Shay Hughes: The Day I Got My Big Break

I still remember the incident clear as day…

I was only 6 at the time, and I was eagerly waiting for the bell to ring so I could go outside and run about. The clock struck 12 and the bell rang through the empty halls, causing children to start pouring out of the classrooms. I shot up out my chair, grabbed my packed lunch and pushed open the classroom door. The noise was overwhelming. I gradually pushed my way through the enormous crowd of people as I looked for my friends, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Eventually we all found each other and walked outside. Instantly the blistering hot rays of Texas weather shone off my sunscreen glazed neck. I loved the heat. The air conditioning in my classroom was malfunctioning, so it was always freezing. We leisurely strolled to a seat in the shade and opened our lunches as we began to talk. We chatted for a bit as we ravenously munched down on our sandwiches and then a lively athletic boy named Pelayo asked if we would like to play tag. Of course, we were all brimming with energy after being locked in the classroom all morning and so we all jumped at the chance to run around.

After a while of running around in the heat I was exhausted and decided to stand in the shade of the climbing frame for a minute to get my breath back. While taking long, deep breaths, I glanced up and saw the chaser sprinting towards me. I frantically looked around and decided my only option for escape was the climbing frame towering above me. Panting, I hurriedly made my way over to the frame and started to clamber up the rope to the top. I looked back and my pursuer was right behind me, his outstretched hands barely missing my feet as I scrambled up to the peak. I reached the top and quickly realised I was trapped, as all the exits were blocked by the other children playing.

Panicked, I looked at the boy who was chasing me as he pulled himself up to the top of the climbing frame, stood up and started walking towards me. The only thing I could think about was not getting tug and so as I backed away, my eyes fixed on the boy as he stalked towards me, I didn’t see the railing and I slowly toppled over it.

For a moment everything slowed. It took me a second to process what was happening, as the air brushed my skin. For a fleeting second, I felt almost graceful, floating through the air. Then, my body cracked against the ground and a sharp pain jolted through my body. I tasted the blood in my mouth as a sea of faces swam above me. I felt dizzy and tried to sit up but as I did so it felt like someone had hit my arm with a hammer. I excruciatingly rolled my head to face my left arm and in horror looked upon a completely disfigured mess.

I laid there as two nurses came and cautiously lifted me and took me back into the eerily quiet school. They laid me down on a table in the medical room as one rushed to get bandages and the other rained questions I couldn’t answer down upon me. I flicked my eyes around the room at the torn wallpaper and messy floors. The nurse returned with bandages, and I howled in agony as my arm was shifted around and wrapped up. In the distance, I heard someone talking about ambulances and broken arms.

After what felt like hours of laying on the table feeling helpless, I heard sirens outside and my mum tumbled through the door, a worried expression on her face. I heard my dad talking with someone outside the door and then paramedics came in and gave me strong painkillers before uncomfortably hauling me on to a stretcher. One paramedic tried to comfort me telling me it was all going to be fine as I was loaded into the back of the waiting ambulance.

Blissfully, the medication took hold and I fell into a restless sleep as the ambulance roared through the busy streets.

I awoke in a strange room with beeping noises all around me. The air smelled unsettlingly clean and as I grudgingly opened my weary eyes, I saw people wearing doctor’s uniforms rushing in and out. I recognised that I was wearing different clothes, as I was now lying on a stiff mattress in a soft silky robe. I noticed that the salty taste of blood in my mouth was gone and as I curiously looked at my previously disfigured arm, I saw that it was strapped to a table in a big bulky cast.

Straight away, I broke out of my medicine-induced daze and started to panic and cry. A nurse bolted into the room and started to calm me down as she called someone from a phone mounted to the wall behind me. I heard her talking to someone, telling them that I was awake and that I seemed fine.

A few minutes passed, and I heard footsteps near the door and in came a doctor followed by my mum and dad, tears in their eyes. I started to shout in delight as I could not have been more overjoyed to see them. I started trying to get up, but as I did so I felt as if my arm had been stabbed with a dagger, and I let out a yelp of pain.

The doctor that had entered with my mum and dad walked over to me, crouched down and began to carefully explain to me that I had broken my arm and had to have an operation where they put pins in it. He informed me that I would have to stay at the hospital overnight. He must have seen the sadness growing in my eyes because he quickly told me it would be an exciting adventure. I perked up a bit when he told me that I would have to wear the cast for a while, but that all my friends could draw on it and sign it. I thought about how cool it would be to show my new cast to my friends and so I nervously agreed to stay.

A day and lots of X-rays and checkups later I was released from the hospital, and as I walked out I took a deep breath of fresh air and let out a sigh of relief. The following weeks at school were some of the most interesting I’ve ever had, as they were filled with classmates surrounding me, hammering me with questions and teachers pampering me. I was a celebrity.

6 years later, I am still having problems with my arm due to a rare condition I have been diagnosed with named “necrosis of the radial head”. (At the central hospital in Texas, only 8 people have been diagnosed with this condition.) This makes me severely regret not paying attention to my surroundings at the time and it constantly annoys me that all the constant pain and discomfort I feel in my arm could’ve been avoided if I hadn’t played that game of tag. This incident was my first big learning experience and since then I have become a lot warier of my surroundings and learned to take precautions, because safety is not a joke and you should always listen to warnings. However, I did get one good memory out of it all: I got to ride in an ambulance.

Arianna Connelly: Bassiano’s Monologue

Gold. Silver. And lead. Hmm, which I shall I choose? Gold, a beautiful metal, would symbolise materialistic and valuable possessions; however, a sense of greed…  Silver, despite its preciousness, it’s not as quite luxurious as gold – perhaps displaying a cautious greed… At last, lead. Lead? I wonder why lead is present within the range of these caskets. Lead portrays warning and danger; if so, I’d risk anything for my beloved Portia – in spite of the consequences. I have nothing to offer but my love for her, I don’t own anything as exquisite as gold nor silver which is why I’ve made my decision to settle with the lead casket. Portia is more than a priceless necklace or a shimmering crown. She needs someone who would risk everything for her, a brave and courageous man like me! However, I can’t stop contradicting myself. I couldn’t bear the thought of some disgustingly rich prince stealing Portia away as some type of reward or to boost his ego even more plus benefiting his wealth.

The lead casket is calling to me. I can hear the words, “Open me, open me” repetitively spiralling in my head. The words get gradually louder and louder- until I reach my hand out.

I examine the casket carefully, the chest is made from a humble metal, and within the chest, I encounter a picture as well as a poem of Portia. I glance at the poem, scanning every cursive word. And just in that moment, I realise that I have opened the correct one! I’m still in disbelief that I have obtained the fairest woman within the land. Oh, my sweet Portia! Even the moment I laid my eyes on her I was captivated by her enchantress; her long, luscious hair as it glistened in the sun and her angelic ocean eyes hypnotising me into an extraordinary spell.

Nonetheless, the lead casket recognises Portia as herself. Portia won’t remain young and beautiful forever. Eventually she’ll grow to be old and plain – despite it, her inner beauty will last for eternity, furthermore my unconditional love.

*  *  *

Finally, the day arrived when I married my true love. I felt superior as numerous amounts of maids were either polishing my shoes, delicately washing my suit or fixing my hair with many applications of gel. I already felt one step closer to being a king. I was escorted to my bedroom, the maids insisted of cleaning my room before my arrival. As I entered the room I was continuously gazing at the magnificent golden decorations throughout the room, appreciating every amount of detail. Most importantly a gigantic bed full of soft clouds – it was very tempting to lay amongst it, however I managed to resist the urge. I was startled by the loud knock from the door; it was Portia’s lady in waiting, Nerissa? I’m positive that was her name. She led me to the church, to end up discovering that the whole nation was invited! A wave of terror washed over me. My heart was pounding. Palms sweaty. Knees trembling. Nevertheless, I managed to relax myself – breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Slowly, step-by-step, I made my way towards the altar, patiently waiting for Portia. As the doors slowly opened, an elegant melody began playing – and as they widened, Portia finally appeared. As she walked along the aisle the church began to brighten in her presence. She was breathtaking, radiant, glamorous – no possible words could describe how perfect she looked. I held her hand tightly, with a beaming smile upon my face. I looked deeply into her eyes and said…

“I do…”

Orla Keenan: What Happened Next?

Lieutenant Kotler made his way into the trench, allowing his legs to collapse beneath him. The distant sounds of weapons being fired were slowly merging with a ringing noise that was growing louder by the minute. He had been here for so long that he was losing sight of who he was before. He could remember snippets, of a Bruno? or maybe a Gretel? He shook his head; he was being silly.

He slumped against the hard trench wall, knocking blades of grass over the edge of the trench as he slid down onto the floor. He found a ragged blanket to shield his clothes from the dirty floor. The ringing was becoming deafening. He looked up into the grey sky and pondered… where did he desperately want to be? He wanted to be back at the manor, being ordered around but warm and full. What did he want the most? To see his father again, he

He awoke with a gasp as rain hurled down on him. The trench floor had become somewhat of a mud bath and the mud was seeping through the rag. Though… something was missing… something he’d been listening to for what felt like years. The noises had stopped. It was eerily quiet. He reached out for a stray weed hanging out of the wall and used it to pull himself up. He peered above the wall. Just as he thought. No guns were being fired.

He slow rose out of the trench, stumbling over the loose dirt on the edge. His head pounded, his eyes couldn’t focus and it was just so hard to walk.

He reached the barbed wire, hesitating to look around. His hands automatically latched around the wire, he hissed through gritted teeth as he quickly pulled them back as the spikes dug into his skin. A mist hung over no-man’s land, helping the droplets of rain to blind him further. He clambered over the barbed wire, lodging a sliver of wood into his palm, but that didn’t matter. He was going to get into the Allies’ trench and stop the war and –

Thud.  

Liam Kearney: My Journey Through Poetry

I love poetry. I love writing poetry, reciting poetry and listening to poetry. It is like a language of its own. It can capture the most heart-felt emotions, or extraordinary experiences in the finest of details and in the fewest of words, whilst implanting a vision of beauty in the reader’s mind.  At times, the language used may seem incomprehensible, but if conveyed with passion and emotion, it becomes easier for the reader to understand the sentiment of the poem, and so becomes more understandable. Many people who recite or write poetry have a story to tell about how their passion for poetry was first ignited, and how it developed, and so do I.

Four years ago, I was sitting in class reading a book, when suddenly, our poetry and drama teacher burst through the door. With a voice as loud as a foghorn, she announced that “there would be a grand poetry recital competition”. Back then, I was not nearly as confident and as valiant as I am today, and whilst admittedly I thought it sounded rather intriguing, I was ambivalent about whether I should take part or not. However, the choice wasn’t made by me, but rather the drama teacher who automatically nominated me for the competition! Now, I was thinking ‘Say no, just say no and you’ll be fine!’ but for some reason unknown to me, I heard myself say “Yes, I’ll do it.” All the while thinking ‘WHY DID I SAY THAT?!’ In the days that followed I was still bewildered at agreeing to this and assumed it would something I would regret, perhaps for the rest of my life. I thought all my friends would laugh and tease me and consider this an absurd interest as they were all keen on sports, and if it turned out I wasn’t good at reading poetry, I was fearful this would make me look foolish, and that perhaps I would disappoint my family and teacher if I didn’t win the competition. I also feared it may impact my confidence for the future and put me off attempting similar events. However, contrary to those fears, it actually turned out to be something that would change my life, for the better.

Later that day, I received the first piece of poetry I would recite to an audience. It would also be the first piece of poetry that I recited in my life. So when I took a glance at it for the first time, my mouth slightly dropped. All these words in Scots Tongue didn’t look like words to me. It just seemed like a jumble of letters.  Looking at the lines made me sweat with panic. ‘How am I supposed to learn this?’ I thought to myself, with pounding heart.

It was a Robert Burns poem called ‘To a Louse’. And whilst it was only an extract that was 4 verses long, it still was enough to confuse me. A lot. It took me a whole week to learn this extract which was around 30 lines long.   I have since learned poems much longer than this and in far shorter time frames, which reflects how tricky I found it, but also that learning poetry, like so many other things, is a skill that improves with practice.

The competition itself wasn’t very difficult, and not as daunting as first thought.  I recited my poem, following this the adjudicator gave some constructive criticism. I really thought it would be extremely tough, like one of those situations that makes your heart race and your palms sweaty, and has moments of extreme tension throughout, but this was not the case.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t win. So you would think, ‘He tried, and he didn’t succeed. That must be really demotivating. This must be the end of his poetry career.’

Well, you would be wrong.

You see, I am the kind of person that is persistent. I try and try until I succeed. Later in the year, my school held a poetry competition which I entered, coming first place for the class round and securing a place in the finals. I was very presumptuous and designated a spot on my fireplace for my tremendous trophy. However, after hearing some of the other performers, I began to have second thoughts about whether I would win the competition or not.The standard was so high it would have been difficult for the judges to select a winner. So when I performed my poem, and the winners were getting announced, I could almost hear my heart beating, and felt it pound inside my chest. I felt like the room was becoming hotter than a sauna. Then when they announced each place and it wasn’t my name being called, I became slightly apprehensive. As first place was called and I heard “Liam Kearney!” I was both ecstatic and shocked, as it really could have gone either way as the standard was so high.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I saw the whole audience clapping and staring at me as I went up and collected my trophy. All the while I was thinking that perhaps I had been right to be egotistical and have faith in myself; after all as it seemed to have paid off. I felt accomplished, ecstatic, but most importantly, I felt extremely proud of myself.

Recital, of course, isn’t simply about reading words off a page, and I have a strategy that helps the learning and delivery of my poems: First, I learn the words, then I learn the hand gestures and actions that I want to incorporate into my delivery, and finally, I project the tone of my voice to suit the emotion I am trying to convey: In learning the poem I have to understand what it is about so I can deliver it well and this helps my audience understand the poem better. By engaging in poetry competitions it has given me various different opportunities to recite at other events, the most recent being the Linlithgow Folk Festival, an annual event I performed at last week. I was invited to perform two recitals and a song. However, the most enjoyable piece was most definitely the song. It was called the ‘Glesga Budgie’, and it was about a colossal Glasgow budgie. The best part about it was….my aunt was dressed up as the budgie! Everyone in the audience had a good laugh! Even I found myself laughing!

Poetry has changed my life for the better. From starting out as a timid young boy who was nervous to volunteer and participate in competitions, to become what I now believe, a confident individual who thrives in his deliverance of poetry and who now tries to participate in competitions wherever and whenever possible. Poetry has taken me to many different places; I have spoken at many different events, have addressed the Haggis on numerous occasions at different Burns’ nights, and it has made my life more enjoyable. It has also allowed me to meet new people, and participate in events, such as the Robert Burns Summer School hosted at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is a truly great event.

Reciting poetry isn’t for everyone, of course; if you have stage fright, and there is a huge audience awaiting an amazing performance, you can be afraid. I have seen this a few times, where the performers see the crowd, and their cheeks go as pink as cherries, but practise makes perfect. I have practised reciting poetry a lot and I never get afraid; nervous is not a word in my dictionary.

I love poetry, and I believe that everyone should too. Famous poets have even inspired me to write my own poems. I believe that poetry will help me with my English literature skills, and give me a greater chance of improving my performing arts.  It also helps me with my writing skills.

You never know, I might even become the next great poet!

Eva Black: The Village Idiot

Dear Diary,

Wow… just wow. I had the WORST day ever today. After strain and excruciating pain, I eventually put together my speech for Bothwell’s annual, local village politician elections. I even put great, big, smart words in it, like boondoggle, idiosyncratic and narcissist… don’t laugh! They are real words, it even said so on the website www.100wordstomakeidiotssoundsmart.com! But these young, modernised, stupid millennials don’t understand these words like I do! They can hardly say them, never mind know what they mean. For example, they don’t know that spectacular means very, very bad, or that insidious means extremely happy, or even that tedious means really good! Who doesn’t know that?! Anyway, I’ll tell you all about my spectacular day…

I woke up at ten o’clock sharp, to the sound of my Thomas the Tank Engine alarm clock. I got out of my bed and put on my clothes; my bright red tank top, my sunny yellow trousers, my lucky, green socks and my matching green shoes. I strolled down to my kitchen, where my wife was making my breakfast. She looked at me, her face full of love and compassion and said, ‘Oh, it’s you… Are you sure you want to be the local politician? I mean, it is a very important job and you might not be able to cope with all of the responsibility and pressure.’ I laughed; this woman knows nothing. ‘I did not take one… I mean nine years of online university to back out of a huge election like this!’ I said. She sighed and looked at the floor. ‘Of course darling, I didn’t mean to offend you… now sit down, I’ve made you some breakfast.’ What a silly woman. ‘Lauren, you know that I cannot eat a big breakfast today! I have to go to the town hall to prepare my speech and election campaigns,’ I explained. ‘Now goodbye,’ I continued, walking out the door. ‘Make sure to vote for me, Neil Black at today’s elections.’

When I got outside, I breathed in the cold, crisp, new spring air. ‘Today,’ I thought, ‘is the day, in which I will become the greatest village politician of all time.’ I chanted my motto three times in my head – ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again.’ – then walked down my driveway, opened my gate and strolled down my street, towards the town hall. Momentarily, I saw Mrs Moon, my neighbour sauntering towards me, with her small, white dog Coco. As I passed her I called, ‘Hope you’re feeling insidious today, Mrs Moon! Make sure to vote for me at the elections!’ She stared at me rudely and shook her head, which I thought was rather odd, but Mrs Moon’s always acting out-of-the-ordinary, so I walked on.

Soon I was at the town hall. I lifted my head and looked at the clock face smiling down upon me. I stalked into the town hall, and was greeted by my faithful assistant Bobby Jones. ‘Hello, Mr Black,’ he said. ‘Nervous about today’s elections?’ I rolled my eyes in disappointment. ‘Bobby, have you listened to anything I said in the past? Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failing is inevitable, as I like to say.’ I replied, full of wisdom. ‘But Mr Black,’ Bobby started, ‘it was Coco Chanel that said that…’ ‘Quiet Bobby,’ I commanded, haughtily.

After practicing my tedious speech three times, the election hustings was about to begin. I chanted my motto three times again in my head: ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again!’ Suddenly, I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. Bobby was standing, trembling with fear, pointing at something. I turned to see what he was pointing at: my arch nemesis, Tom Humphrey. Oh, how spectacular he was! Oh, how I wanted to beat him in the election! He smirked at me, showing me his perfect, pearly white, gleaming teeth. I felt an urge to punch him square in the face, but decided against it as he would probably get very, very hurt. So I smiled, through gritted teeth.

I felt another sharp tap on my shoulder. I turned around to face the most beautiful woman I had even seen. Her bouncy blonde hair danced like… dancers, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled like… sparkles and her smile gave me buttercups. ‘It’s your turn to go on stage now; good luck!’ she breathed. Gosh, even her voice was perfect! ‘Thank you,’ I said, sheepishly, blowing her a kiss then turning away and making my way onto the stage.

I sashayed onto the stage, blowing the audience kisses. I strutted towards the microphone and grabbed hold of the sides of the podium. ‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, old people and young people, fat people and thin people and tall people and short people. Why am I here today, you may be asking yourselves? That is a very good question,’ I started, looking around the audience for approval, although everyone looked confused. ‘Well, the question you should be asking yourselves is, why are you here today? Is it because you like going to elections or is it that you like hearing beautiful, amazing, talented people like me speak? Some of you may be sitting thinking, ‘wow, this man is a narcissist,’ but I cannot help being beautiful.’ I looked up and scanned the audience again, to see if they were intently listening to my speech. To see if they laughed at the joke I made. No-one was laughing, or even smiling for that matter. ‘Anyway, these are my policies…’ Then, I was rudely cut off.

‘You’re not the prime minister!’ someone at the back shouted. I raised my hand for silence and cleared my throat. ‘Here are my policies,’ I repeated. ‘Firstly, I want to build a wall.’ The hall went silent. ‘I want to build a wall, to separate us from Uddingston. For too long, they have brought their Uddingston-born dogs into out village! For too long, they have used our local Marks and Spencer’s! For too long, they have made boondoggles out of us! For too long, they have walked on our pavements, used our schools and have played in our play grounds. I say NO to Uddingston.’

Suddenly a couple of boos had turned into hundreds of boos, and soon the whole town hall was booing: even the beautiful blonde woman, even my wife, even Bobby! I nearly started crying there and then, but I didn’t. Instead, I raised my hand for silence again. ‘Secondly, I believe that people in this village should shower only once a week, to lower this villages water bills.’ Once again, the hall was silent. ‘Showering is not necessary. One time I went three weeks without showering and – ’ ‘Again I was cut off by the same person, shouting, ‘I vote No to Neil Black’ at the back of the hall. ‘Someone needs to take that idiosyncratic man away now,’ I demanded. Abruptly, the whole town hall erupted in booing, like a big, torrential wave crashing over me. I stood for a moment, not knowing what to do, then said, ‘Thank you for listening, and remember. My aim is to make Bothwell great again!’ I walked off the stage, and stood backstage, not saying a word.

Tom Humphrey strutted past me, onto the stage and gave this speech about charity and helping people less fortunate than ourselves… BORING! I was sure that I was going to win after that. Then people started voting. After around ten minutes, the votes were all in and counted and the winner was ready to be announced. I stood confidently, smiling out at the crowd.

‘The results are in,’ said the tall, skinny man at the podium. ‘And Bothwell’s new local councillor is… Tom Humphrey!’ I choked on the air. Spluttering, I ran up to the mean, tall announcer, pushed him and said, ‘I demand a recount!’ Security guards sprinted up and, taking me by the wrists, dragged me out of town hall.

Now, I don’t know what to do. I just feel… broken. But hang on. My story doesn’t end here! I can just move to Hamilton and be their local politician!

Your Sincerity,

Neil Black.