Ghost Coin

My husband removed the 1980s bath-panel and found something bizarre.

A 1914 penny under an upstairs bath in a 1950s house.

We put it safe and ‘Googled’. In 1914, a penny bought half a pint of beer or loaf of bread or pint of milk.

The penny’s since disappeared.

Our friendly ghost’s playing tricks again. It often plays piano or rattles pipes. Bet that’s who put the coin where it shouldn’t have been.

No doubt it’s now sloped off with phantom mates to buy spectral beer at The Headless Spook Inn, which I suspect is in our attic.



Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

From a prompt on Thin Spiral Notebook

My Father’s Eyes

They changed as you read; narrowed for villains, opened wide for victims and frowned for determined heroes.

You made us giggle by waggling your glasses and eyebrows.

You blinked as you marched us on sunny fossil-hunts, you peered into books and squinted at handicrafts you’d start but never finish.

Your eyes grew tired, old. One day, your eyes smiled love as we said goodbye but two days later, though they blinked, you were no longer there. Then they closed forever.

But I will only remember your eyes, sparkling as you told stories, bringing the characters alive, twinkling with love.


Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Prompted by Thin Spiral Notebook

Hiding Places

Two years ago, I started a story about a little girl hiding in a house.

I am fascinated by houses. Perhaps because I moved a lot as a child, perhaps because I see how they reflect the personalities of the people who live in them, perhaps because in my early childhood I knew several homes with rooms and attics full of potential treasure: stuffed animals, old gramophones, books, stacked photographs.

Homes seem to me to have a personality of their own. When my husband and I were house hunting twelve years ago, we would walk out of a property and say “that’s a happy house” or “that’s an unhappy house” even though there was nothing visible to indicate a difference between them.

My story started innocently enough but as it wound its way from muse to keyboard, the child in the story stopped being carefree. She became someone desperate, unhappy, lonely; hiding in a perfect, neat, cold house. I wrote it for a competition and hadn’t quite finished it when a friend told me a story about her mother’s childhood in Nazi Germany and somehow a little of that was woven in too. My story is set in an unspecified world in which there is persecution for being different. I’m not publishing it here for the moment as I hope to publish it elsewhere but this is about what happened after it had been written.

Once I’d finished and refined it, I entered the story into a local competition run by the Rotary Club and it was short-listed for the Mayor’s prize. In October 2016, I went to the Corn Exchange (our local equivalent of a town hall) to read it out.

Odd as it may sound (since I was the one who’d written it) I found it hard to read aloud because although I knew what was happening, I still got choked up. I tend to speak quietly and quickly even when I’m not nervous. The acoustics in the building are not very good and I had to read while holding a microphone and also conscious of the fact that I would then have to clamber back down some steep steps without a handrail in heels and somehow try not to fall (give me a staircase and I will fall down it). I could feel myself getting angry on behalf of this imaginary little girl, caught up in the political machinations of adults and my voice started to crack. I ended with tears in my eyes. There was applause, I got down the steps without making a fool of myself and then found I had to climb back up because I’d won.

After all the prizes had been handed out and I was safely back on ground level again, a lady in her late seventies or early eighties came up. She said her hearing was poor and she’d been sitting at the back and not quite been able to make out everything I’d said. She asked if I could drop round to her house and give her a printed copy of some of my stories so that she could read them for herself.

The following weekend, I found her house (which had a wonderful door as if it would lead into a magic realm) and as she wasn’t in, popped the stories through the letterbox, leaving my address but forgetting to leave my phone number, meaning to go back a few days later.

Life was busy and it went out of my head.

A week or so afterwards, as I was in the kitchen editing photographs one Sunday and my mother, who’d come round for the afternoon was sitting with me doing embroidery while dinner burbled away in the oven, the lady arrived at my front door, having walked maybe a mile across town to do so. I invited her in for a rest and something to drink before driving her home. She said some lovely things about the stories I’d given her but then she asked about the inspiration for the one about the hiding little girl.

I explained that part of it was imaginary and the other part was inspired by stories friends of Polish and German descent had told of hiding Jewish fugitives and from reading a book called “My Hundred Children” by Lena Kuchler-Silberman and books by Corrie Ten Boom.

Over a cup of tea, the lady explained that she was Jewish. In 1938, while she was still a baby, her parents had escaped Austria but her grandparents, uncles and aunt had not been able to leave. There is now barely a trace of them.

She knows one uncle died in Dachau and one grandfather was beaten to death before even getting to a camp (the Viennese Nazi authorities kept good death records – don’t you love bureaucracy?). Her parents told of people just getting a knock on the door and being given half an hour to get themselves down to the town hall.

“Can you imagine, the Corn Exchange is our town hall,” she said, “so they come to your house and they pick on you because you’re Jewish, or Catholic, or Protestant or Muslim or immigrant or you name it, and you have half an hour to get to the Corn Exchange and you don’t know what will happen to you and maybe no-one will ever find out.”

The lady who took the trouble to bring me back my story now lives in a nice town in a peaceful country with children and grand-children of her own living in other nice towns. She sat, telling me her life, drinking tea with my mother, calm and friendly.

My mother is just a few years younger. The only separation she experienced during the war, was when my grandmother moved to be near family in Scotland with her two small children, away from the risk of bombing. They left my grandfather (too old to join up and in a reserved occupation) to carry on working in London and living in the empty family home. My mother’s family tree has all its branches in the last century at least.

The other lady’s family tree, like so many, had branches hacked off and destroyed.

All that potential, all those nearly people. All those children who maybe couldn’t hide quite safely enough. Her life now may be pleasant and safe, but her parents’ desperate flight, the loss of their loved ones are engraved on her.

I know her story is not news. I know, even worse that that, it’s not old news. The Nazis weren’t the first to do it and they weren’t the last.

It is going on right now, somewhere in the world, as I type this.

Religious grounds, ethnic grounds, racial grounds, political grounds, gender identity, sexuality, how many generations your ancestors arrived – somewhere someone is justifying a reason for the humiliation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, dehumanisation, persecution and death of other human beings just because they are different.

I wish it wasn’t true. More than anything, I wish I didn’t know there are people in “civilised” countries who are right this moment looking forward to starting it up again.

God forgive us for never learning and for the capacity for hatred in the human heart.

The evidence is right in front of us. And don’t assume you could be safe because we may not know the criteria. Watch out, because any one of us may be summonsed to the town hall one day and the hiding places may yet run out.


Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Jane, Sarah-Jane and Susan – a tale of jealousy, blindness and knitted knickers

I never really understood dolls.

I was neither a tom-boy nor a girly girl. I liked hand-crafts, skirts and being fairly clean but I also liked climbing trees, making shelters, building things, doing experiments. I yearned for a train set and chemistry set. But I was a girl so I was given dolls.

The first one was called Tilly, with a soft body but plastic hands, feet and head. Tilly with her mocking eyes and snarky grin (as if she’d laugh at you and then bite you) was discarded quite early. But never mind, her real-life manifestation has popped into my life at regular intervals ever since.

By the time I was six or so, I had accumulated three archetypal little girls’ dolls of the era. Mine were called Jane, Sarah-Jane and Susan.

Jane had a no nonsense mouth, dark brown eyes and long curly dark brown shiny hair; definite, determined. No-one would push Jane around. Everything about me was indeterminate. My own grandmother thought my eyes were green until I was twelve and my hair colour slowly darkened from light mousy to dark mousy. Most people pushed me around.

I was jealous of Jane, she was exactly how I wanted to look and be.

I wasn’t jealous of Sarah-Jane. She had short blondish curly hair and blue eyes and looked very ordinary and a bit dull.

Susan’s skin was brown, her eyes dark and friendly, her short curled hair lusciously black. I don’t know why I called her Susan. It’s my middle name but then, at the time, every second girl was called Susan too. All the same, she was my favourite.

Being a little unnerved by Jane and feeling that somehow it would not bode well for me if I treated her with less than respect, I took good care of her and smoothed her lovely hair and sat her in the nicest places.

I used felt-tip pens to draw eye shadow on Sarah-Jane. But all attempts to make her a femme fatale failed exactly as they did when I tried on myself later. Perhaps because both of us were shy and a little bit prim, no amount of make-up can stop those two things from shining through any attempts at glamour.

Poor Susan. I loved her so much but one of her eyes fell inside. I heard about a dolls’ hospital and begged for her to be taken there but it was too expensive they said, not worth it they said. So she remained half blind but lovely.

My little sister felt quite differently about her dolls and was devoted to them. Here I have to admit that I was perhaps a tiny bit mean to her. If we played hospitals, my little sister’s dolls were the ones who got wounds drawn on them with felt tip, whose heads were bandaged, who accidentally fell down staircases.

My grandmother knitted clothes for all our dolls, including knickers. I swear she once knitted us some knickers too but my mother says I’m wrong. False memory or not, I can still feel the scratchy lumpy sensation of garter stitch on buttock. If Mum is right, then perhaps it is the only time I connected with the dolls themselves – felt their discomfort, personified them.

Because I really wasn’t a dolly person. I didn’t have tea parties for them or talk to them or make up stories involving them. The dolls were no more alive to me than a chair was. I didn’t really know what to do with them, although admittedly, I knew what to do with my sister’s.

As a child, I confided in trees and the river and wrote poems. As a teenager, I poured my heart out on the cat (who was unimpressed and ran off if there were too many tears) and into an angst ridden set of diaries. I wrote even worse poems.

So I grew up and forgot the dolls. When I had children of my own, times, if not marketing had changed. My son and my daughter both played equally with dolls and cars and train sets and made cakes. But I don’t think their toys were alive for them either, except when they were feverish. (And we won’t talk about the doll an aunt gave my daughter which my daughter swears could – and did – turn its own head. We sold it to a sweet little girl at a jumble sale for £3 a few years later and both felt very guilty…)

I write and my son composes music and my daughter makes art. Perhaps we don’t need to personify objects because we have minds full of other worlds.

And then…

Many years ago, my parents downsized from the family home to a bungalow. When I say “downsized”, it was only in the sense of available capacity not actual stuff (to read more about this, read A Fine Mess). When later, my widowed mother moved to live near me, the “stuff” had to be drastically reduced. Aware of my father’s shade tutting as we sorted, I found a box. On its end was a picture of its contents: loathed school shoes. I opened up the box with trepidation. There was really no telling what my father could have stashed in it. This was a man who managed to get half a five pound note stuck in between two books and who had preserved in perspex surgical stitches taken out of my chin and had wanted to do the same with my tonsils.

The lid came off. Staring up at me was Jane. She lay, stark naked, on a pile of tissue. As beautiful as ever, with long dark curls and determined eyes, she glanced at my hair as if to say “Ha! You’ve got to colour yours now.” But despite her eternal youth, she didn’t look pleased.

“How could you leave me here alone all these years?” she telepathed.

I closed the lid and put it on the charity shop pile. She could make some other little girl feel inadequate.

No, I never understood the personification of dolls, but I swear, as I handed Jane over to the shop the next day, a little voice snapped through the cardboard: “you could at least have put some knitted knickers on me first.”


Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission


Day one: 1st January 8.30am.

Determined, I crunch through the frosty grass to the shed where my husband has put the exercise bike.

“Peddling will warm you up.” he calls cheerfully from the bedroom window, then gets back into bed with a hot cup of tea.

It is nice in the shed. Or it can be. The sun angles onto the pine walls as I peruse the resolutions I’d pinned the day before:

  • Lose two stone. Do not lose six pounds in two weeks then nothing in the third then give up. Eat more vegetables. Make everyone else eat more vegetables.
  • Do more exercise. Walk, don’t drive. Use exercise bike every day for at least half an hour, come rain or shine. Look for second hand rowing machine. Don’t let the family laughing get you down.
  • Be more creative and frugal. Adapt charity shop clothes or make own with massive stash of hoarded fabric in attic. (Do NOT buy a size too small because you’re in denial.)
  • Declutter. Start with attic. (Maybe exercise bike could then move indoors.)
  • Drink less wine and less tea.
  • Read more intellectual stuff.
  • Be more positive.
  • Be more patient.
  • Have faith.
  • Laugh more.
  • Stop biting nails.

At the bottom of the page is a scanned in honest photograph of myself in all my podgy glory; plump cheeked, muffin-topped, oozing, wearing my husband’s wedding ring because mine won’t fit (and his no longer fits him either).

OK so the biting nails one has been on my resolutions list since I was twelve, but one year I’ll manage it.

My daughter must have sneaked in sometime on New Year’s Eve, because between the typescript and the photograph, she has scrawled “Believe in yourself. You are awesome! XXX”

After half an hour of pedalling, I get down from the bike and try to work out the optimum time I can spend in the freezing shed, getting my breathing back to a rate which wouldn’t have smug-guts laughing his dressing-gown off but not cooling down so much I’ll get hypothermia.

Day two: 2nd January 8.30am

Fifteen minutes into pedalling: It’s boring out here, even with the smugness of self-satisfaction to keep me company. I’ll have to download some audio books or podcasts and listen to them while I cycle (that could tick off the intellectual reading resolution too). Maybe I could get some posters on the walls. Maybe I could get my son to make some kind of film that could be projected on the wall so I could pretend I was cycling somewhere exciting. Smug-guts is in the kitchen making bacon sandwiches. Every time. Every single time I try to lose weight he finds an insatiable urge for bacon, belly-pork, roast duck… How can you eat salad in the face of that?

Day three: 3rd January 7pm

It’s really not the same after a day at work. I can pretend I’m slamming down on the emails with each pedal, but doesn’t really work. It’s dark too. The big battery operated lantern doesn’t really fill the corners. Spiders are sniggering I expect. I got on the scales this morning. I hadn’t lost any weight. Still, my hair was wet. It’s amazing how heavy wet hair is.

Day four: Look it was a bad day at the office OK?

Day five: 4th January 7pm

Those spiders have brought their mates in to snigger, I swear. Mind you it’s hot in here this evening. Next door had too much paper and cardboard after Christmas and the recycling van wouldn’t take it. He’s too lazy to take it to the dump and he’s made a bonfire on the other side of the fence. Isn’t there a law about when you’re allowed to light bonfires? Is it before or after 7pm? Something about washing on the line. There certainly ought to be a law about lighting them near a fence in a small garden next to another small garden with a shed in it. The smoke is getting to me and it’s boring out here anyway. I’m going in to see how my son is getting on with that video.

Well that’s an evening we’re never going to forget. It was a nice shed. I wonder if the insurance will pay out for the melted exercise bike too. I could buy a nice new outfit with that money. The firefighters were nice though. Good to see a man in action. Men. Admittedly they were more interesting in flirting with my daughter than me but then she’d made them all a cuppa once the fire was out.

Walking back to the house I pick up a scrap of scorched paper from the grass. It has a picture of a woman on it. The kind you can cuddle. Above her are the words:

Be more positive.
Be more patient.
Have faith
Laugh more.
Stop biting nails.

Beneath, written in teenage scrawl: “Believe in yourself. You are awesome! XXX”

I take a glass of wine from beloved and smile. I think I can succeed with those resolutions.

Well, maybe except the one about biting nails.


Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission