Wednesday 31 October 2012

The Clock Strikes Two

Today I'm joining 'imaginary garden with real toads' to respond to Ella's prompt to write something for this special time of the year.

The Clock Strikes Two

The sails billowed in a fair breeze as they rounded the headland. It was a perfect late October day. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, the sea reflecting it in a thousand sparkling pinpoints. Will, the experienced sailor, knew the coastline well but had never moored in the secluded bay they were approaching. He suggested dropping anchor and rowing ashore to the pub he had spotted through his binoculars. Sarah, a newcomer to sailing, needed to feel firm ground beneath her feet again and so she agreed.

They secured the anchor and clambered down into the dinghy rocking on the waves. The wind had dropped and Will rowed in perfect rhythm as Sarah watched. Not conventionally handsome, Will was a pleasant-looking man in an open, boyish way. He would be glad when he was older that people mistook him for younger than his years.
As they reached the shore Sarah tried to shake off her growing feeling of unease. Will noticed. ’What’s the matter?’

‘I’m probably tired,’ she said. ‘I’ll feel better when we’ve eaten.’

Will jumped out of the boat at the water’s edge and hauled it up onto the beach alongside some fishing smacks. He held out his hand to steady Sarah and she stepped onto the pebbles. The sun was not shining as brightly here and a chill wind had sprung up. Sarah shivered and Will put his arm around her and pulled her to his side. Somewhere a church bell struck the hour.

‘Someone needs to put that clock right,’ said Will. ‘It’s gone two o’clock.’

The pub was in the middle of a row of cottages, where fishing nets hung over stone walls. A church spire rose behind, a blue clock face barely discernible. She looked back at their yacht bobbing on the blue sea, where the sun still blazed down, and longed to be back on deck, away from this place. Will hugged her and together they entered the pub. The interior was dimly lit and smelt of decades of spilt beer and sour bodies. A log fire smouldered sulkily in the hearth. The few customers glanced up unsmiling as they walked in, then looked away.

The innkeeper told them the pub didn’t serve meals so they bought some crisps and went to sit in a corner with their drinks. They spoke quietly to each other, conscious that no-one else was talking.

‘I feel as if we’re being watched,’ Sarah said.

‘I’m sure we’re not but it’s not very friendly here, I agree.’

They finished their drinks and left, anxious to return to the familiarity of their small craft. Sarah looked back at the pub. ‘Look,’ she said. ‘There are no lights in the windows and there’s no smoke from the chimney.’

Will laughed. ‘The fire wasn’t burning strongly enough to produce smoke,’ he said, but his words lacked conviction.

He rowed quickly back to their boat. Once there he suggested lifting the anchor and sailing to another bay, one he knew well, so they could shorten the next day’s sail. Sarah was relieved and set to, hauling on the sheets to raise the sails.

As the sails took the wind and the boat began to move the church clock struck two again.
The rest of their voyage was unremarkable. Meeting friends in a restaurant a few days later, Sarah and Will mentioned the strange atmosphere of the bay and the unfriendliness of the locals in the pub. One of their friends, a local man, looked quizzical and asked for further details. Will drew a map on a napkin.

Their friend blew out his cheeks. ‘You say you anchored in the bay and went into the pub?’

Will and Sarah nodded.

‘You’re sure it was that bay?’

They nodded again.

‘I’m sorry, you must be mistaken. One night, about a hundred years ago, there was a terrible storm and the land just fell away into the sea. It had been eroding for many years. The villagers were warned it was unsafe but refused to leave. They made their living from the sea. Where else could they go? What else could they do?’

‘How dreadful,’ said Sarah and shuddered. ‘What happened to them?’

‘They all drowned,’ said their friend. ‘Like most seafaring folk at that time they couldn’t swim. In any case, they were asleep when it happened so they had no chance of escaping.’

‘What time did it happen?’ Will asked.

‘Two o’clock in the morning. It was pitch black, no moon. They didn’t stand a chance.’

‘Was there a church in the village?’ Sarah asked.

‘Yes, and that fell into the sea, too.’

‘But we saw it all – the church, the cottages, the fishing boats, the pub,’ said Sarah. ‘We even heard the clock strike two – the wrong time, twice.’

‘You were lucky,’ he said and his grave expression underscored his words. ‘If you had heard the clock three times you would not have lived to tell the tale. There are stories galore of people and boats going missing in that area.’

Will looked sceptical.

‘Oh, not all year round,’ their friend said. ‘Just on October 31st, the date it happened.’

Monday 29 October 2012

Mag 141 In this moment

Thanks to Tess Kincaid who organises and hosts this meme. To read different responses to the prompt please click here.

I don’t feel the rain when I’m in your arms,
Just your mouth on mine, spicy and warm -
Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me again.

I see no-one else when we’re together,
Just smiling eyes, beautiful mouth -
Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me again.

I lean into you, you hold me closer,
Just us in this moment, ignore the world -
Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me again.

Factory Farming - an obscenity

Be a voice for animals at

Wednesday 24 October 2012



I was reading Rachel’s post on blogging in Slow Lane Life and it struck me that although I enjoy blogging I don’t write as many posts as I used to. My life has not changed substantially so what am I doing instead? Have other things taken its place or is it just a phase I’m going through? (Why should children be the only people to have ‘phases’?)

I could lie and say I have been redecorating – but no, I leave that to the dogs. I have some embroidery to finish – and more to start. I have shallots to pickle – or will have when they’re delivered tomorrow, that is if Tesco hasn’t run out and tried to substitute them with onion-flavoured crisps. (Some of their substitutions defy belief.)

I ought to pick the crab apples that haven’t already dropped and make crab apple jelly but the garden is a quagmire. It’s time to make some more marmalade, too – and piccalilli and pickled red cabbage.

There again, I should declutter the house, starting with the spare bedrooms, but the thought fills me with . . . exhaustion.

My excuse is that I am writing. One book is being prepared for Kindle publication and I am editing another. It’s a feeble excuse, really, because I don’t spend disciplined – or even undisciplined – hours feverishly tapping out literary fluff. No, I read emails, do some online shopping, catch up on television programmes that take my fancy, replenish the bird feeders, watch the birds, laugh at the dogs, take them for walks, nurse Winston and attempt to clip his claws – oh, and there are the usual household chores, and meals to prepare and eat – it’s a busy life and no mistakeJ Add to that weekend visits from sundry, and sometimes all, family members – and their dogs -  and I can’t think how I have time to do anything;-)

Anyway, the following is an extract from the book I’m editing. (It's called 'Good Fences Make Good Neighbours') To set the scene, Sandra’s son David has just lost his hamster to one of Pat and Larry’s cats and a funeral has been arranged.

At the simple ceremony the following day Beatrice and Damon Yardley joined the chief mourners. The Minter children had wanted to come too, but the girls stayed at school for activities and prep and were never home before seven. Alexander didn’t want to go without them.
Sandra was touched to note that Pat and Larry had changed from their usual scruffy sweatshirts into clean shirts and ties. David carefully placed a cross made from lolly sticks under the mahonia japonica he had chosen at the garden centre. He was quite specific about what he wanted; it was to be evergreen with scented flowers and should not grow too tall too quickly. He chose the site in a sunny corner of the garden, ‘So that Honey won’t get cold.’

Sandra remembered burying beloved pets in her childhood garden. When it came to the point of covering the stiff bodies with damp earth she always felt a pang they would never feel the sun again. Even as a teenager, she couldn’t rid herself of the irrational thought that it was wrong to shut out the light. She had always wanted to tuck a warm blanket round the cold body. She took her son’s hand now and led him into the kitchen. Everyone sat down at the circular table at the dining end of the room and tucked into the sausage rolls and quiches and vol-au-vents and pizzas Sandra had cooked earlier.

As the children were finishing their ice-cream, Pat and Larry slipped out of the room. When they came back, Pat was carrying a soft cat bed and Larry had two pottery bowls in his hands.

‘Where would you like this, Sandra?’ Pat asked.

‘I think you’d better ask David,’ she smiled.

‘Well, David?’ said Larry.

‘Is that mine?’ said David in a hoarse voice. ‘Are we going to have a cat, Mummy?’

‘Look in the cat bed,’ said the men.

David got down from his chair and went slowly to look. Peeping out at him was a shiny brown Burmese with large chartreuse eyes.

‘It’s Nutmeg,’ he said. ‘What’s she doing here?’

‘She’s come to live with you, David. We’ve been looking for a good home for her and she likes you.’

David shook his head wonderingly and was quite speechless. Sandra felt tears pricking her eyes and chided herself for foolishness. Quickly she pointed her camera at her son and captured his joyous expression.

‘Oh, thank you, thank you,’ David managed at last. ‘Please may I hold her?’

‘Of course you may – Nutmeg’s yours now and you can hold her whenever you like. She’ll never tire of having a fuss made of her.

Monday 22 October 2012

How many of us feel like this?

Home improvements

 Gus, Bertie and Jenna waiting to retrieve.
Frodo hoping to retrieve biscuits.

Dogs listen and understand more than their humans realise. This was splendidly demonstrated early last week when we had to go out for a few hours.

 For several years we have been discussing refurbishing our staircase. We considered removing the entire staircase but then settled on replacing the metal bars that remind us of our proximity to Broadmoor, the well-known high security psychiatric hospital.
We have pored over banisters and spindles, newel posts and caps, hand rails and fittings, imagining how lovely they will look and what an improvement they will make.

The late, great Dominie Dalmatian was the first dog to start helping us with our home improvements.  When she wasn’t chewing Cariadd’s collar she nibbled the bottom stair. She was a gentle girl, not given to drawing attention to herself, and always anxious to please so her efforts were minor, barely noticeable.

 Buddy Liver Spots was the next Dalmatian to attempt home improvement. His efforts were more conspicuous than Dominie’s but the stair carpet remained untouched. Frodo the Faller, the last of the Dalmatians (thus far) has never been interested in d-i-y, his energies and efforts being concentrated on truly edible items, though he did ingest one of the brass fittings from the cooker hob – only to be expected as it probably held the hint of a ghost of a trace of a smell of food.

Jenna Labrador attempted a little carpentry in her youth, but it was her younger brother Gus who showed prowess and a sense of design. By the time he had grown out of puppyhood the carpet was frayed but still intact on the notched bottom stair tread. Then Bertie Labrador, our golden boy, joined the family. He has demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for interior design and is fully au fait with our plans. Thus, when we returned home last Tuesday, we were greeted by Gus and Bertie, ecstatic to show what they had achieved in our absence. (Jenna and Frodo were in another part of the house and so had no part in the proceedings.)
I have no doubt Bertie was the instigator as he has shown much more interest in completing the job. Indeed, the next day I discovered him removing the last piece of underlay – what a helpful boy! He has the soul of an artist and when not engaged in adapting parts of the house, he likes to whittle, removing kindling from the log basket to shape into small sculptures. To the untutored eye these diminutive masterpieces resemble match sticks. 

Deprived of wood he takes lumps of coal and spreads them across the floor in pleasing patterns. We expect him to exhibit at the Tate Modern one day. A display of Bertie’s coals would take far less room than ‘The Bricks.’

Monday 15 October 2012

Mag 139 A night to remember

Thanks to Tess Kincaid who organises and hosts this meme. To read different responses to the prompt please click here.

Midnight Snack, 1984, by Curtis Wilson Cost

I don’t know whether it was a dream or a noise outside that disturbed my sleep but I was instantly alert, my body tense, my eyes straining in the velvet black, my heart pounding in my ears. The little noises that are swallowed up in the daily round were insistent and sinister in the small hours of the night. As I identified each one – the settling of the floor boards, the creaking of the wooden walls, the scuttling of small creatures in the roof, I convinced myself there was nothing to fear and tried to relax.

The shack was a simple construction – no electricity, no plumbing – but I had bought it a few months before as a summer retreat. On a sunny day it was no hardship to fetch water from the well and heat it on the paraffin stove. It was a different matter when rain pelted from a slate sky and a sharp wind cut through my clothes. I should not have cared to spend the colder days of the year in my rustic accommodation but living in it for a short period made me appreciate the modern conveniences of my city apartment.

There was just one thing I could never quite grow accustomed to but it played a minor role in my rural retreat and I planned my days with care to deal with it. I had grown honeysuckle around and over the privy, both to make it more attractive and to mask the smell. I didn’t care to visit it in the dark, especially on a stormy night, but sometimes I had to. That night, having been startled awake, was one such occasion. I lit oil lamps and candles in the house as a beacon in the darkness for my return. It was a warm, moonless night, with bright pinpricks of starlight in the enormity of space. I looked up and shivered, though not from cold. There was a strange atmosphere in the clearing, as if eyes were watching me. In the distance a dog barked and was answered by another. Not for the first time I wished I had a dog but it wasn’t practical in the city and certainly not fair as I worked long hours. Perhaps I should start a dog hire company – bit hard on the dogs, though, having to adapt to different ‘owners’ all the time. The idea entertained me and kept my mind off the conviction that I was not alone.

Returning to the shack I was shocked to see that my beacon had disappeared.  I could understand one or two candles guttering out but the lamp flames were protected by glass shades. How could they have been extinguished?

A silent-winged owl soared over my head making me gasp and clutch my dressing gown around me. I felt a touch on my shoulder and looked round but saw nothing. I hurried along the path and something grabbed at my ankles and tugged at my hair. I shook myself free and stumbled on. I reached the door and lifted the latch. Inside I felt for the emergency candles on the window sill. My hands were trembling and I dropped several matches. When I had lit the candles and lamps and chased away the darkness I looked around. Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed. I sensed a tangible presence and noticed a circle of flower petals on the floor. I had not brought any flowers into the house.

I spent the rest of the night in my rocking chair, every available candle alight. As night faded and dawn approached I needed fresh air and walked to the well. All around I heard faint rustlings and whisperings and caught half-glimpses of creatures slipping into the woods. Around the well were more flower petals.

I sold the property soon after, my sense of peace having been shattered.

Years later I was talking to a friend about that night.

‘What time of year was it?’ he asked.

‘Summer, midsummer,’ I said.

‘And there was a well on your property?’ he said.


‘It was the fairies,’ he said.

I laughed.

‘I’m serious,’ he said. ‘Midsummer’s Night is a magical time. I’d say your well was an ancient holy well. You didn’t observe the rituals and the fairies were angry with you.’

          I shook my head.

‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’ he smiled.

Maybe he was right.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Simon's Cat

Simon’s Cat is a cat cut from a different pattern . . .

Henri le Chat

Henri le Chat is a beautiful black and white cat of somewhat sombre temperament who is becoming a YouTube phenomenon. His life is a series of existential crises.

‘Paw de Deux’ is the second film he has narrated and there are subtitles for those who do not speak Henri’s brand of French.