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Showcase: When We Were Girls + Number 247 + The Chess Club

Edited by Clara Khan

Hi guys, welcome to my first Showcase. I’m Clara Khan, an English tutor from London. Writing has always been a source of interest for me and these days I’m all about creative non-fiction: memoirs, travelogues, personal essays – you name it. Writing has the power to tell stories, give information and express emotion and that, in turn, can be life-changing. I’ll be delving into the notion of the human condition and asking the big questions. This month, we will be focusing on change and how this manifests in the world.

School days are said to be the best days of your life. This was repeated to us during our own secondary education and, looking back, I can honestly say I both agree and disagree. The intention behind this statement was that, as children, we had very little to worry about except our education. But it was all relative. At that age, school, friends and extracurricular activities were a big deal. They were things we would be up against, things that would seemingly make or break us and our way to prove to the world that we were successful.

But one thing I do know about school (in between algebra, tectonic plates and trying not to embarrass ourselves on the trampoline in PE) is that there was blessed goodness. Every spring, the blossom tree in the grounds would flurry, spreading beautiful confetti-like petals along the concrete, laughter-infused break-times and trips with friends were a regular occurrence and I’d discovered a love of reading and writing which sprinkled top marks in and around the years. As children, we were naïve, ambitious, flustered and bored but truly happy. Maybe some of us just didn’t know it. The change into adulthood is a truly unique one and one that brings about its own goodness. But looking at school today makes us reflect that maybe, just maybe, those really were the best days of our life.

The pieces chosen this week are dedicated to the timeline of childhood and adolescence. How we go from simple wonders as a child to unexpected observations as a teen that can often stay with us into adulthood.

This first piece, When We Were Girls by TAK Erzinger, is a poem detailing the sweetness and wonder of youth with recollections of childlike moments.

When We Were Girls

Memory, recalls
singing with giggles

and bruised knees.
On my tongue a secret

I cannot share, four
years younger in each

recollection. I beg, hear
me, a place hollow

of sound, how joyfully
I carry my fear before you.

Denial, still peals like
the ringing of laughter

covered in a smile
and sorrow suspended

a balloon with a slow leak.
Decades, believing distorted

versions, a place where little
can grow. Now, we meet

in late summer as we head
into fall, our bodies ripened

but not plucked from our past
on a tired afternoon

yawning clouds. Now,
you come to me, my mouth

booms like thunder in a storm.
Here, I rain down the truth

as you have nowhere to take cover.

© TAK Erzinger, 2024

Connect on Instagram: @takerzinger


Now we have Number 247 by Greg Pidgeon: a brilliant rhyming personification of a popular bus often loaded with school children after the mass exodus from school.

Number 247

I’m number 247, proudly serving the population,
From Romford, Hainault to Barkingside station.
They call me Red, with a tartan checked chair,
But I consider myself rouge, I like the French air.

Passengers embark with a tap and a smile,
Proceeding down the gangway, in single file.
Trying to sit on my plush TFL tweed,
Before I take off, at a waltzers speed.

You see my operator has a keen lead-foot,
Ever lively to take off, soon I might go caput.
Voyagers grabbing the monkey bars and swing,
Seating with a thump on my sprightly bench spring.

No one talks. Not even a hum,
Heads bowed and phone tap thumb.
A double ring on my bell, a kid dared do it twice,
My driver peers back, he’ll pay the price.

Hiss goes my brakes I come to a stop,
My undercarriage wheezes to the kerb drop.
Whoosh go my doors, commuters alight,
Quick thanks and they go into a flight.

Then enters the school run, push with energy and thrust,
Grownups lookup dismayed, really nonplussed.
Colin my driver miffed and barks out,
Temporary order restored just with a shout.

Now with lots of noise and babble,
I can’t wait to rid of this rabble.
Lots of dings and my doors finally pop,
Really hope that’s my last drop.

Off again to silence and calm relief,
All credit goes to my commander and chief.
Through impoliteness, din and traffic jam,
He really deserves his nightly we dram.

I’m number 247 serving the community,
Please use me at any opportunity.
Come for ride, come for a spin,
On me or any of my kith and kin.

© Greg Pidgeon, 2024


Finally, The Chess Club by Brigid Griffin, is a short story of the anxious observations and curiosities of adolescence.

The Chess Club

The first time Davey met Chris was in first year of secondary school. The Chess Club met on a Thursday evening in the library, and Davey was a new member. He hadn’t really got a clue about how to play but liked the names and the feel of the pieces and the quiet of school out of hours. It was a further excuse not to go home and be under the same roof as Ray. It wasn’t until everyone left at 3.30 that Davey realised what a noisy and brutal place school was during the day.

The corridors were in half-darkness; just the ticking of cooling radiators and squeak of his shoes on the lino following him from the main doors. St Francis had been built as a new comprehensive in the 1950s. Now it was all peeling metal framed windows, wired glass, graffiti and yellow enamel painted walls and corridors that smelled faintly of stale piss, fags and sweat. In the entrance lobby was a large photograph of the Pope and a dusty glass case containing football and athletics trophies. Next to this stood a large, life-size statue of Our Lady in her faded blue and white plaster robes, looking down on proceedings with a neutral ‘seen it all before’ expression.

Davey tucked the borrowed chess board and the small sliding box of pieces under his arm and made his way down the central corridor towards the only classroom with a light on. The heating had been turned off and he could already see his breath in the air. He turned into the club meeting room which was the Sixth Form common room during the day and smelled of teenagers and disinfectant. Posters were peeling slowly off the wall, and someone had drawn a cock and balls on the advert for the school production of Macbeth.

Mr McCauley, the maths teacher who ran the club, was drooping by the doorway reading the paper and wondering how long he could stick it out before he could nip out for a fag.

There were about half a dozen tables occupied, and Davey sat down with resignation at the only table with a single occupant. Bloody Mark King. Nobody wanted to play him, he was such a cocky twat.

For the first couple of chess meetings, Davey had been paired up with Mark, a third-year know-it-all with a moonscape of acne on his neck. Mark taught Davey nothing, but repeatedly beat him in a few moves, smacking the pieces down and barking “Checkmate” in a bored robotic monotone while Davey was still floundering and wondering which piece could move where. He could feel his palms getting sweaty and was starting to think this wasn’t for the likes of him; it was for the posh kids.

Davey was about to pack it all in and piss off home in the third week, when Chris Clough wandered over. He was burly and handsome with a narrow tie in a microscopically tight knot halfway down his chest, crumpled shirt and twinkly brown eyes below thick brown hair which stood upright in a stiff quiff.

“Hey, Kingy, do you want to swap places, give Phil Moss a good kicking? He‘s taking the piss out of me. I’ll take your place here if you like?” He spoke with artificial brightness, as if he was talking to a small child or someone who was mentally defective.

Mark stood up, chair scraping back abruptly, and disappeared in seconds, hungry to bully someone else. Chris sat down opposite Davey, moving all the chess pieces back into their starting positions, humming the tune to The Ride Of The Valkyrie under his breath. Davey knew Chris vaguely, they had never been in the same form, but shared some classes together.

Chris raised his eyebrows and flicked a glance at Mark, already seated at the next table, ready to browbeat somebody else. Davey could feel himself wanting to laugh.

“Christ, he’s such a pain in the arse” Chris muttered under his breath, twirling a knight around to face Davey. “Right, let’s start at the beginning. I’m Chris.”  He held out a scabby, grubby and roughened hand over the table and shook Davey’s vigorously.“Would you like me to teach you the basics? I’m a bit crap at it but happy to show you?” He offered with a broad smile.

Davey nodded wordlessly. He felt as though he was caught at the beginning of a friendly avalanche and was too tired and curious to resist being dragged along.

“Did you know, the rook is supposed to look like a chariot? The Persians called it a rukh, so my dad says anyway, and that’s where it got its name. If you want, when we finish tonight, come to ours for your tea, Dad knows loads more about the names of the pieces and he’s a really good teacher, much better than me. If you want to, that is.”

Chris blithered on, moving pieces carefully and slowly, explaining what each represented, how it could move, what it could do, telling stories about its history and origins.

Mr McCauley wandered between the desks, periodically telling Mark to stop raising his voice. There was a 15-minute break halfway through the meeting, but Chris was in full flow and Davey was captivated. They didn’t even go out for a fag.

© Brigid Griffin, 2024

Connect with Brigid on Instagram: @brigidgriffinwrites


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