Sough – in my glossary of Scottish words- means to whistle softly. Young’s mastery of words is breathtaking.
Lazy grey cattle dozed in the August heat, between sharp falls of rain from dark explosions of cloud, a half mile or so to the west of Crag Lough, where the Whin Sill marks the vertical edge of the old Roman Empire.
Nearby lay a dip to Turret 38, stuck in the bottom of a gulley with hills to the west, east, and north. What a stupid place, you can’t help thinking, to put a watchtower, when a hundred yards to one side or the other would have brought you to a hilltop with views 360 degrees around, and for miles in each direction. It tells us something about the men who made the wall, the men who planned it that is. It wasn’t a military mind, I think, that planted the watchtower there, but a bureaucratic one, marking off the right number of paces from tower to tower –there’s…
View original post 1,183 more words
There you are child. Come sit by the fire and I’ll explain your duties. I’m not getting any younger, about time I had someone to help with the chores. Hopefully you’re not afraid of hard work. Everyone expects me to drop whatever I happen to be doing, wave a magic wand and turn their problems into happy-ever-after. Well I’m having to be far more discerning these days. Clients are making all manner of impossible demands since the princess sold her story to Messrs Grimm. I know times are changing but being immortalized in print is hardly ideal when one needs complete obscurity for dreams come true.
Personally I’ve never seen the need to advertise when word of mouth has proved perfectly satisfactory. You see I earned my reputation by never refusing a wish once committed, even where the final outcome seemed totally impossible. It’s taken many years to perfect these happy endings and I don’t accept disappointment lightly. I know there’s been some criticism regarding my latest case but nothing was due to my failings. Such a pretty girl but working as a skivvy did nothing for her language. I’ve a cache of spells for making even the most lacklustre girl appear glamorous, that’s really quite easy, and Prince Charming fell hook, line and sinker for her beauty, but I never guarantee what the far-distant future might hold. I suspect the Prince formed some early misgivings at the wedding breakfast after being seated next to the bride’s step-mother. Brimming with intellect she was not. After she’d drowned her sorrows in the ‘never-ending’ champagne she enquired about my services for her other daughters. One must be discreet but there are some things even I can’t fix.
Is it any wonder we fairy godmothers are a vanishing breed? Recently I was even accused of elitism. But surely one has to have standards. We can’t go granting wishes to just anyone who happens to recite the magic words and I’ve rarely received any on-the-job support so is it any wonder my methods are somewhat out-dated. Once upon a time I trained another apprentice, far younger than you; taught her how to grant simple wishes so I could concentrate on providing a better-ever-after service but she wasn’t comfortable with the world of fantasy and so very slovenly she failed to drum up any real sparkle and without sparkle there’s simply no magic.
Many thought me foolish for choosing such a calling but the truth is I’ve always aimed high and it didn’t take long to discover I was blessed with natural aptitude for happy-ever-afters. And servicing an exclusive clientele keeps me out of mischief, although there have been times I felt tempted. You see it’s never been about limitless riches, in fact in Cinder’s case it was in memory of her mother, poor soul. In the deep distant past I granted her wish to attend an exclusive finishing school but then, without so much as a by-your-leave, the little fool fell head-over-heels in love with a clothier’s son. I’ve always said that untold wealth is rarely the best basis for wedded bliss. Agreed, he was handsome, but lacking even basic people skills. When she died of a broken heart he was soon hoodwinked by that money-grabbing witch and her repulsive daughters. I daren’t think what would have become of young Cinderella if I hadn’t been alerted to her fate. I’ve an excellent informant in Rumpelstiltskin; he may be old but keeps his ear to the ground. Yes…I’ve heard the rumours about blackmail but needs must as the saying goes. I’ve learned to stay on my toes.
Speaking of toes I wish I knew how to put to a stop to those wicked red shoes but I never dabble with vanity, my talents being better tuned to match-making. I wish I could boast a career of infinite successes but, be warned child, during my formative years I made some dreadful mistakes. It’s easy to forget that nightmares are born from misused spells. Take heed from the sorcerer’s apprentice… such an impossible boy. And never, ever, underestimate the opposition, particularly if they favour dressing in black. Nor should you be persuaded to allocate any form of responsibility to dwarves. At best they can be scatterbrained but once in their cups there’s no reasoning with them and I can’t agree that manual labour offers any excuse for wholesale inebriation. Snow White was almost lost that day. Another lesson learned, as they say, which is why I now insist on complete jurisdiction from the very beginning. Reputation is everything.
Obviously I worry about the future. After that last fall I rather lost the will to fly yet I dread what the future of true-love will be without some sort of magical intervention. I can’t be alone in suspecting that the current generation of princes lack back-bone? Last time I chose an eminently eligible consort to wake a beautiful princess with a single fateful kiss he proved such a limp lettuce I was obliged to prune the undergrowth before he’d enter her chamber. While I agree one hundred years of neglect had left its mark I anticipated a little more gusto.
Now child, would you mind dropping off this pumpkin on your way past the lodge and don’t take any nonsense from the mice. If you must use the wand keep within your capabilities and, be warned, magic doesn’t work once they’ve forgotten how to dream.
Just got my copy on Kindle, can’t put it down.
Sophie’s Appeal was founded in memory of Sophie Louise Barringer and supports the social, emotional and educational welfare of children, their families, nursing and support staff and provide a caring and supporting environment in both local hospitals and in the community. There are many ways the Trust provide support to parents, carers and schools who find themselves suddenly faced with the reality of cancer.
Hospice UK are the national charity for hospice care, supporting over 200 hospices in the UK. Their aim is to make sure that everyone with a life limiting or terminal condition rightly get the very best care, and hospices are critical to achieving this.
View original post 153 more words
On Saturday one of our oldest customers came to our workshop because she needed a ring re-sized. It was commissioned 35 years ago by her husband and she reminded me that when the ring was made Michael and I had just started our jewellery business and were still working from home. ‘It was so cosy’, she said, ‘and my husband loved looking at all the lovely designs before deciding on our commission. He used to look forward to coming to the workshop and watching Michael at work. Although he died many years ago whenever I come to visit he seems to be here with me.’ We both shed a few tears as we slipped down memory lane.
There was a time I wouldn’t have empathised so openly. My parents didn’t approve of sentiment and in order to please them I learned to conceal whatever I felt (good or bad), truly believing that if I didn’t allow my emotions any scope they might diminish or at least become more manageable. However the opposite happened, some emotions hurt more than physical pain, and then I discovered that if I articulated what I felt (on paper and in secret) I could actually cope. So I began to write prolifically. Gushy poems (as teenagers do) alongside many many pages of fast-action stories where my plucky heroine would make the world a better place. Of course nobody ever got to read these outpourings but writing helped abscond the pain.
I’ve always felt I’ve somewhat failed in the maturity stakes. Surely being grown-up means emotion gets easier to contain? My mother rarely attaches sentiment to anything (the only old things she keeps are photographs) whereas I can’t bare to let anything go if I feel an emotional attachment. I still have the tiny leather purse my best-friend Janet gave me on my tenth birthday, just before she emigrated to the USA, and the hand-made elephant Michael gave me on my fifteenth birthday. If our last house hadn’t burned to the ground I’d still have all the gushy poems and story-filled exercise books but perhaps that disaster did me a favour. Very little survived and what I keep in store is doubly valued.
At the same time my elderly customer and I were reminiscing a young bride-to-be and her fiancé arrived to collect their wedding rings. All the metals we’d used had been recycled from their own old and broken jewellery and they started to describe the store of precious memories contained in these new-made rings – treasure not of our making. Also could we extend great gran’s string of pearls so the bride could wear them on her wedding day? They already knew the pearls were made of glass but wearing them would bring another memory to the occasion and everyone knows the rhyme – Something old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something blue – only the last sentence is often forgotten, A silver sixpence in my shoe.
Silver and gold have always been valued. Metal is a solid, hold in your hand, reminder of what something is worth. Though not a coinage we use today the very fact a sixpence is made of solid silver makes it immediately desirable. But the value of sentiment is immeasurable. Even now (in their mid-eighties) my parents rarely show emotion and generally appear detached. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand that they don’t mean to be unfeeling but in their eyes sentiment is an act of self-indulgence, they prefer to show what we British like to call a stiff upper lip, but I’m finally bidding good riddance to such total self-restraint because I was born a melt-in-the heart sentimentalist.
A twenty-four hour break seemed just enough to charge our memories because there was once a time, when my son was learning his trade, when we needed to drive along the A76 three or four times a month. Except I’m hardly a glutton for nostalgia and had almost forgotten the compelling beauty of this landscape, its low rolling hills and broadleaf forests, the few snatched glimpses of the glistening River Nith. The ancient road links Dumfries to Sanquhar and beyond, and its sense of history is compelling as it weaves through places that recall times past. And November is a time for remembrance.
Being Border Country the land was once dotted with castles. Proper castles, with sheer stone walls that fail to radiate warmth and hospitality. Castles undoubtedly occupied by ruthless nobles who jealously guarded their patch. Many were destroyed to fulfil a treaty with the English back in the 1300’s. Poor King David II was being held hostage in London and the price of his freedom was utter humiliation. But being Border Country the nobles were quick to rebuild.
After leaving Dumfries the first place of note is Thornhill, a perfect example of a traditional Scottish town. Neat stone houses line boulevard wide streets and shops provide essentials like oil lamps, hearth tools and treacle licks. There is a sense that time is marked differently in this corner of Scotland except yellow coated contractors are busy installing super-fast broadband cables beneath the sandstone slabbed pavements. Not even a mobile signal today!
The weather was becoming increasingly dreich so we dived inside a café for lunch. Soup of the Day was broth – just like my grandmother used to make, a thick kaleidoscope of root vegetables jewelled with beads of barley, inviting any spoon to take root. Soup that braves the elements. Except we didn’t.
Friars Carse, the hotel where we were staying, owns an exceptionally long history. On a small rise near the entrance archaeologists discovered the remains of an Iron Age Fort which was later occupied by Romans. Grey Friars brought their form of Christianity here but the ecclesiastical buildings they founded were enclosed inside a fortified building that was later extended to make a comfortable home. If I had my pick of the land I’d choose this very same plot because the stately sandstone house sits atop a raised peninsula overlooking the beautiful River Nith framed in majestic trees bright with autumn colour. Some native trees possess girths which suggest a very long lifespan, no doubt charmed by their setting.
In 1809 the house became the home of Dr James Crichton, the Admirable Crichton, being renamed Friars Carse in 1895. In 1938 it became a hotel and attracts its regular clientele of anglers keen to nab salmon and trout. Our prize was to rest but first we’d anticipated taking a slow walk through the grounds before settling into our suite. Unfortunately the weather proved un-obliging and so we fell to appreciating the bottle of chilled champagne waiting in our room. The afternoon was spent reading and relaxing and dinner was divine, every morsel perfectly sumptuous. We retired entirely mollycoddled.
For me the most enigmatic attraction of Friars Carse is the tiny shed-like outbuilding called the Hermitage. Etched into one of the window panes are the following words:
Thou whom Chance may hither lead,
Be thou clad in russet weed
Be thou deckt in silken stole
Grave these counsels on thy soul.
Life is but a day at most
Sprung from night – in darkness lost;
Hope not sunshine every hour
Fear not clouds will always lour.
The person who scribed these famous lines lived less than a mile south of Friars Carse and should you follow the fast-flowing Nith for about half a mile you reach his former home, Ellisland Farm. Historians say he chose the site because he was particularly inspired by this stretch of river. However it cannot be denied the poet also enjoyed its proximity to Friars Carse. Robert Burns even wrote a poem called The Whistle to commemorate a drinking contest which took place there on 16th October 1789. Participants had to drink each other under the table. You might guess what form of trophy was awarded to the winner.
Should you be tempted: http://www.friarscarse.co.uk
This letter was found in 2009 among some papers that belonged to my father’s great aunt (Hilda Hutchinson) who lived in California. It was written by her brother George’s wife (a widow) and illustrates very clearly the terrible effect the war was having on one family.
Sunday, Jan 28th 1917
My dear Hilda,
Was more than pleased to hear from you. I thought I was quite forgotten by Uncle George’s friends for ever. Uncle Fred and Aunt Clara never come to see us now. They have been twice since Uncle has been dead, which is over thirteen years now. I do miss him, more every day, but thank goodness, I have got good children. Sorry to say, I have had one of my boys missing five months through this wicked War, left a wife, with five children.
My son George has just come home from France has been out there fifteen months he does look so ill. I am afraid be he’s done for, he does not expect to go back to France. My other son has gone in the Army. He is expecting to go out any time. All my boys are in the Army. Your mother will remember the names of them. The one that is missing (Ernest) was such a dear good boy and a real mother’s boy.
My daughter Olive has been married now two years last September, her husband is such a good fellow, but of course, he is in the Army. He is in Egypt of course, now he has gone, Olive is living with me, Olive is such a good girl for I have been ill for years now. I cannot do any work, for three years could not dress myself but Thank God I am much better and now able to do a little work, in my own home. Olive has been good to me all the time of my illness and has never left me. My other daughter Bertha is getting on as well as can be expected as she also has bad health. I don’t know if your Mother knew she has lost her husband eleven years, she has three children. One was born after her husband died. Arch has got two children a boy and a girl. The boy is 14 years and the girl 10 years.
Now about yourself. So pleased to hear you have got such a good husband and that you are so happy. You must do all you can for your husband. I don’t think there is many of them about now. I am more than pleased to think that Olive has such a good husband. We shall be more than pleased to see him come home. We shall be very pleased to see you and your husband when ever you come to England and your cousin would do all she can for you to make you happy and comfortable.
It is dreadful in England now with the War going on. I do wish it was all over. You must thank God, that you are all over there, out of this trouble, the price of food is dreadful, I do wish it was all over. Pleased to hear that your mother and father and the rest of the family are keeping well, what a large family of you. I would like to see you all again. About your Grandmother, you did not put her number – but I will try and see what I can do for you, but the weather now is so bitterly cold but as soon as it gets warmer, I will go and find it for you and will let you know as soon as I can. It is not safe to go out of a night it is so dark, all shops close much earlier. It is not at all pleasant in England now, but then we must all hope for a brighter time. Well dear Hilda, I must now draw to a close. Give my love to Mother and Father tell them I shall be more than pleased to hear from them. Tell your mother that Eveline died two years before her father. I must now close hope these few lines, will find you and your husband in good health.
I am dear your affectionate Aunt Polly.
Olive’s husband died in Palestine. Earnest died in Flanders. George survived the war but never recovered from his injuries.
The Sins of Muriel McGarry is only one of 39 short stories on the subject of crime and I am so very delighted to see Muriel’s story in print.
I’m pretty damned pleased that my yarn ‘Life after Life‘ will be included in Bloodhound Books‘ forthcoming Dark Minds anthology.
The charity anthology is edited by Betsy Reavley and the full cast list is as follows:
Dark Minds Charity Anthology by Bloodhound Books
1. Ten Green Bottles — B A Morton
2. London’s Crawling — Emma Pullar
3. The Shoes Maketh The Man — Louise Jensen
4. Never tell a Lie — Tara Lyons
5. A Christmas Killing — Richard T Burke
6. By the Water — Betsy Reavley
7. A Cup Of Cold Coffee And A Slice Of Life — Tony R. Cox
8. Slow Roast Pork — S.E.Lynes
9. A Lawful Killing — Ross Greenwood
10. Sticky Fingers — JT Lawrence
11. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger — Ron Nicholson
12. The Wages Of Sin — Lisa Hall
13. Hidden — KA…
View original post 203 more words