Softie – FFfAW

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks that we write a piece of fiction from the given photo prompt in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.

Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Louise at thestorytellersabode:

photo-20160821095532483

And this is my story:

Softie

Twelve-year-old Charlie braced himself against the biting, February wind, scouring the beach as he walked. Dad would wallop him if he didn’t find any coal washed up on the morning’s tide. Mum needed whatever he fetched to supplement the spindly sticks they collected.

The shiny object suddenly caught Charlie’s eye, just nestling amongst the colourful pebbles.

‘You’ve found it!’ a girlish voice squealed as he picked it up. ‘Mum was heartbroken when she lost it yesterday. She’s had it for twenty years. See, the date she got it’s on the back: nineteen fourteen. And you found it…’

Charlie scrutinised the expensive-looking watch. Dad’d be pleased to have it to sell – but furious if he learnt Charlie’d just given it away.

‘Finders keepers,’ he retorted. ‘That makes it mine!’

The girl’s tears flowed and he thrust her the watch. Dad had always called him ‘Softie’…

Eighty-two-year-old Alice laid the flowers on Charlie’s grave, fingering her mother’s watch. Memories of the day she’d met her Softie were never too far away, and she’d meet him again, very soon.

*

Word Count: 176

If you’d like to read other entries, or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

My story about collecting lumps of coal on the beach may seem far-fetched to many people, but that’s just what many poor families had to do in earlier times. I was basing the story on my dad’s early life in the seaside town of Southport in Lancashire (a very sandy beach, with sand dunes – and not the pebbly beach in Louise’s photo, which I’ll leave her to talk about). He was born in 1922, and times were hard.

The coal would mostly have been carried down in the rivers from the Lancashire coalfield and out into the Irish Sea. The incoming tide would then wash some of it up onto the beach – where poor families made good use of it.

How Charlie and Alice met in this story was not how my mum and dad (Millie and Thomas) met. At the time when my dad was collecting coal on the beach, my mum was happily growing up eighteen miles away, in Liverpool – until the heavy bombing of that city during WW2 took her to Southport. My home town.

*****

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

The Bumpy Road to ‘A Dash of Flash’

A Dash of Flash Banner 0806 2It seems ages since I was active on my blog, but I’m now looking forward to having a little more time for writing and reading posts. It’s been a funny year for me so far, though I know the problems are all of my own making. We’ve been away a lot for a start, and I’ve been writing two books at the same time – probably not the best idea I’ve ever had. I should have finished off the third book of my trilogy before taking on anything new.

But at last my flash fiction book is finished, edited and published on Amazon. Happy me! (This nice, happy-looking young lady is evidently not me – the picture just shows how I feel.:) )

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I thought that having so many stories already on my blog, the book would take little time to do. WRONG. I soon realised I also needed new/unread stories in the book, so I started to write some.  I also decided to make the book a decent length – at least novella size* – so I ended up writing quite a lot of new stories. A good half dozen are almost  1,000 words (the generally accepted upper word limit for ‘flash’.) Several are over 500, and some of the stories from my blog have either been tweaked a little and/or lengthened. The book finally ended up at almost 23,000 words. (*Novellas are usually between 18,000 to 30,000 words.

The editing of A Dash of Flash was finished over seven weeks ago, but the person I initially sent the book to for formatting and converting to epub and mobi files kept me waiting for weeks. And even then it wasn’t done properly! Eventually I was sent a word document (supposedly formatted) with assurances that most of his clients used word documents to upload onto Amazon. Having only uploaded mobi files for my Viking books, I was sceptical, but accepted this ‘professional’s’ advice.

A Dash of Flash (Small)

I uploaded this file onto Amazon at 9 pm last Saturday. It looked good on the previewer, so I was happy. It generally takes anything up to 12 hours before books go ‘live’ and I’d thought that by morning I’d be able to check the book by downloading my own copy and if anything was wrong with it, I could quickly unpublish…

Imagine how I felt when I saw that indents were all over the place for a start. To make matters worse, the book had come live on Amazon before midnight (UK time) and someone on the .com site had already bought a copy!

I was mortified!

Confused (from Pixabay)

Naturally I immediately unpublished. If the person unlucky enough to have got that dodgy copy is reading this, please email me and I’ll send you a mobi or epub file of the properly formatted version – with my sincere apologies.

I immediately sent the book to the person who’d formatted my other two books, and kicked myself for going elsewhere this time. Alan Cooper has made an excellent job of formatting and converting all three of my books now, and he’ll certainly be doing the next one.

If anyone would like to read A Dash of Flash, it’s available on Amazon USAmazon UK and Amazon AU. It is on KDP Select, but I haven’t got around to ordering my first 5 free days just yet.

Needless to say, I’d love to know what people think, and honest reviews would be more than gratefully received. Publishing a book of ‘flash’ is new territory for me – although many of the stories have historical settings.

This is how all authors feel about receiving reviews:

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*****

Posted in Book Promotion, Writing | Tagged , , | 46 Comments

Sudbury Hall and the Museum of Childhood

Rear of Sudbury Hall 2

Last Sunday we headed off to visit the stately home of Sudbury Hall in the neighbouring county of Derbyshire. Along with us was our elder daughter, Nicola. Sudbury is located close to Ashbourne on the southern edge of the Peak District National Park. We had quite a clear run (meaning no traffic hold-ups) and it took us about an hour and twenty minutes to get there.

We last visited Sudbury in 2003, so we thought it was about time we had a revisit. But this time it wasn’t the Hall itself we wanted to see – although we did have a quick look round – but the adjacent Museum of Childhood, which has been revamped in recent years. To be honest, we couldn’t really remember how the museum was laid out in 2003 so I can’t make comparisons, but it’s an interesting place, with exhibits (mostly toys) dating from the 18th century, but focusing mostly on Victorian times, complete with a Victorian schoolroom.

Sudbury Hall was built by George Vernon in the latter half of the 17th century. It is a redbrick building, now owned by the National Trust. Outside, formal gardens lead down to a lovely lake. These are a few pictures we took of the Hall, outside and in:

We took far too may photos inside the Museum of Childhood to show here. The exhibits were all inside glass cases, too, and the thick glass with the lights over each display made some of the photos very poor, due to the glare. The toys were all very interesting, and took the three of us down ‘Memory Lane’ for a while: with Nick and I it was the toys from the ’50s and 60s while Nicola reminisced over those from the ’70s and 80s. Many of the Victorian toys were just amusing and some of them very clever, if not particularly suitable for children. There were also gollywogs amongst the soft toys and many dolls. Gollywogs have been a controversial issue for some years now, and I’m not even sure whether they were banned. But I well remember them during my 1950s childhood.

Here’s a jumbled up collection of some of the toys:

Parts of the museum focuses on the lives of some of the poorest Victorian children, and the gruelling jobs they were forced to do to contribute to the family’s meagre earnings. These are a few of the snippets of information about three of the jobs that Victorian children would have done – chimney sweep, pit boy and household maid.

The reconstructed Victorian schoolroom was complete with desks that resembled the ones Nick and I remember from the 1950s and the handwriting on the blackboard is very similar to the style I was taught (with the teacher hovering over us all, ready to rap the knuckles of anyone who didn’t get the letters perfect!)

Lastly, this poster, which must show somewhere in the US, since Rachel Carson was an American author, took me back to my days of ‘playing out’ with my friends. We weren’t city dwellers, or so poor that I had no shoes, but the idea of groups of us running round and getting into mischief is just the same. I’ve climbed over lots of walls in my time, as well as up many trees. What fun it was! A Child's World

All in all, a lovely day out – and the weather smiled on us, too.

***

Posted in Travel and History | Tagged , , , , | 23 Comments

A Perfect Relationship

Nettles and Dock Leaves

Today has been a lovely warm, sunny day here in the UK – at least in the small part of it where I live in Nottinghamshire. While I was out on my walk this morning, I was reminded of a couple of photos I took last week. I was actually taking photos of the local cereal crops (another post I need to do!) when I spotted clumps of stinging nettles and, of course, growing alongside them were clumps of dock leaves.

As children we grow up knowing that if we get stung by a nasty old nettle, we immediately get a dock leaf and rub it on the affected area, which by now will have started coming up in horrid little lumps and not feel very nice at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stung by nettles – even fallen into a patch or two as a child. And thank goodness for the good old dock leaf!

1200px-Nettle_Sting

A large nettle sting. Ouch. Author: Wilbysuffolk. Creative Commons

Well, today I started thinking about three things: exactly why do nettles sting in the first place, why are dock leaves the perfect antidote for the sting and how come these two plants are always found growing together anyway?

Like many of us, I knew a little about this, and thought I’d look up a bit more once I got home. So here it is.

Most of us will have guessed that nettles contain some kind of chemical that seriously irritates the skin. We may also have thought that dock leaves contain another chemical which, when released as the leaf is crushed by being rubbed against the skin, will neutralise the painful sting of the nettle – an idea that is no longer accepted (as mentioned later on).

Dock Leaves

But, to gain any relief from the dock leaf, old folk lore tells us we should cite this rhyme during the rubbing process. (Personally. I don’t think this will help at all, but you’re welcome to try for yourself! Lol)

Nettle in, Dock
Dock in, Nettle out
Dock rub, Nettle out

The stinging nettle is native to Europe, Asia, northern North Africa and western North America. It has also been introduced elsewhere due to its many beneficial uses, which I won’t go into in this post. It is an herbaceous perennial, meaning that it grows back in the same areas year after year. As for why nettles sting, chemists aren’t exactly sure which chemicals are in the venom, but histamine, acetylchlorine and serotonin are present, and possibly formic acid.

Brennnessel_1

Brennnessel_1 (Species: Urtica dioica.) Creative Commons

Nettle leaves are covered in tiny needle-like hairs called trichomes. When we brush against them them, they break off and penetrate the skin, releasing a cocktail of chemicals into the base of the hair, so causing the sting:

Urtica_dioica38_ies

Urtica dioica close-up. Author: Frank Vincentz. Creative Commons

It stands to reason, then, that something containing an alkaline substance would neutralise the effect of the sting. It was previously thought that dock leaves worked for that very reason but now we know there is no scientific evidence that they work by neutralising acids. Dock leaves are not alkaline, as proven by simple Litmus tests.

Dock leaves may soothe nettle stings for a few other reasons. Firstly, simply by rubbing the dock leaf over the sting we spread the acid over a bigger area which reduces its effects. Secondly, rubbing the area releases sap from the leaf, which also produces a soothing effect. Thirdly, it is thought that actually rubbing the area causes other nerves to lessen the signals of the pain-sensing nerves, which may reduce the pain sensation further.

However, there are some species of dock leaf that don’t work, including yellow dock and red dock. This is yellow, or crispy dock:

Rumex_crispus_vallee-de-grace-amiens_80_12062007_3

A plant of the Rumex crispus showing the curled edges of the leaves. Author: Oliver Prichard. Creative Commons

Unfortunately, I can’t find any copyright-free images of red dock to show so here’s a link to Google images: Red Dock

Dock leaves have helped many generations of people to counter the effects of nettle stings, and there is little doubt that they do. But it is now thought possible that rubbing the skin with any kind of leaf will have the same effect.

In the past, dock leaves were often called Butter Dock, simply because farm-made butter was wrapped in long, broad leaves to keep it cool while it was being transported to market. In Chapter 8 of her novel, Adam Bede, published in 1859, George Eliot refers to this through the words of Mrs Poysner:

” Molly,” she said, rather languidly, “just run out and get me a bunch of dock leaves; the butter’s ready to pack now”.

As for my last question about why nettles and dock leaves always grow together, it seems to be just a coincidence. Both plants are early colonisers and will quickly move in and spread in any area of waste or neglected ground.

To finish, here’s the first few lines of a poem by William Barnes (!801-1886). Note how he makes use of that odd little rhyme I quoted above:

Dock Leaves

The dock-leaves that do spread so wide
Up yonder zunny bank’s green zide,
Do bring to mind what we did do
At plaÿ wi’ dock-leaves years agoo:
How we,–when nettles had a-stung
Our little hands, when we wer young,–
Did rub em wi’ a dock, an’ zing
“_Out nettl’, in dock. In dock, out sting._”

*

Nettle tea, just one of the many, varied uses of nettles:

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References:

Ask a Guru:  http://gurumagazine.org/askaguru/why-do-dock-leaves-cure-nettle-stings/

http://herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/dock-leaf-antidote-for-nettle-stings.html

Mail Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3112201/Why-stinging-nettles-hurt-Chemist-shows-tiny-hairs-inject-venom-produce-pain-dock-leaves-WON-T-help.html

Posted in Incidental | Tagged , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Plenty of Open Space – FFfAW

Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks that we write a piece of fiction from the given photo prompt in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. . If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.

Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Louise at thestorytellersabode:

photo-20160724072923118

And this is my story:

Plenty of Open Space

Bernie could never have enjoyed a life of affluence on what they paid him as a gardener, and he’d wanted much more in life than working on some lord’s estate. Looking back, he could see he’d set his sights too high. Tending gardens had been a peaceful job after all, and the fresh air and open space had been good for the soul.

Temptation had just got the better of him and he’d fallen in with the wrong crowd. The robbery had cost him ten years of his life, as well as the girl he’d planned to marry. He’d been on his own after that all right, with no hope of any job after his release.

‘Gov’nor wants t’ see you,’ the prison officer had said, throwing back the cell door. ‘He’s an offer for you…’

Bernie hoed round the flower beds, his memories of his years ‘inside’ fading. He was gardener at the Gov’s big house now, with a regular income and plenty of open space.

But his girl had long since gone.

*

Word Count: 175

If you’d like to read other entries, or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 47 Comments

A Pretty Village Called Dunster

Dunster Yarn Market

Dunster village in the county of Somerset is one of the prettiest villages in England, sitting on the edge of Exmoor National Park, near the seaside town of Minehead. Many of the buildings are pretty, thatched cottages, with roses growing around the front doors. It was only the first week of May when we were there, so we saw no roses, but the cottages certainly are pretty. Dunster is also one of the best preserved medieval villages, and has over 200 listed buildings.

The origins of the village date back to the Bronze and Iron Age. Approximately 1500 years before Dunster’s castle was built in the 11th century, people lived in the hills above the River Avill, which runs from the Exmoor Hills to the Bristol Channel.

There are hints of Roman occupation of the area. It is possible that the old Carhampton road is of Roman origin (or even older) and several Roman coins were found in the 19th century. Aerial photographs of the area around the castle have shown what may be a Roman fort and in 1983 a small hoard of coins was discovered in the ramparts of Bat’s Castle, an Iron Age hillfort near to the village.

Saxons invaded the area around AD700 and soon settled on the Dunster site. Although the Domesday Book names the settlement as Torre, it was probably named after a Saxon thegn (thane) named Dunn. After the coming of the Normans in 1066, William de Mohun was granted the land around Dunster by William the Conqueror and in the late 11th century, he built a fortress, which became the administrative centre of his estate.

Like so many castles, most of Dunster Castle was destroyed in the Civil War (1642-46). Left behind was a grand Jacobean mansion, which was later transformed into a Victorian country house by the Luttrell family, who have owned the castle since 1376.Dunster Castle 5

Sited up on a hill – an excellent defensive position – the castle can be seen from most parts of the village and here are a few of the photos we took of it as we walked round:

Back in the 12th century, the village was a thriving port known as Dunster Haven. The sea then retreated, leaving Dunster two miles from the coast. But the medieval wool trade continued to grow, and Dunster made the most of things by becoming the centre of a new weaving industry. By 1222, the village had a market and the first recorded fulling mill was in 1259.

After the Civil War, the wool trade continued to thrive for another 200 years. In 1609, the impressive Yarn Market was built in the middle of the village. Its purpose was to shelter traders and their wares from bad weather. It was damaged during the Civil War, but repaired in 1647:

By 1840, Dunster had many craftsmen and small businesses, all serving the local community and mostly linked, in one way or another, to the woollen industry. The industry in Dunster survived until the flourishing textile industry in the North of England presented too much competition.

There are many other old and interesting things to see around Dunster and these are a few more of them:

Many of Dunster’s buildings have interesting histories, like the Tithe Barn. A tithe was a tenth part of the agricultural produce or personal income of each family in a village and was collected by the Church. The agricultural tithe was stored in a large barn, called a tithe barn. It is recorded that in 1090, tithes of the Dunster estate, owned by the de Mohuns, were passed to the Benedictine Priory.

Today, the Tithe Barn in Dunster, which stands near to the Parish church of St George,  has become a Community Centre for the people to meet and hold various events. The Benedictine Priory was destroyed during Henry V111’s  Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-39) but evidence of its former existence can be seen in several names in the village, particularly around the church. The dovecote was once part of the priory’s estate.

There was also an old pottery kiln, a survivor of a mid-eighteenth century pottery which produced red earthenwares. Evidence suggests it dates from 1759 and is the earliest pottery kiln to survive almost complete, as well as standing exactly where it was built.

Kiln 1

On this occasion, we didn’t actually visit the castle. We hadn’t set out to visit Dunster at all, merely venturing there to look for a coffee shop on our way to Minehead. We were totally unprepared for the number of buildings of historical interest. Nor did we know there was a Civil War reenactment on at the castle that day, all well underway by the time we’d had our coffee at the Castle Coffee House (gallery above). So we just walked around with no particular idea of how much there was to see and photographing this and that before having a very nice lunch at the Luttrell Hotel (gallery) and carrying on to Minehead, then Athelney.

But we do intend to revisit Dunster at some point in time. We might manage to find the Civil War cannonball hole (that we didn’t know about at the time) that’s somewhere in the rafters of the Yarn Market.

Inside Yarn Market for header

References:
dunster tithebarn.org.uk
britainexpress.com
A variety of booklets and leaflets from Somerset, including:
‘discover Dunster – Village Guide and Map
‘THE POTTERY HOUSE IN THE PARK’ – published by the Exmoor National Park Authority
‘Dunster Castle and Gardens’ – by The National Trust

Posted in Travel and History | Tagged , , , , | 35 Comments

To Market, to Market (yet again)…

Old buildings around Market Square

In 1988 – which seems like eons ago now – I signed up for a writing course with The Writers Bureau. At that time I was hoping to pack up teaching soon and concentrate on writing a novel. Well, that didn’t happen, and the writing course went right out the window, but I managed to do the first assignment before school started again in September. Recently, I found the second part of the returned, marked paper. I’ve no idea what happened to parts 1 and 2, but this piece was in yet another old folder. Some of the tutor’s comments were really positive, but a couple, right at the beginning, brought me up short. And I’ve NEVER forgotten her words since! Lol

(I’ll share these at the end with my attempt at photos of her comments.)

The assignment was to write a descriptive passage of a place you know or have visited. There should be lots of people and the place should have a real ‘atmosphere’. The examples given were a football match (yuk!) or other such event, or a crowded shopping centre. So, as we lived in Newark at that time, Newark Market on a Saturday it was. And the assignment was typed using a really antiquated typewriter I’d had for years. We had no fancy computer then, or even a word processor. Well here’s the piece:

To Market, to Market…

To visit the historic town of Newark-on-Trent and not experience the delights of its Market Square would, indeed, be a pity. It is the focal point of shopping in the town, the hubbub of life. Young and old from surrounding villages mingle with townsfolk in search of bargains on the many colourful stalls. Others choose merely to browse, absorbed in the sense of history around them.

The Square is encompassed by four high walls of buildings, interrupted by medieval alleyways and narrow streets, designated traffic free on market days. Glimpses of architectural styles, dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, urge the sensitive mind to create visions of dashing Cavaliers and solemn-faced Roundheads, of stagecoaches at the coaching inns, or Victorian ladies in their crinolines.  The imposing spire of the thirteenth-century church dominates the view on the northern side of the Square. Its clock, with golden hands and face, strikes each hour, a reminder of ever-passing time and twentieth century reality.

The hot August air hangs still and humid; spicy aromas of hot-dogs and fried onions drift from the kiosk on the edge of the Square. Hungry teenagers queue to savour these delights. Crowds of shoppers are jostled along between the stalls with canopies of bright red, white. and yellow. A harassed young mother struggles over the cobbles with her pushchair, laden with plastic carrier bags bulging with shopping. The red-faced infant cries incessantly.

Numerous clothing stalls display a variety of items; the latest ‘Turtle’ motif on socks and sweatshirts attracts many young shoppers. Posters proclaiming ‘Summer Clearance’ and ‘Everything Must Go!’ indicate that summer is nearing its end. Surf Crazy t-shirts won’t sell in the long, cold days of winter.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are in abundance. Crisp apples and mellow pears, golden plums and purple damsons are arrayed with a selection of vegetables labelled ‘All Local Produce’. More exotic spiky pineapples, pump water melons and juicy oranges and grapes complete the display.

‘Get yer onions for yer barbies’, yells a burly, sun-tanned man with golden chains hanging down his hairy chest.

The flower stalls, too, present an arrangement of summer blooms, the heady scent of pink carnations catching the attention of many a customer. Feathery white gups are interspersed with freesias of blue, chrysanthemums, russet or gold, and lilies of flaming orange or sombre white.

As the church clock strikes four, stallholders begin to pack away. Into the cases co the multi-coloured beach towels and tablecloths of Nottingham lace. The ornate, brown teapot disappears from view, a vacuum cleaner called Henry is returned to his box and customers take their ‘homemade’ pies home for tea.

At last the stalls stand empty, a carpet of litter on the cobbles all that remains to be swept away by the cleaners. Tomorrow is Sunday, when the Square will sleep, only the church bells disturbing the silence. And the gold-faced clock will tick on…


The first thing I saw when I opened the paper was the tutor’s green comments. This is what greeted me right at the beginning: ‘Don’t underline titles’ and ‘First lines are never indented’. Oh dear…

Writing Assignment from 1988

I can honestly say I’ve NEVER indented first lines since – and I always notice when other people do. Nor have I ever underlined titles. It’s funny because in schools, all titles in exercise books or on file paper were ALWAYS underlined. It was also taught that first paragraphs, as any other paragraphs, were indented.

One thing Mrs. Tutor didn’t mention was my appalling ellipsis after the title. I’m surprised she didn’t write ‘NEVER use more than three dots in an ellipsis’ – but she didn’t remark. Perhaps she’d have dealt with that on another occasion, so not to demoralise me further.

Well, after that abysmal start (and typing to make anyone cringe), it got better and I had some very positive remarks like ‘evocative style‘ and ‘lovely description‘. She even left this nice green comment at the end:

Tutor's comment on assignment

The scene I described in my assignment was of late August, 1988. I’m sure you wouldn’t have missed the reference to very ’80s clothing (Turtle motifs).

Today, Newark Market Square looks little different to how I described it in 1988, except that the market is nowhere near as popular or busy as it was years ago. Supermarkets and hypermarkets have made it easy for working people to do all their shopping in one go. From several busy days a week, Newark is now only busy on a Saturday. It’s sad to see, and we keep up our weekly visits there, simply because we love the whole feel of market shopping – and the produce is always fresh.

Another big difference is that the bumpy, uneven cobbles are gone. They were seen as a hazard to old folk, wheelchair users, mothers with pushchairs and so on. They were really old and it’s a shame to see things of historical value destroyed but, I suppose, safety was uppermost on the Council’s mind. In the photos below (from late last September) some of the old cobbles can be seen around the edges of the market and in roads leading off the Square. The walls of historic buildings encompassing the Square look just the same.

The last difference is in the actual stalls. Back in 1988 the stalls stayed up all the time, so traders only had to unload their produce. Now, on non-market days, the Square is empty.The canopies, too, were formerly a variety of colours and patterns. Now, for some reason, they’re all red and white striped.

I wrote a post about Newark Market Place last October (here ) and our son who has his butcher’s shop there. I put lots of photos in it of the Market Square and surrounding streets.

As for writing courses, they’re obviously very good for beginner writers. I never did get round to doing one…

Posted in Creative Writing | Tagged , , | 43 Comments

Refuge – FFfAW

Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks that we write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100-150 words – give or take 25 words. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the link above to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday to Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by T.J. Paris:

photo-20160718073128048

And this is my story:

Refuge

Sure-footed as a cat, Edana led the villagers up the craggy slope, the pale glow from her lantern their only light in the darkness. Homesteads smouldered across the valley below, the legacy of ravaging armies bound for the citadel. And once the sun coloured the eastern skies, the slaughter would continue.

But the chieftain’s daughter had vowed to keep her people safe…

Screened by a rockfall, the entrance to her secret cave beckoned. Tielenth had promised to withdraw to the maze of tunnels behind and would only appear if she called. Whilst he was Edana’s protector, her people would flee from his terrible presence. For Tielenth was the Lord of Fire and could scour them from the Earth with his fiery breath.

Edana drew comfort in knowing that, should she ask, the great dragon would not hesitate in taking flight and annihilating the savage foe.

As she entered the cave the draught from the swishing tail as it vanished into the tunnels extinguished the tiny lantern flame.

It would be a long, dark night.

*

Word Count: 174

If you’d like to read other entries, or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , | 41 Comments

The Cheddar Gorge: Gough’s Cave and a little bit of Cheese

Model of Gough in Cox's Cave

This is my second post about the Cheddar Gorge caves and the discovery and opening up of two of the larger ones, which are still open to the public today. The first post looked mostly at Cox’s Cave, and this one will focus on Gough’s Cave, the bigger of the two. For anyone who hasn’t read my posts about the Cheddar Gorge, it’s located in the county of Somerset, UK. Here’s a link to the maps on my last post.

Richard Gough had been employed in a few different jobs in his time, including working in his family’s wholesale tea business – and failing miserably. Later, he became a sea captain, sailing back and forth to the West Indies before eventually retiring to live in the Cheddar Gorge in the mid 1860s.

By that time, Cox’s Cave – then called ‘The Great Stalactite Cave’ – was doing very nicely, financially, for George Cox. His nephew, Richard Gough, had fallen on hard times and decided to look for a cave to open up for himself and make some much-needed cash from paying visitors. The small cave he eventually purchased brought him a few visitors, but it was no match for Cox’s Cave . . . until Gough blasted away the 17 feet of consolidated rock (40-5o tons) of the rear stalactite wall. This opened up a huge new cavern, which had such excellent acoustics that musical events were later held in it. One popular event was hand-bell ringing and later on, even concerts.

In 1888, still more caverns were opened and Gough really went to town. He had fountains installed and even imported stalactites from a cave near to Weston-Super-Mare to supplement existing displays. What a con! ‘The Great New Stalactite Cave’, as Gough called it, attracted hundreds of visitors, and rivalry between Gough and his Uncle George soared. Each tried to outdo the other by opening new attractions. For example, when Cox opened a new Pleasure Gardens,  Gough opened a Tea Rooms.

And so it went on until 1892, when the Goughs discovered yet another huge cave behind a closed-up cave entrance a few yards along the Gorge. It took until 1898 – another six years – before all the chambers were opened up in the finest showcase in England.

Here are just a few of the photos we took inside Gough’s Cave. We didn’t manage to see the cave carving, unfortunately. For some reason, it just didn’t show up well that day. I won’t talk about the different caverns because it would take too long, but you can probably pick out the frozen waterfall and sections of the underground river.

Richard Gough is remembered not only as an enterprising man, but as an eccentric showman. Everywhere he went he was accompanied by his menagerie – including a monkey, a talking jackdaw and a donkey. He is even said to have taken his monkey to church with him on a Sunday. When he died in 1902, his sons took over the business and it was they, in 1903, who discovered the most famous of the Cheddar Gorge finds: Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest, complete skeleton.

Gough's Cave 6

Cheddar Man was originally believed to date to 9,000 years ago. Recently, the bones have been re-radiocarbon dated, giving a new date of 14,700 years ago. This matches archaeological evidence better than previous radiocarbon tests and suggests that the Cheddar Gorge was one of the earliest places in Britain to be colonised after the Ice Age.

These early occupants were hunter-gatherers, who may have followed horse migrations across Doggerland (the area of land, now lying beneath the southern North Sea, which connected Britain to mainland Europe during and after the last Ice Age). As explained in yesterday’s post, these people also practised cannibalism.

It is also thought that the odd behaviour of Cheddar Man – possibly due to brain damage from a blow to the head – caused him to be buried in a pit at the edge of the cave (the ‘twilight zone’) to prevent his spirit passing to the land of the ancestors. The real skeleton, which was found complete but in a heap, has been reconstructed and is housed in the Natural History Museum in London.
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Lastly, a little bit about cheese – Cheddar cheese, to be precise.

Cheddar Cheese stored in Gough's Cave

Cheddar Cheese stored in Gough’s Cave

The land around the village of Cheddar has been the centre of England’s dairy industry since the 15th century. The earliest reference to Cheddar Cheese dates from 1170. In the days when transport was poor and refrigeration didn’t exist, the problem of surplus milk was solved by turning it into cheese. It was very soon found that if the excess moisture was pressed out of the curd, the cheese lasted much longer. This method of cheese making was perfected in the Cheddar area.

The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, a little further along the gorge, continues to make cheese in the same way it has been made for centuries i.e, made and ‘cheddared’ by hand and matured in cloth for up to 18 months to produce the rind and allow the texture and flavour to develop. Cheddar Cheese is still matured in Gough’s Cave – as my above photo shows – just as it was 100 years ago, making it the only cave-matured cheese in the world. Visitors can buy Cheddar cheese in the Company shop in the Gorge.

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The Cheddar Gorge Caves

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, UK, intending to follow it up quickly with a second post about the Gorge caves. Unfortunately, I’ve been busy writing and have hardly been on my blog at all.

So here, eventually, is the post about the famous caves and what they tell us. First, a couple of maps to show where the county of Somerset is located within the UK. Cheddar is an actual town on the edge of the Mendip Hills, close to the gorge named after it.

The earliest evidence for people beginning to live in the Cheddar area is from about 14,700 years ago, when ice caps covered large parts of the British Isles. The earliest evidence for human occupation of the Gorge itself comes from Soldier’s Hole, a small cave in the south cliff, 150 feet above the Gorge floor. There are many caves in the Cheddar Gorge, although most are small. Several, like Soldier’s Hole, are high up along the gorge walls, formed at a time when the river that created the gorge had not cut down to the depth it is today. The caves at that height are dry, like this one called Shepherd’s Hole:

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The lower caves, near to the water table, have a combination of dry and wet passages.

Soldier’s Hole revealed substantial evidence of human occupation and way of life. Flint spears found in the cave are interesting because there is no flint in the Mendips. This tells us that the weapons originated from far away and were carried here by the people as they moved over different territories following migratory herds. Other tools have been found, too, including those for building and some used for the butchering and preparation of hides used for clothing, bedding and various leather items.

Only two of the caves are open to the public and both are large. They are Gough’s Cave and the smaller Cox’s Cave. Cox’s was the first one to become a ‘show cave’, so I’ll look at that one first.

As the story goes, it was George Cox who discovered the cave which was originally known as the ‘Great Stalactite Cave’. In 1837, Cox, who owned Cox’s grist mill in the Gorge . . .

Cox's Mill, Cheddar Gorge

. . . wanted the road widened to make space for the erection of a wagon house. He sent men to dig out some limestone and, by chance, they found the entrance to the cave. Being an astute businessman, Cox recognised the tourist potential and very soon opened it up to the public.

It was Cox’s nephew, Richard Gough, who discovered the second complex of caves. A former sea captain, Gough retired to the Cheddar Gorge in the mid 1860s.

Model of Richard Gough (from the entrance to Cox's Cave)

Model of Richard Gough (from the entrance to Cox’s Cave)

Impressed by how well his uncle was doing from showing visitors round his cave, Gough set out to find a cave for himself and soon became the owner of a small cave, now known as Gough’s Old Cave. He continued to blast away 5 metres/17 feet of rock from the back of the cave, eventually breaking through to a huge cavern with such amazing acoustics it became known as the Concert Chamber after musical events that were later staged there. Still further chambers  were opened in 1888. Gough called his cave ‘The New Great Stalactite Cave’, so stoking up rivalry with George Cox.

Richard Gough died in 1902 and it was his sons who made perhaps the greatest discovery of all. While excavating a pit at the mouth of Gough’s Cave in 1903, they discovered the skeleton now known as Cheddar Man. Although all the bones were there, the skeleton was in a jumble and has since been reconstructed. A replica is on display at the Cheddar Museum of Prehistory and one in the entrance to Gough’s Cave. The ‘real thing’ is in the London’s Natural History Museum.

Earlier this year, Cox’s Cave was turned into Dreamhunters, decribed in the booklet as ‘a multimedia walk-through experience with theatrical lighting and video projection’. It’s very colourful, to say the least, with images of cavemen/hunter-gatherers moving across the rock walls . . .

Wall illustration in Cox's Cave - 5+ R

. . . and one of them was used to lead visitors along the route through the different caves.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t manage a decent photo of him as we were too busy trying to keep up with him and not get left behind!

Cox’s Cave also has more usual displays, including the model of Richard Gough, above. There are also images of ancient man and their tools, and how they made fire:

There are cave drawings

And an artist’s impression of what the Gorge may have looked like:

Artist's impression of the Cheddar Gorge 9,000 BP.

Artist’s impression of the Cheddar Gorge 9,000 BP.

There is also a display about a very chilling discovery. It seems that the first people to colonise Britain after the Ice Age survived by practising cannibalism. Human bones have been found in the Gough’s Cave (the display is in Cox’s) with markings of the tools used to scrape off the flesh etched into them. You may need to click on this to see any details:

Evidence of cannibalism found in Gough's cave

Evidence of cannibalism found in Gough’s cave

I’ll finish on that pleasant thought, as this post is threatening to be ridiculously long. I had intended to write about both caves – but Gough’s Cave will have to waist until later.

References:
Cheddar Gorge Souvenir Guide Book
‘Cheddar Gorge and Caves’by Linda Carter (on sale at the Gorge)
Wikipedia

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