though, didn’t I? I knew all about Mary McLaughlin’s plastic dinner set and what you did with it. The worst thing you did was when you shot John, your next door neighbor, in the buttock with the BB gun I left you one year. It was only for your mother punishing you properly and taking it away from you that kept you on the list.
There really aren’t any bad children Allan, only parents that don’t teach their children right from wrong. I mean, have you ever heard of someone having to teach a kid to be bad. Ho Ho Ho! They do that on their own. No, we have to teach them to be good.
And to get back to my elves, they and I have mastered time manipulation of course, because how else would I get all those gifts delivered in one night. Phew! There is about 2000 that all they do is check up on children all year round. They are part of the Lollipop and Derogate Division of the Elves Union.  On a good day, an experienced elf can visit several thousand homes and deliver verbal reports to the Head Decider and she in turn reports to me.
Most tykes are just mischievous. I have found that the worst imps are from Kent and Albert counties in your home province of New Brunswick. Especially the ones that grow up to be authors, they have these weird imaginations getting themselves into all kinds of trouble. My goodness but I think it’s from too much sugar.
There are not many that don’t get presents. 

4Q: Please share a childhood anecdote or memory Santa.
SC: Hmmm! I don’t think I ever was a child Allan; at least I have no memory of being one. No, nothing comes to mind.
I do however have a thought to share with you and your readers. When kids stop believing in me, they normally stop believing in magic and mystery. That’s kind of sad. I love it though that some adults never stop believing. You see them with antlers sticking out of the windows of their cars or a fake Rudolph red nose on the grill, or a huge inflated replica of me on the lawn, or they’re working in the food kitchens, or buying gifts for people they don’t even know. Ho Ho Ho! 

4Q: What do you do in the off season Santa, or is there an off season?
SC: Oh yes, there is definitely a time away from the hustle and bustle of the North Pole. Ho Ho Ho! The Missus and I have a condo on the island of Bequia in the Caribbean. Down there, I’m just the nice fat guy next door that needs to trim his beard.  I go by the name of Ralph and the wife is Suzie. We live next door to an author you might know, her name is Susan and I especially love her last name Toy, it holds special meaning for me, of course. Great gal, quite the storyteller. I have a sailboat as well, a 27 foot CS27 that we meander about the coast with. I drink cold beer on Friday nights when the missus (she’s the red wine drinker) and I have our weekly happy hour. Although we can’t have children, we still practice making babies as often as we can (wink wink). Ho Ho Ho!
 I collect Christmas movies which shouldn’t be a surprise I guess. My favorite one is Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. I love it when Clark gets tongue-tied with the pretty lady selling lingerie. Another funny part is when his cousin Eddy shows up with no money and an especially long Christmas list. And the old guy with the wig cracks me up each time.
I’m part of a jazz trio. I play the doghouse bass with two of my cronies down there, Jaspar on the piano and Merle on the saxophone. We have gigs most Sunday afternoons all over the islands, quite the following actually. We call ourselves Digger (that’s Merle’s nickname) and the Dots. When she’s in town, we always have Kitty LaRoar join us, such an angelic voice. We diddle with the old classics, especially Cole Porter’s collection of jewels.
I do a little gardening, actually as little as possible but the missus likes her flowers. I have short naps two or three times a day. I forget about chimneys, pass keys, good and bad, elves under my feet, reindeer in their stalls, the chilly weather, the logistics, gift wrapping and signing my name a million times.
I never wear anything red when I am on holidays. The elves have strict instructions Not-To-Peek-In-Our-Windows. Sometimes I like to be mischievous too. 

Thank you Santa Claus for sharing your thoughts on the Scribbler.  All the best for the future of Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ.  Oh and by the way, next year I want…….
Next week on the Scribbler, you will meet Louise Boulter of Moncton, New Brunswick and have the opportunity to read her touching short story - Date Night.

Friday 12 December 2014

A short story by Allan Hudson. The Food Bank.

This story was first published on I actually delivered food to a food bank once. While none of this happened, it could have.

The Food Bank.

Food is a necessary staple of everyone’s life. Because of that I toss my loose change in an old cookie jar daily, a bust of Woody Woodpecker I bought in a yard sale, sans cover. Stationed on my night table by the lamp he faces the closet; the ceramic peeping-tom watches me change my clothes all the time. At the end of each month, he and I probably save up sixteen to twenty dollars. Whoopee! But today is cause for celebration; I counted this month’s take after breakfast and found a couple of misplaced toonies for an all time high of $23.44. I am elated. There will be eight more Mr. Noodles to dole out.
Today’s my day off, Wednesday, the end of January only one day away. My to-do list lying on the kitchen table nags at me, do these, do that, do this, do that, but I grab the pencil sitting next to it and tick off number one, “Donation time!!!!” The Maritime Megamart with over two acres of supreme shopping pleasure is where I’m headed. It’s not far so I decide to walk. I retrieve my wool pea jacket from the closet, gloves from the basket on the upper shelf, boots from the rack. Just before I’m ready to leave, I remember the frosty abstract art on my bedroom window. It’s likely colder than it looks I think, deciding to use a scarf.  A Tip Top Tailors suit hanger holds a bevy of colored wraps, snaked about each other; the brightest and flowered ones belong to my wife. I opt for my favorite grey and black checkered one pulling it from the tangled mess. When I do so, a beige scarf falls to the floor.
I’d almost forgotten about it. It belongs to my son.  It’s thick and dotted with flecks of dark brown, if it was stretched open it would read, “Burton” in orange letters. He won a bunch of gear in a snowboarding competition four winters ago. There had been two identical scarves, he gave one to me. I don’t know where mine is now, I gave it away. The memory it evokes is forceful and gives me shivers; the irony of finding it today causes bumps about my flesh. I have to sit down, my mind races with the memory of my first and only visit to the Food Bank. It was the end of January three years ago that this ritual began.
I work in the maintenance department at the Jollywell Hospital. Every year since I’ve been there, our department puts out bins in the lunchroom at the first of December to be filled with non perishable food items. Not for Christmas as our supervisor explained, every one gives for Christmas, we would give ours in January when it was needed more, made sense to me. Someone taped a loose leaf to the side of one bin. It was a bit crooked with nicely shaped letters from a black marker, “For the Homeless and Hungry.”  The bold lines were a revelation for me, I’d never been hungry; as my ample girth would suggest because I’m a bit overweight. I bought more. I even volunteered to deliver the bins. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t.
Maneuvering four overloaded blue receptacles into my Ford wagon early one Saturday morning around eight, I set out with the elation of doing a good deed, of representing my co-workers, of benevolence. It took me some time to find the building, it wasn’t well marked, which seemed odd at first but I realized a fancy sign wasn’t important.  The main building ran parallel to the street, curved sheets of corrugated steel formed walls and ceiling, crusted snow lie in some troughs, the virgin white softening the dull galvanized grey. A smudged and dented garage door about twelve feet wide on the left faces the road, the entryway of patched asphalt is neatly shoveled free of snow and ice. A cleared walkway leads to an extension, an add-on with a gable end facing the street, it looks like a store front except it has no window, only a dark green door, a lighted doorbell the shape of an angel, black four-inch high digits that said 41 and a white sign the size of a license plate, which I couldn’t read from the driveway but I knew it said The House of Plenty.
I backed my car up to the building, off to one side. There were neither windows nor any sign of entrance around the garage door; the whole building had an air of anonymity.  I saw a few cars, older models, parked in front along the street. Two men, separate from each other, were on the other side of the roadway having a smoke. A shopping cart from a local grocer stood alone near the walkway entrance, it was rusted in spots, had a missing front wheel. I could see that it contained mostly returnables, some poor man’s daily wages I thought. It dimmed my mood just a bit. I lifted the lightest of the bins from the back seat and headed for the entrance of uninviting green.
The door squeaked a little as I opened it, an early warning system maybe. I pushed my way in with my rump, carrying the bin to enter a dimly lit room. Directly in front of me, six feet away, was a wall extending ten feet to the right. The balance of the room stretched out towards the rear for about twenty feet where there were people waiting. The only thing that matched the low wattage of the bare overhead bulbs was the look on the faces I encountered. It was too quiet. My good cheer vanished like the rabbit in the hat.  I rudely stared at the small crowd, my curiosity so intense when I realized these people were here for food. I had come in the wrong door.
The area made an attempt to be bright; white benches along two walls, dark brown fabric padding the seats, the pale blue walls too institutional for me. The temperature was just below comfortable; no one took off their jackets. A faint scent of Lysol was the only welcoming feature. No one spoke, most were just studying me. I wondered what they must be thinking; am I some kind of saviour, am I just a good guy or maybe they resent that I can give, instead of ask for, I can’t tell. None of the expressions change. The only sound was when some of the standing in the back shuffled and a floorboard squeaked.
My eyes focused on a woman at the front of the bench closest to me. She was bundled in a pink ski jacket decorated with long use. Her disappointed face was wrapped with a white scarf in stark contrast to her coat because of its newness. Perched on her lap of tight jeans was a small girl of perhaps four whose hooded coat was neat and pink also. The child’s head rested on her mother’s breast, her little body, only clad in faded jeans and sneakers, shivered slightly in the coolness of the room.  I had to look away, it was too sad. I quickly eyeballed the remaining patrons.
They‘re about equal of both genders, more middle-aged than young, all of them too thin. I recognized the older man that sits in the back on the floor; I’d seen him many times downtown trying to be polite as he asked strangers for some change. He wraps his many coated arms about his drawn up knees. Four or five plastic bags squat at his feet like trained pets, probably everything he owns. His head and beard are grizzly grey, unkempt and stringy. I have no idea how old he is nor his name. I doubt he’s going to be able to carry away much when I realize he’s here for the warmth, it’s a line up he won’t get thrown out of.
The two young men that sit on the bench to my right, I can only think of them as punks, are out of place; like that joke about an NAACP tee shirt at a Klan gathering. Open jackets reveal tattoos on their necks. The flames and trident’s make me suspect they’ve been in jail. They stare at the floor. I try not to judge them but with both wearing new clothes, I want to throw them out.
Farther along the same bench sits an elderly woman. When I meet her eyes she haughtily turns them away.  Her cheeks are too red from an abundance of blush, the rouge unable to brighten the pale, creased skin.
A burgundy pillbox hat like the one Jackie Kennedy used to wear, is pinned neatly to her head. A luxurious fur coat bundles her slight torso. She wears black silky gloves with gemstones crested upon the back. Hat and coat are about fifty years old from my best estimate, the gloves, I’m not sure but they’re shabby too. She lifts her chin. I’m struck by the pride I witness in her bearing. I understand what the posture means; the neat, aging costume tells me she wasn’t always poor. 
 I try and focus on my mission; this wavering of feelings is unsettling. Setting the container on the floor I address a man that stands to my left in the corner. He’s chest level with a sliding panel that looks about twenty inches high and three feet wide on the wall in front of me. I try on my best smile.
“Where would I take this... this bin?”
I feel guilty somehow about saying food or donation.
The man was bearded and wore workman’s clothes, clean but worn. His somber face seemed kind as he nodded the peak of his John Deere hat at the buzzer to the left of the sliding door. It was unlit and painted the same blue as the wall, playing find me if you can, I hadn’t noticed it.

“Thanks” I said and thumbed the switch. I had to wait a few minutes.  I’m usually a talker in a crowd but there didn’t seem anything proper to say; people didn’t come here to meet people. My thinking was disturbed by the cautious opening of the white colored panel. I was confounded by the image it exposed; so much that I didn’t respond to the opener’s presence or request. The portal was like a television set in the wall, the scene so different to the room that I was in.
It was brightly lit with shelves of various cans, boxes and bags of food along the walls I could see. People were scurrying about with armfuls of items, others sorting them on tables. They were joking and laughing. I looked quickly around embarrassed at first by the sounds of merriment next door but then I thought, why not? I guessed that these workers are volunteers, people unselfish of their time; they’re not hungry so why shouldn’t they be content. It just seemed so odd, the imbalance of emotions, the uneven see-saw of have and have-nots. My amazement was shorted when a loud voice suggested.
“We’ll only be open at ten.”
I was momentarily taken aback thinking he mistook me for a requester. I frowned at the older man; he was bald with white fringes overlapping his small ears. Round silver framed glasses were stuck on the end of his nose. He had a silver bushy moustache. He lifted his matching brows in question. I pointed to the container at my feet.
“I have some bins from the Jollymore, where would you like me to take them.”
His can’t-you-see-I’m-busy attitude changed with a thankful smile smoothing out the man’s long face.
“Go out to the garage door and give it a good thump or two and someone back there will help you.”

The cover slid back smartly, I was back in the gloom. As I was bending my knees to pick up the bin, the toes of the little girl’s shaking feet I see in my peripheral vision disturbs my concentration.  I look up at the trembling child. The voice is frail but flowery.
“Can we go home soon, I’m cold Mommy”
The woman opens her jacket and folds the ends about the little girl. She doesn’t speak words of comfort, perhaps there are none? I’m acutely aware of the bundle of wool and polyester around my neck with a flash of the dozens more at home. It suddenly weighs a hundred pounds. My son just gave it to me. I decided he’d understand, knowing him, he’d do the same thing. Unwrapping the scarf from my head I step towards the woman.  She watches me as I extend my hand while pointing at the wrap with my other.  She reddens as she looks me in the eyes. I only see uncertainty, nothing to do with the scarf. She accepts my gift to hastily twist it about her daughter’s lower body.

The other people are watching us and I begin to blush. I want to escape so I don’t wait for acknowledgment. Hurrying to my bin, a stranger conveniently opens the door to enter. I quickly dart around the man as he shuffles in. Before the door clunks shut I hear,
“Thank you Mister”
The sincerity of her platitude waifs like warm breath in the nippy air, floating, lingering for only a moment. My neck is cold. Her words fill my heart. Pinpricks flourish along my neck and spine as I think of the crew indoors, the hungry, misplaced and the lonely. I vowed then to feed as many people that my skinny budget would allow. I would never volunteer to deliver the bins again.
If you can find it in your heart do give at least one food item this year to someone that may be hungry, please do it.
Next Friday, watch for an excerpt from an exciting new novel by guest author Maggie James of the United Kingdom.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please leave a comment and tell your friends about the South Branch Scribbler


Friday 10 October 2014

My favorite short story - The Ship Breakers

This story received Honorable Mention in the Kyle Douglas Memorial Short Story contest sponsored by New Brunswick Writers Federation. Ship Breaking is done mainly by hand and is gruesome hard work.  It was first published in SHORTS Vol.1 which is available at I hope you enjoy my story.

The Ship Breakers.

The Neptune Giant is a VLCC, a very large crude carrier. When it was completed in 1979, it ranked among the largest oil tankers in the world. From bow to stern, 75 Cadillacs could park bumper to bumper. The crews used bicycles to travel the elongated deck. With a beam of nearly two hundred feet, five bungalows could be placed lengthwise side by side across the deck; her keel is six stories underwater. The raw steel is covered with over fifteen hundred gallons of paint. She’d been given a lifespan of thirty years; instead, she had sailed every ocean of the world, berthed at every continent, rode many storm’s fierce waves and trolled the endless seas for thirty-five years. Today is her final voyage.

Her last port of call, two weeks ago, was Saint John, New Brunswick, with two million barrels of Venezuelan crude. Now, the tanker cruises the Bay of Bengal at fourteen knots. At that speed she requires five miles to come to a dead stop.  The ship breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh, are only four miles away. The captain brings the ship to starboard, aiming the aging tanker directly at the muddy beach. The tide is high, which is necessary to allow the gargantuan machine to ground itself like an aged sea lion, as near to the shore as possible, where it will die.

The engine that powers the ship is eighty-nine feet long and forty-four feet wide with twelve massive cylinders – one of the largest engines in the world. It weighs two thousand metric tons costing more than the rest of the transport. Its thirst for fuel demands over fifteen hundred gallons of crude every hour. Its last chore will be to power the vessel onto the tidal mud banks, where humans who are dwarfed by its immensity will eventually take it apart, by hand, piece by piece. The work is extremely dangerous with an exceptionally high mortality rate and yet there is no shortage of men.

Of the approximately 45,000 ocean-going vessels in the world, about seven hundred per year are taken out of service for dismantling. Many go to Alang, India, the world’s largest shipbreaking yard. Or to Gadani, Pakistan, the third largest after Chittagong. Where the ships go, the jobs go. As difficult as the work may be, ship breaking is part of the momentum powering the economy of a young Bangladesh. The owners of this particular ship-breaking yard paid three million dollars for the Neptune Giant. 

With torches, sledgehammers, steel wedges, brute force and painstaking drudgery, it will take six months to dismantle; one man will die and two men will be injured by a thousand pound slab of steel cut from the behemoth’s hide. It will net the owner millions more than he paid when he sells the scrap metal and he will provide no compensation for men that can’t work. They toil fourteen hours a day, with two half hour breaks and an hour for lunch, six and a half days a week. The men will eat their supper when their work shift ends. At least one quarter are illiterate; one quarter are children. The average wage is $1.25 per day.


Azhar Uddin is gently woken by his father. It’s 4:30 a.m.

“Come my little man, you must join your brother at the table. You must leave for work soon. Come now.”

Hafiz Uddin turns from his son, supporting himself with his only arm grasped upon a homemade crutch; the other arm is buried beneath the muddy beaches where he once toiled, severed by falling steel at the same crippling yards where he will soon send his two sons. He wobbles even with his lopsided support; the left knee and lower leg, the same side as the missing arm, were wrecked in the accident also. Unable to find meaningful work with only a single hand, one strong leg and a defeated spirit, he remains dependent upon his male children: Nur is fourteen; Azhar will be thirteen next week. Because they are exceptional workers, they earn two hundred and sixty takas a day, just over three dollars.

Rising slowly, he sits up on the side of the bed, Azhar rubs his shoulder. The dull ache in his muscle reminds him of the steel pipes he helped carry all day. Long straight bangs of the fiercest black hang over his narrow forehead. His brown boyish skin is smooth and untroubled, not yet marked by the lines of struggle. A slight dimple on the end of his nose balances the squareness of his jaw. The man’s work he does has not taken the childish shine from his eyes. Blinking the sleepy fog from his brow he rises to find his work clothes neatly folded at the foot of his bed. His father washed and hung them to dry before he retired for the night, as he would’ve done for Azhar’s older brother, Nur, also. There are no women in the house.

Azhar slips on his red and blue striped shirt, the collar and cuffs worn thin bearing unravelled threads. Wrapping a green and yellow lungi around his slim hips, he ties a double pretzel knot to keep it secure. He often wishes for trousers to protect his legs, but they would be too hot for work, and he knows there is no money for such luxuries. Every spare taka is sent to his mother, Naju, in Dhaka. He ponders a moment, thinking of her and his sisters. Rayhana is eleven and works with his mother; and Tasleema is six. He hasn’t seen them for over four months. It is for Tasleema that they all work and save whatever is possible so that she can go to school. As he thinks of her glowing eyes and the tiny face he remembers her promise,

“When we are together again, Azhar, I will teach you to read.”

The thought causes him to bend down to retrieve the tattered comic book from under his bed. In the dim light of the bare bulb from the kitchen, he scans the torn cover. The masked man with the flowing cape, he knows, is called Batman. One of his first jobs when he was only ten was to retrieve any usable items from the grounded ships that could be sold to the recyclers: rolls of unused toilet paper, cleaning supplies, pots and pans, furniture, bedding, tools, discarded books, coastal maps, light bulbs, cans of paint, rope, wire. The comic book had been in a waste basket; it was torn and thick with many readings. Azhar had seen other comics before but he wondered where this one came from and how far it had travelled when he found it. His boss Mojnu told him to keep it, otherwise it was being tossed out. He was always impressed by the colored pages, the photos of cars, tall buildings, fancy clothes, fight scenes, smiles and scowls – and he longs to know what the squiggly words mean. More than anything, he wants to read.

Tossing the book under the bed once more, he tugs the frugal sheets into place neatly, as his father expects, before joining his brother at the table. Their home is corrugated metal divided into two rooms with few possessions, its shape a replica of the many shanties lining the dirt street where he lives. Theirs is different because their father keeps it clean. The walls are painted a bright blue inside and out; their roof doesn’t leak when it rains.

The smell of oatmeal greets him as it drifts from the boiling pot his father is bent over, stirring, on the Bondhu Chula, a cook stove. Oatmeal for breakfast is not common in their home or their neighbours for that matter. Most breakfasts are rice, sometimes with red or green chillies. Or paratha, a pan fried unleavened flat bread. Yesterday Old Angus Macdonald, the burly Scotsman that visits them sometimes, dropped off a bag of rolled oats. They have no idea where he lives or where he comes from. They only know him from the story their father has told them.

The man was almost seventy when he commanded the Atlantic Pride, one of Canada’s largest ferries, to the yards in Chittagong when it was retired four years ago. He stepped onto shore after he grounded the ship and he never left. When the torches cut a section of aged steel from the nose of that very ship, a huge chunk crashed to the ground beside Hafiz, pinning his arm to the sand and breaking his leg. Had the piece fallen several inches more to the left, Hafiz would`ve died. Maybe that was why the elderly man stopped by once in a while with his bag of oats or some other staples and a few taka notes. He never stayed long, spoke very little Bengali. Always laughing, always a mystery.


Nur sits in front of a dish of flatbread, resting on a makeshift table which is a piece of discarded plywood his father has sanded, painted and polished. It’s the same teal that decorates the home, the same teal Hafiz got for free. Nur looks up with his usual wide grin,

“Good morning little brother. Will you be having paratha or paratha for your meals today?”

Hafiz has his back to his boys, cooking their breakfast. He doesn’t turn around when he scolds his oldest son. “Be thankful you have food, Nur. There are neighbours who may not have any today, or tomorrow. Don’t make fun. And Azhar, wash up, do your morning duties, and hurry. This is almost done.”

Both boys answer in unison, “Yes, Baba.”

The man that owns the property their home sits on is the same individual who owns the breaking yard the boys work at. Not totally without empathy, he provides running water and outhouses. Perhaps it is benevolence that has him supply these accommodations; it’s also his desire that his employees should be healthy so they don’t miss work. Hence the covered latrines and cold, life-giving Adams’ ale. Azhar goes to the sideboard, where water heated by his father steams from an old porcelain basin that is storied with nicks and scratches. He washes the sleep from his face, tames the cowlicks on his head, before taking the bowl outdoors to discard the soapy residue. Setting it on the doorstep, he rushes to the outhouse to complete his morning ritual. Returning to the kitchen, he finds Nur bent over a smoking bowl of hot porridge with the grandest of smiles.

“Azhar, we have brown sugar this morning. Our Baba is good to us”

Hafiz sits at the opposite end of the table, his own porridge barren of anything sweet. There is only enough for the boys, he feels.  The used plastic bag that sits on the table holds about three tablespoons of crumbly dark crystals. Azhar sits at his seat, an upended orange crate padded with a cushion his mother made.

“Eat up boys. Divide that between you.”

As Nur digs into the bag, Azhar watches his father stir his breakfast to cool it, knowing such a treat is rare.

“What about you Baba?”

Nur halts his sprinkling to look at his father.

“No, no, I don’t want any. Take it. And hurry, Ismail will be along soon with the truck to take you to work.”

Suddenly the kettle’s steam whistle erupts. Hafiz sits closest to the cook stove and twists about with his single arm to lift the heated pot to fill the three mugs for tea.  When his father turns his back, Azhar hastily reaches into the bag pulling out almost half of what is left. He stretches to sprinkle the sugar about his father’s bowl. Nur grins and tosses in what is left on his spoon. The boys are giggling as Hafiz turns around with the first of the mugs.

He stops in mid swing when he sees what they have done. He guesses it to be Azhar, so much like his mother. He holds his youngest son’s gaze for a moment before looking at Nur. Mistaking the look on their father’s face, thinking him upset, the boys grow quiet. Hafiz briefly studies his sons, soon off to do men’s work, still childlike in their hearts. He yearns for them to run free, not to need their strong backs to survive. He is overcome with this simple gesture of love; a glistening tear zigzags down his haggard cheek.

“Thank you, my sons. You are fine men.”

With everyone shy, the meal passes in solitude. The boys hastily finish so they can get ready for work.

Please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for visiting.

Next week the Scribbler welcomes Elizabeth Housden of the United Kingdom as she talks about Creating Characters and her novel The Gentlemen Go By. She is a published author and former actress.

Friday 19 September 2014

Meet JJ Cale, a musician's musician.

His real name is John Weldon Cale. You won’t find too much information about JJ on the Internet, a very private man.  He shunned the glitz and glamor of fame. If JJ Cale is such an obscure musician, how do people discover his music? My guess is it spreads by “word of mouth”. I tell someone, they tell someone, etc. JJ Cale is one of the finest, smoothest guitar players to ever pick up an axe. He is one of the originators that created the “Tulsa sound”. Here’s a quote I read somewhere, In 2013 Neil Young remarked that of all the musicians he had ever heard, J.J. Cale and Jimi Hendrix were the two best electric guitar players.[


Here’s the first sample of his music. I have many favorites but Magnolia from the Naturally album is the finest love song ever written. It is a special song for my wife Gloria and I.

I can distinctly remember the first time I heard him singing 36 years ago. It started like this;
My son Adam was only two then. He was playing in a small park with several other children around the neighborhood where his mother and I were playing tennis. The two asphalt courts were enclosed by firm wire strung on tall metal posts. The fence was composed of two inch diamond shaped openings, the kind that was big enough to stick the toe of a pointed shoe through. There was an opening about three feet wide on each side at center court. The playground was on the opposite side from where we were playing Adam had something exciting to tell us and instead of going around the court, he did like any kid with something hot on his mind would do.

He entered the court from the opposite side from us where another couple about our age was playing. He hugged the fence trying to avoid the running man but the running man didn’t see the little boy. When he moved back to return a lobby from his girlfriend, the man knocked the little boy to the ground. Turmoil ensued. Everyone was concerned about the lad who by now was sitting on the tarmac rubbing his head, cuddled by a concerned mother. The man was overcome with apprehension for Adam even though he was not at fault. He was kind enough to follow up with us over the next several days regarding Adam’s wellbeing.

Adam suffered a minor concussion and had to wear a hockey helmet to playschool for two weeks to protect his head. I can remember him leaving the house in the morning, tiny body, big helmet and shiny brown eyes filled with mischief and glee. The incident lead to a brief friendship with the couple. It’s been so long ago that I can’t remember their names. One evening, the man and his wife invited us out for a drive in his bosses’ new car, a 1978 Thunderbird which had a tiny back seat and an eight track player. (For those too young to know what an eight track is, well, you’ll have to look it up) The music that was playing was JJ Cale’s first album, Naturally, recorded in 1972. I have been in love with his music since.

This is one of  my favorite JJ Cale tunes, Right Down Here from the Really disc. 1972.

 Here's another one I really like. The River Runs Deep
 And another.


By 1978, JJ Cale had recorded three other albums as well. Troubadour – 1976. Okie – 1974. Really – 1973. I went out in the next few weeks and bought them all. Over the years I owned every album, I bought every eight track when they were popular. When cassettes took over, I bought each one again. When CDs became popular I’m proud to say I own every CD JJ has recorded.

His songs were covered by dozens of well-known musicians, most notably Eric Clapton. In fact it was Clapton that first brought attention to Mr. Cale by recording JJ’s song, After Midnight which was recorded in 1970 on Eric Clapton’s debut album as a solo artist. But the song that made Clapton famous was another of Cale’s rockers, Cocaine. Covered on Clapton’s Slowhand album in 1977. Other artists that have covered JJ’s music are, Santana (Sensitive Kind), Waylon Jennings (Clyde), Lynyrd Skynyrd (Call me The Breeze), John Mayer, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Captain Beefheart, The Allman Brothers, Jerry Garcia, The Band, Chet Atkins, Freddie King, Beck, Band of Horses, Jose Feliciano, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Lee Fields, Deep Purple, Widespread Panic, John Mayall.


Best cover ever



Trying to fit Cale into one genre of music would be akin to trying to hammer a peg into a board with only five shapes and none of them are ten sided.  He’s laid back, bluesy, jazzy, rock, rockabilly, country, and forever soulful. He was a man that just wanted to write music. He only had one hit that made it to number 22 on the American top forty in 1972, Crazy Mama from the Naturally album. There are twenty-one albums altogether. The last solo album was Roll On recorded in 2009. He and Eric Clapton recorded a duet album called Road to Escondido in 2006 which won a Grammy Award for best blues album.


He was married to Christine Lakeland, a musician featured on most of his albums. He was born in Oklahoma City on December 5th, 1938. He died in Los Angeles on July 26th, 2013. A tribute album has just been released by Eric Clapton and friends titled Call me the Breeze.


You won’t be sorry if you buy any of his albums. I can’t imagine not having JJ’s music around.

You can learn more about him here;

Official site:


A sample of his awesome guitar work.**** Guitar Man

Please join me next week when I will be posting an excerpt from guest author Sarah Butland's short story, Blood Day.

Friday 5 September 2014

4Q Interview with award winning author Susan Toy

Susan Toy is a published author who splits her time between Canada and the Caribbean. Her novel, Island in the Clouds, and her short story works has garnered exceptional reviews. A tremendous supporter of her fellow authors, she works unselfishly to make sure others are noticed. She was a guest author here at the Scribbler in May with her amusing story, Fifty Ways to Lose Your Liver. She has agreed to answer questions today on the 4Q. Her web site is listed below.

4Q: How did a Canadian gal end up on the tiny island of Bequia?

ST: We were living in the Canadian west when we decided it was time to begin taking tropical holidays. Like everyone else west of Winnipeg, we first travelled to Hawaii. It was okay, but the next time we tried Martinique in the Caribbean. Better than Hawaii, but still too touristy. I was working in a bookstore at the time and asked a customer who I knew had travelled extensively in the Caribbean what her favourite island was.

“Bequia!” she said. “I was only there for three days but I loved it.” Since I was in a bookstore, I began looking through travel guides and couldn’t find much information at all about the place. So, we thought … Perfect! That was exactly the kind of destination where we wanted to spend time. We booked three weeks, arriving on Old Year’s Night (Dec. 31) 1988, and we loved it! People we met kept telling us the number of times they had visited (many, many repeat visitors to this island) as though it were some kind of a badge of honour. The day we returned to Calgary we were faxing back to Bequia to book a hotel room for the following Christmas.

We vacationed on Bequia every year, making friends with other repeat visitors (and a number still remain friends) until one time when our taxi driver stopped his truck, got out, and pointed up the hill to some land he said was for sale. We hadn’t said a word to anyone, but somehow our very astute driver knew we were ready to take the plunge. We met with the man who was selling the land, made a few frantic calls back to our bank in Calgary, and had begun the process of purchasing a half-acre property before we left the island. Once we returned to Calgary we put together an exit strategy.

In 1996, with the shell of our new house built to lock-up stage, we quit our jobs, took early retirement, and moved lock, stock and barrel – including one cat – to begin living on Bequia fulltime.

It’s been an adventure!

 4Q: You have been a huge supporter of your fellow writers dedicating a blog – Reading Recommendations – solely to what they are working on and how to find them. You have been kind enough to include me as well and I thank you for that. How and why did this wonderful site come about?

ST: I have always promoted authors and their books throughout my career – as a bookseller, a publishers’ sales rep, and a self-styled author impresario when I ran a business called Alberta Books Canada. Once I self-published my own novel, I knew the best way to promote it was to continue working with and helping other authors. If we all work together to promote each other it’s better for the entire writing and publishing communities.

I had been hosted on a friend’s blog site and thought that I’d like to set up something similar. I still know many authors from my days in Alberta, and some of those old friends have already been featured or will be in the near future. As well, authors who had been promoted have recommended their friends to me, and still more authors have approached me directly. I’m so pleased to have discovered some very fine writing by international authors who are publishing in just about every genre, fiction and non-fiction, for adults and children, and all formats (print, eBooks, audio) imaginable, and be able to share them with the blog’s readers.

And one of the ways my blog differs from other author promotion sites is that I ask each author to also recommend a book or author who they’re currently reading. So readers receive at least two possibilities for further reading.

I’m also planning to set up a page on the blog that lists Indie Bookstores, worldwide, that stock and sell books by authors who have been featured on Reading Recommendations.

This is my way of giving back to the worldwide writing community while receiving some extra promotion for myself and my own publications.

 4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote with us.

ST: The year I was born, my parents bought a cottage north of Toronto near the town of Minden where we spent every summer until I was old enough to get a job and remain in the big city. The summers melded together into the best memories any child could ask for. When I was four, Dad bought a movie camera (Regular 8) and projector and literally documented everything that happened – family picnics, bonfire nights, learning to swim and water ski, barbecues, parties, killer games of Rummoli, Poker, or Monopoly with big bowls of popcorn, fishing – whatever we did, we have a record of it, and all the people we shared that time with. I realize now, looking back 60 years later, what a gift that was! I managed to transfer some of the films over to CD, but have trouble watching without crying. So, so many good memories!

But I’ve tried to make the most of those memories by writing a novella set at a cottage during the summer. While That Last Summer is not autobiographical, there are many aspects, and even a few characters, that are drawn from all those summers spent at the lake.

 4Q: Please tell us what you are working on at the present and what can your readers expect from you in the near future?

ST: Currently, I’m trying to rewrite the second novel in my Bequia Perspectives Series. (Yes, Tim and Rachel … Must. Get. To. Work!!) One Woman’s Island is told from the perspective of a Canadian woman making an extended visit to Bequia in order to distance herself from a recent tragedy. She decides to “live with the locals” but therein lies her problem, because it’s not that easy to integrate successfully on this island. I hope to have this finished and ready to ePublish in time for the beginning of Bequia’s tourist season, Dec. 16. Print will come at a later date, when I feel I have enough of a market for copies.

I have two more finished novellas I would like to prepare to publish under my IslandShorts imprint, and there are a number of short stories I plan to collect together. As well, novels 3 and 4 in the Bequia Perspectives Series are already written but require extensive editing and rewriting.

And I’m working with a few other authors to publish their eBooks under both the IslandCatEditions and IslandShorts imprints.


Thank you Susan for sharing your thoughts on the 4Q. Best wishes for all your future endeavors. Find out more about Susan at
Next week I am happy to welcome back one of my regular contributors, Connie Cook. She will be sharing her short story Fish Girl. You won't want to miss it.

Thank you so much for visiting the South Branch Scribbler. I am pleased to tell you that the Book Launch of my debut novel - Dark Side of a Promise - will take place at the Chateau Moncton on September 7th at 6:30pm. All are invited.