The First Ten Minutes – Nervous Heartbeats In The Gardens

I am very pleased and excited to present to you all the very first Fircroft College student blog post. I hope you enjoy it and please don’t hesitate to submit work of your own to be featured.

This weeks offering is by Mr Raymond Howell.

I heard about Fircroft on the air of wishes sent into the ether by an acquaintance. The information about Fircroft arrived via the ping of an email that beseeched me, begged on bended knees almost, to try a Creative Writing course. On reflection I think they were really trying to say DONT SEND ME ANYMORE Scribbles to read… until you learn to write better. Take this course at Fircroft, please, you will like it, it will help you and they have a good reputation, the food is not bad either.

I was not quite at the find me a noose stage, but I had too many doubts to be comfortable with the idea. At my age returning to school after a 47 year absence without a suitable note from my parents, which I haven’t forged, is almost certain to invite the cane. On top of that I have never been classroom material. I’m not good with groups of people either. I’m also dyslexic and a general mess. What could Fircroft offer me, or I them come to that? I am certainly not student material but, I must admit, I do like to cover pages in ink tattoos, it is how I keep sane.


What to do? I’ve been dumped at a strange crossroads without a pelican or a crossing button. Thanks friend. Unusual for me I had no control over the situation. Apparently the booking was already made and I was politely told to attend. By nature I don’t like waste. Reluctantly I packed a bag, a week before time because I worry about being late, and on the day I set off early to brave the outside world. This was the first time I had ventured forth on an unfamiliar undertaking on my own for a long while, years in fact. It was not an easy journey, trepidation dogged my footsteps, billboard ads mocked, apparently I stink and need deodorant that lasts for days and how can I live without life insurance; the bus was late and newspaper headlines boded ill, chocolate was going to cost more because of the Brexit sleeping pill. Within twenty minutes I was stressed enough to think about returning home. Why shouldn’t I, I am neither an academic, nor a writer and neither did I wish to move on to take a degree. I had no aspirations, expectations or even hopes other than the one I expressed as I boarded the bus, please let me get off at the correct stop. On my arrival I was nervous, doubtful, maybe even a little defensive, as well as a tad agoraphobic. So, with all that clutter filling my suitcase that afternoon I fell nervously through the doors of Fircroft College, flash-backs to 1966 when the world had less need of a social fix, we had won the world cup and I was a new boy in the big school.

I worried before the receptionist, who turned out to be brilliant, she eased my discomfort and a small flake of nervousness slipped from my shoulder. From nowhere other attendees came and queued up behind me, too many, I suddenly needed air. I grabbed the paperwork and throwing out a backward, thanks, I immediately dived through another set of doors and fled out into the grounds, where I stumbled upon a sunhat bobbing low and slow in amongst the flowers of a busy border.

“It’s a great day, isn’t it?” A fox glove seemingly inquired of me. Wow thought I, immediately beguiled, I felt a little like Alice in her wonderland, when she met bright dancing plants which spoke with wit and knowledge and sung at the queen’s command.  Plants that talk, I smiled. Well, why not? This was to be a creative writing course.

“Don’t mind me on my knees” the voice continued, where a rustle and a bustle grew a lady in gloves, who continued to unfold until she stepped forward and offered me a jolly smile. Again I couldn’t help feeling a little beguiled. She sighed a little but not sadly, more with a fondness for the task ahead.

“It’s a lovely garden but such a battle to keep things in order,” she confessed wistfully as she looked across the flower beds like a doting mother at her happy mud splattered child. Her soft tone and words made a confederate of the nervous orphaned learner stood by her side. “I’m sure it is” I lamely replied.

She continued as if my words had been profound; “I need a hand really there’s a lot to do in the garden”. She paused to let the seed settle to the ground and then she added a splash of water, “We might be looking for volunteer garden helpers…”

Another pause and glance, I guess to gauge my reaction, then like a general in the pre-dawn light surveying her battle-lines she scanned the gardens for a moment, as if walking through her visions of the one-day-soon-put-to-order grounds. Then buoyantly she explained her grand plan, she ended by saying. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy helping. Give it a thought” she lightly breezed “but now I must dash, I have lots to do, interviews for a gardener… Ah, and here’s the first one; nice to meet you. Don’t forget, think about it.”

I tottered in the rustle of her departing wake, a little bemused and suddenly I slipped through the door of the esoteric; Why me? Had she sensed I was scared and diffused…, in need of a comfort blanket, my confusions defused? Rationally I guessed my fears must have shown, but the esoteric thrill of the encounter would not be blown.

“Ah. I see you met the principle”, a student said humorously as he joined me. “Watch it,” he laughed, “she’s on the hunt for helpers. I’m John by the way, I’ve been here loads of time before, and I’m sure I’ll return again for more.” He looked at me as he prophesied, “and something tells me that you’ll be returning here too. See you later, I’m off to meet the happy band of hardcore regulars gathering inside.”

Even as he spoke the place began to hum like a hive, out from which greetings shrieked and noisy hugs replied. This was not what I expected to find. Where for a start was the black billowing gowns, the stern faces, the strident stomps across the quad, and thankfully there was not a cane in sight either, other than those needed to prop up the Clematis of course. Why had I ever worried?

Looking around the garden at the bodies lazing on the lawn as they carelessly sprinkled light laughter around like dandelion parachutes, I considered Fircroft; this place is just a relaxed meeting of like minds and hearts beating with the same purpose. The only threat here is self doubt; then I smiled inwardly as I thought, I bet Fircroft has a course on how to turn my doubts into an asset. ‘Don’t mock’, my inner voice scolded, ‘you are now a part of this too.’ A sudden burst of warmth came from nowhere and nudged more of my nervousness to one side, I was a part of this. A smile tugged at my face as I hovered by the half tamed bed listening to a frolic of happy voices issuing from inside the lounge. I have to admit I started to people-watch the promenaders inside and when one female voice much clearer than the others shouted enthusiastically, “Welcome to Fircroft.” I peered around to see where her words landed.

“Yeh you,” The voice laughed as the owner poked her head out the door, “Creative Writing, right? Don’t just stand there on your own, come in, we’re on the same course.”

In a mere ten minutes, 600 seconds, time enough to drown twice or to plant a flag at the peak of a personal summit, I was not cured of my various self doubts, it’s true, but in that brief time they skipped from me and went off to enjoy a spot of sunbathing out on the lawns. I think one or two of them might still be lying there somewhere amongst the daisies and dandelions. Its rude to say good riddance, but, sometimes… it is nice.

I met some curious, idea-provoking and fascinating down to earth people here, and my tutor was, well, I think she deserves her own chapter, but suffice to say, she was interesting, inspiring at times, fixed of purpose and VERY keen to teach, but that is enough of that we must get on, mustn’t we? The most important idea I took away with me at the end of the course is that, what I have to say matters, and the style of the telling can be whatever I want it to be, there are no rules. I liked that, a lot.

Everyone has a story to tell and I believe stories grow from inspiration enriched by enlightenment and confidence. Welcome to Fircroft College with its rambling gardens, its confidence building curriculum, the colourful, naturalness of the ‘we are of the people’ tutors, and an excited welcome to the humble beginnings of many new wonderful stories.

Written By Raymond Howell


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