January 14, 2022 at 3:06 pm #6253
My Grandparents Kitchen
My grandmother used to have golden syrup in her larder, hanging on the white plastic coated storage rack that was screwed to the inside of the larder door. Mostly the larder door was left propped open with an old flat iron, so you could see the Heinz ketchup and home made picallilli (she made a particularly good picallili), the Worcester sauce and the jar of pickled onions, as you sat at the kitchen table.
If you were sitting to the right of the kitchen table you could see an assortment of mismatched crockery, cups and bowls, shoe cleaning brushes, and at the back, tiny tins of baked beans and big ones of plum tomatoes, and normal sized tins of vegetable and mushroom soup. Underneath the little shelves that housed the tins was a blue plastic washing up bowl with a few onions, some in, some out of the yellow string bag they came home from the expensive little village supermarket in.
There was much more to the left in the awkward triangular shape under the stairs, but you couldn’t see under there from your seat at the kitchen table. You could see the shelf above the larder door which held an ugly china teapot of graceless modern lines, gazed with metallic silver which was wearing off in places. Beside the teapot sat a serving bowl, squat and shapely with little handles, like a flattened Greek urn, in white and reddish brown with flecks of faded gilt. A plain white teapot completed the trio, a large cylindrical one with neat vertical ridges and grooves.
There were two fridges under the high shallow wooden wall cupboard. A waist high bulbous old green one with a big handle that pulled out with a clunk, and a chest high sleek white one with a small freezer at the top with a door of its own. On the top of the fridges were biscuit and cracker tins, big black keys, pencils and brittle yellow notepads, rubber bands and aspirin value packs and a bottle of Brufen. There was a battered old maroon spectacle case and a whicker letter rack, letters crammed in and fanning over the top. There was always a pile of glossy advertising pamphlets and flyers on top of the fridges, of the sort that were best put straight into the tiny pedal bin.
My grandmother never lined the pedal bin with a used plastic bag, nor with a specially designed plastic bin liner. The bin was so small that the flip top lid was often gaping, resting on a mound of cauliflower greens and soup tins. Behind the pedal bin, but on the outer aspect of the kitchen wall, was the big black dustbin with the rubbery lid. More often than not, the lid was thrust upwards. If Thursday when the dustbin men came was several days away, you’d wish you hadn’t put those newspapers in, or those old shoes! You stood in the softly drizzling rain in your slippers, the rubbery sheild of a lid in your left hand and the overflowing pedal bin in the other. The contents of the pedal bin are not going to fit into the dustbin. You sigh, put the pedal bin and the dustbin lid down, and roll up your sleeves ~ carefully, because you’ve poked your fingers into a porridge covered teabag. You grab the sides of the protruding black sack and heave. All being well, the contents should settle and you should have several inches more of plastic bag above the rim of the dustbin. Unless of course it’s a poor quality plastic bag in which case your fingernail will go through and a horizontal slash will appear just below rubbish level. Eventually you upend the pedal bin and scrape the cigarette ash covered potato peelings into the dustbin with your fingers. By now the fibres of your Shetland wool jumper are heavy with damp, just like the fuzzy split ends that curl round your pale frowning brow. You may push back your hair with your forearm causing the moisture to bead and trickle down your face, as you turn the brass doorknob with your palm and wrist, tea leaves and cigarette ash clinging unpleasantly to your fingers.
The pedal bin needs rinsing in the kitchen sink, but the sink is full of mismatched saucepans, some new in shades of harvest gold, some battered and mishapen in stainless steel and aluminium, bits of mashed potato stuck to them like concrete pebbledash. There is a pale pink octagonally ovoid shallow serving dish and a little grey soup bowl with a handle like a miniature pottery saucepan decorated with kitcheny motifs.
The water for the coffee bubbles in a suacepan on the cream enamelled gas cooker. My grandmother never used a kettle, although I do remember a heavy flame orange one. The little pan for boiling water had a lip for easy pouring and a black plastic handle.
The steam has caused the condensation on the window over the sink to race in rivulets down to the fablon coated windowsill. The yellow gingham curtains hang limply, the left one tucked behind the back of the cooker.
You put the pedal bin back it it’s place below the tea towel holder, and rinse your mucky fingers under the tap. The gas water heater on the wall above you roars into life just as you turn the tap off, and disappointed, subsides.
As you lean over to turn the cooker knob, the heat from the oven warms your arm. The gas oven was almost always on, the oven door open with clean tea towels and sometimes large white pants folded over it to air.
The oven wasn’t the only heat in my grandparents kitchen. There was an electric bar fire near the red formica table which used to burn your legs. The kitchen table was extended by means of a flap at each side. When I was small I wasn’t allowed to snap the hinge underneath shut as my grandmother had pinched the skin of her palm once.
The electric fire was plugged into the same socket as the radio. The radio took a minute or two to warm up when you switched it on, a bulky thing with sharp seventies edges and a reddish wood effect veneer and big knobs. The light for my grandfathers workshop behind the garage (where he made dentures) was plugged into the same socket, which had a big heavy white three way adaptor in. The plug for the washing machine was hooked by means of a bit of string onto a nail or hook so that it didn’t fall down behing the washing machine when it wasn’t plugged in. Everything was unplugged when it wasn’t in use. Sometimes there was a shrivelled Christmas cactus on top of the radio, but it couldn’t hide the adaptor and all those plugs.
Above the washing machine was a rhomboid wooden wall cupboard with sliding frsoted glass doors. It was painted creamy gold, the colour of a nicotine stained pub ceiling, and held packets of Paxo stuffing and little jars of Bovril and Marmite, packets of Bisto and a jar of improbably red Maraschino cherries.
The nicotine coloured cupboard on the opposite wall had half a dozen large hooks screwed under the bottom shelf. A variety of mugs and cups hung there when they weren’t in the bowl waiting to be washed up. Those cupboard doors seemed flimsy for their size, and the thin beading on the edge of one door had come unstuck at the bottom and snapped back if you caught it with your sleeve. The doors fastened with a little click in the centre, and the bottom of the door reverberated slightly as you yanked it open. There were always crumbs in the cupboard from the numerous packets of bisucits and crackers and there was always an Allbran packet with the top folded over to squeeze it onto the shelf. The sugar bowl was in there, sticky grains like sandpaper among the biscuit crumbs.
Half of one of the shelves was devoted to medicines: grave looking bottles of codeine linctus with no nonsense labels, brown glass bottles with pills for rheumatism and angina. Often you would find a large bottle, nearly full, of Brewers yeast or vitamin supplements with a dollar price tag, souvenirs of the familys last visit. Above the medicines you’d find a faded packet of Napolitana pasta bows or a dusty packet of muesli. My grandparents never used them but she left them in the cupboard. Perhaps the dollar price tags and foreign foods reminded her of her children.
If there had been a recent visit you would see monstrous jars of Sanka and Maxwell House coffee in there too, but they always used the coffee. They liked evaporated milk in their coffee, and used tins and tins of “evap” as they called it. They would pour it over tinned fruit, or rhubard crumble or stewed apples.
When there was just the two of them, or when I was there as well, they’d eat at the kitchen table. The table would be covered in a white embroidered cloth and the food served in mismatched serving dishes. The cutlery was large and bent, the knife handles in varying shades of bone. My grandfathers favourite fork had the tip of each prong bent in a different direction. He reckoned it was more efficient that way to spear his meat. He often used to chew his meat and then spit it out onto the side of his plate. Not in company, of course. I can understand why he did that, not having eaten meat myself for so long. You could chew a piece of meat for several hours and still have a stringy lump between your cheek and your teeth.
My grandfather would always have a bowl of Allbran with some Froment wheat germ for his breakfast, while reading the Daily Mail at the kitchen table. He never worse slippers, always shoes indoors, and always wore a tie. He had lots of ties but always wore a plain maroon one. His shirts were always cream and buttoned at throat and cuff, and eventually started wearing shirts without detachable collars. He wore greeny grey trousers and a cardigan of the same shade most of the time, the same colour as a damp English garden.
The same colour as the slimy green wooden clothes pegs that I threw away and replaced with mauve and fuschia pink plastic ones. “They’re a bit bright for up the garden, aren’t they,” he said. He was right. I should have ignored the green peg stains on the laundry. An English garden should be shades of moss and grassy green, rich umber soil and brick red walls weighed down with an atmosphere of dense and heavy greyish white.
After Grandma died and Mop had retired (I always called him Mop, nobody knows why) at 10:00am precisely Mop would have a cup of instant coffee with evap. At lunch, a bowl of tinned vegetable soup in his special soup bowl, and a couple of Krackawheat crackers and a lump of mature Cheddar. It was a job these days to find a tasty cheddar, he’d say.
When he was working, and he worked until well into his seventies, he took sandwiches. Every day he had the same sandwich filling: a combination of cheese, peanut butter and marmite. It was an unusal choice for an otherwise conventional man. He loved my grandmothers cooking, which wasn’t brilliant but was never awful. She was always generous with the cheese in cheese sauces and the meat in meat pies. She overcooked the cauliflower, but everyone did then. She made her gravy in the roasting pan, and made onion sauce, bread sauce, parsley sauce and chestnut stuffing. She had her own version of cosmopolitan favourites, and called her quiche a quiche when everyone was still calling it egg and bacon pie. She used to like Auntie Daphne’s ratatouille, rather exotic back then, and pronounced it Ratta Twa. She made pizza unlike any other, with shortcrust pastry smeared with tomato puree from a tube, sprinkled with oregano and great slabs of cheddar.
The roast was always overdone. “We like our meat well done” she’d say. She’d walk up the garden to get fresh mint for the mint sauce and would announce with pride “these runner beans are out of the garding”. They always grew vegetables at the top of the garden, behind the lawn and the silver birch tree. There was always a pudding: a slice of almond tart (always with home made pastry), a crumble or stewed fruit. Topped with evap, of course.December 25, 2021 at 10:47 am #6248
Bakewell Not Eyam
The Elton Marshalls
Some years ago I read a book about Eyam, the Derbyshire village devastated by the plague in 1665, and about how the villagers quarantined themselves to prevent further spread. It was quite a story. Each year on ‘Plague Sunday’, at the end of August, residents of Eyam mark the bubonic plague epidemic that devastated their small rural community in the years 1665–6. They wear the traditional costume of the day and attend a memorial service to remember how half the village sacrificed themselves to avoid spreading the disease further.
My 4X great grandfather James Marshall married Ann Newton in 1792 in Elton. On a number of other people’s trees on an online ancestry site, Ann Newton was from Eyam. Wouldn’t that have been interesting, to find ancestors from Eyam, perhaps going back to the days of the plague. Perhaps that is what the people who put Ann Newton’s birthplace as Eyam thought, without a proper look at the records.
But I didn’t think Ann Newton was from Eyam. I found she was from Over Haddon, near Bakewell ~ much closer to Elton than Eyam. On the marriage register, it says that James was from Elton parish, and she was from Darley parish. Her birth in 1770 says Bakewell, which was the registration district for the villages of Over Haddon and Darley. Her parents were George Newton and Dorothy Wipperley of Over Haddon,which is incidentally very near to Nether Haddon, and Haddon Hall. I visited Haddon Hall many years ago, as well as Chatsworth (and much preferred Haddon Hall).
I looked in the Eyam registers for Ann Newton, and found a couple of them around the time frame, but the men they married were not James Marshall.
Ann died in 1806 in Elton (a small village just outside Matlock) at the age of 36 within days of her newborn twins, Ann and James. James and Ann had two sets of twins. John and Mary were twins as well, but Mary died in 1799 at the age of three.
1796 baptism of twins John and Mary of James and Ann Marshall
Ann’s husband James died 42 years later at the age of eighty, in Elton in 1848. It was noted in the parish register that he was for years parish clerk.
On the 1851 census John Marshall born in 1796, the son of James Marshall the parish clerk, was a lead miner occupying six acres in Elton, Derbyshire.
His son, also John, was registered on the census as a lead miner at just eight years old.
The mining of lead was the most important industry in the Peak district of Derbyshire from Roman times until the 19th century – with only agriculture being more important for the livelihood of local people. The height of lead mining in Derbyshire came in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the evidence is still visible today – most obviously in the form of lines of hillocks from the more than 25,000 mineshafts which once existed.
Peak District Mines Historical Society
Smelting, or extracting the lead from the ore by melting it, was carried out in a small open hearth. Lead was cast in layers as each batch of ore was smelted; the blocks of lead thus produced were referred to as “pigs”. Examples of early smelting-hearths found within the county were stone lined, with one side open facing the prevailing wind to create the draught needed. The hilltops of the Matlocks would have provided very suitable conditions.
The miner used a tool called a mattock or a pick, and hammers and iron wedges in harder veins, to loosen the ore. They threw the ore onto ridges on each side of the vein, going deeper where the ore proved richer.
Many mines were very shallow and, once opened, proved too poor to develop. Benjamin Bryan cited the example of “Ember Hill, on the shoulder of Masson, above Matlock Bath” where there are hollows in the surface showing where there had been fruitless searches for lead.
There were small buildings, called “coes”, near each mine shaft which were used for tool storage, to provide shelter and as places for changing into working clothes. It was here that the lead was smelted and stored until ready for sale.
Lead is, of course, very poisonous. As miners washed lead-bearing material, great care was taken with the washing vats, which had to be covered. If cattle accidentally drank the poisoned water they would die from something called “belland”.
Cornish and Welsh miners introduced the practice of buddling for ore into Derbyshire about 1747. Buddling involved washing the heaps of rubbish in the slag heaps, the process of separating the very small particles from the dirt and spar with which they are mixed, by means of a small stream of water. This method of extraction was a major pollutant, affecting farmers and their animals (poisoned by Belland from drinking the waste water), the brooks and streams and even the River Derwent.
Women also worked in the mines. An unattributed account from 1829, says: “The head is much enwrapped, and the features nearly hidden in a muffling of handkerchiefs, over which is put a man’s hat, in the manner of the paysannes of Wales”. He also describes their gowns, usually red, as being “tucked up round the waist in a sort of bag, and set off by a bright green petticoat”. They also wore a man’s grey or dark blue coat and shoes with 3″ thick soles that were tied round with cords. The 1829 writer called them “complete harridans!”
Lead Mining in Matlock & Matlock Bath, The Andrews Pages
John’s wife Margaret died at the age of 42 in 1847. I don’t know the cause of death, but perhaps it was lead poisoning. John’s son John, despite a very early start in the lead mine, became a carter and lived to the ripe old age of 88.
The Pig of Lead pub, 1904:
The earliest Marshall I’ve found so far is Charles, born in 1742. Charles married Rebecca Knowles, 1775-1823. I don’t know what his occupation was but when he died in 1819 he left a not inconsiderable sum to his wife.
1819 Charles Marshall probate:
There are still Marshall’s living in Elton and Matlock, not our immediate known family, but probably distantly related. I asked a Matlock group on facebook:
“…there are Marshall’s still in the village. There are certainly families who live here who have done generation after generation & have many memories & stories to tell. Visit The Duke on a Friday night…”
The Duke, Elton:December 13, 2021 at 2:34 pm #6227
The Scottish Connection
My grandfather always used to say we had some Scottish blood because his “mother was a Purdy”, and that they were from the low counties of Scotland near to the English border.
My mother had a Scottish hat in among the boxes of souvenirs and old photographs. In one of her recent house moves, she finally threw it away, not knowing why we had it or where it came from, and of course has since regretted it! It probably came from one of her aunts, either Phyllis or Dorothy. Neither of them had children, and they both died in 1983. My grandfather was executor of the estate in both cases, and it’s assumed that the portraits, the many photographs, the booklet on Primitive Methodists, and the Scottish hat, all relating to his mother’s side of the family, came into his possession then. His sister Phyllis never married and was living in her parents home until she died, and is the likeliest candidate for the keeper of the family souvenirs.
Catherine Housley married George Purdy, and his father was Francis Purdy, the Primitive Methodist preacher. William Purdy was the father of Francis.
Record searches find William Purdy was born on 16 July 1767 in Carluke, Lanarkshire, near Glasgow in Scotland. He worked for James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, and moved to Derbyshire for the purpose of installing steam driven pumps to remove the water from the collieries in the area.
Another descendant of Francis Purdy found the following in a book in a library in Eastwood:
William married a local girl, Ruth Clarke, in Duffield in Derbyshire in 1786. William and Ruth had nine children, and the seventh was Francis who was born at West Hallam in 1795.
Perhaps the Scottish hat came from William Purdy, but there is another story of Scottish connections in Smalley: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Although the Purdy’s were not from Smalley, Catherine Housley was.
From an article on the Heanor and District Local History Society website:
The Jacobites in Smalley
Few people would readily associate the village of Smalley, situated about two miles west of Heanor, with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 – but there is a clear link.
During the winter of 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, the “Bonnie Prince” or “The Young Pretender”, marched south from Scotland. His troops reached Derby on 4 December, and looted the town, staying for two days before they commenced a fateful retreat as the Duke of Cumberland’s army approached.
While staying in Derby, or during the retreat, some of the Jacobites are said to have visited some of the nearby villages, including Smalley.
A history of the local aspects of this escapade was written in 1933 by L. Eardley-Simpson, entitled “Derby and the ‘45,” from which the following is an extract:
“The presence of a party at Smalley is attested by several local traditions and relics. Not long ago there were people living who remember to have seen at least a dozen old pikes in a room adjoining the stables at Smalley Hall, and these were stated to have been left by a party of Highlanders who came to exchange their ponies for horses belonging to the then owner, Mrs Richardson; in 1907, one of these pikes still remained. Another resident of Smalley had a claymore which was alleged to have been found on Drumhill, Breadsall Moor, while the writer of the History of Smalley himself (Reverend C. Kerry) had a magnificent Andrew Ferrara, with a guard of finely wrought iron, engraved with two heads in Tudor helmets, of the same style, he states, as the one left at Wingfield Manor, though why the outlying bands of Army should have gone so far afield, he omits to mention. Smalley is also mentioned in another strange story as to the origin of the family of Woolley of Collingham who attained more wealth and a better position in the world than some of their relatives. The story is to the effect that when the Scots who had visited Mrs Richardson’s stables were returning to Derby, they fell in with one Woolley of Smalley, a coal carrier, and impressed him with horse and cart for the conveyance of certain heavy baggage. On the retreat, the party with Woolley was surprised by some of the Elector’s troopers (the Royal army) who pursued the Scots, leaving Woolley to shift for himself. This he did, and, his suspicion that the baggage he was carrying was part of the Prince’s treasure turning out to be correct, he retired to Collingham, and spent the rest of his life there in the enjoyment of his luckily acquired gains. Another story of a similar sort was designed to explain the rise of the well-known Derbyshire family of Cox of Brailsford, but the dates by no means agree with the family pedigree, and in any event the suggestion – for it is little more – is entirely at variance with the views as to the rights of the Royal House of Stuart which were expressed by certain members of the Cox family who were alive not many years ago.”
A letter from Charles Kerry, dated 30 July 1903, narrates another strange twist to the tale. When the Highlanders turned up in Smalley, a large crowd, mainly women, gathered. “On a command in Gaelic, the regiment stooped, and throwing their kilts over their backs revealed to the astonished ladies and all what modesty is careful to conceal. Father, who told me, said they were not any more troubled with crowds of women.”
Folklore or fact? We are unlikely to know, but the Scottish artefacts in the Smalley area certainly suggest that some of the story is based on fact.
We are unlikely to know where that Scottish hat came from, but we did find the Scottish connection. William Purdy’s mother was Grizel Gibson, and her mother was Grizel Murray, both of Lanarkshire in Scotland. The name Grizel is a Scottish form of the name Griselda, and means “grey battle maiden”. But with the exception of the name Murray, The Purdy and Gibson names are not traditionally Scottish, so there is not much of a Scottish connection after all. But the mystery of the Scottish hat remains unsolved.December 13, 2021 at 10:39 am #6220
Helper Belper: “Let’s start at the beginning.”
When I found a huge free genealogy tree website with lots of our family already on it, I couldn’t believe my luck. Quite soon after a perusal, I found I had a number of questions. Was it really possible that our Warren family tree had been traced back to 500AD? I asked on a genealogy forum: only if you can latch onto an aristocratic line somewhere, in which case that lineage will be already documented, as normally parish records only go back to the 1600s, if you are lucky. It is very hard to prove and the validity of it met with some not inconsiderable skepticism among the long term hard core genealogists. This is not to say that it isn’t possible, but is more likely a response to the obvious desire of many to be able to trace their lineage back to some kind of royalty, regardless of the documentation and proof.
Another question I had on this particular website was about the entries attached to Catherine Housley that made no sense. The immense public family tree there that anyone can add to had Catherine Housley’s mother as Catherine Marriot. But Catherine Marriot had another daughter called Catherine, two years before our Catherine was born, who didn’t die beforehand. It wasn’t unusual to name another child the same name if an earlier one had died in infancy, but this wasn’t the case.
I asked this question on a British Genealogy forum, and learned that other people’s family trees are never to be trusted. One should always start with oneself, and trace back with documentation every step of the way. Fortified with all kinds of helpful information, I still couldn’t find out who Catherine Housley’s mother was, so I posted her portrait on the forum and asked for help to find her. Among the many helpful replies, one of the members asked if she could send me a private message. She had never had the urge to help someone find a person before, but felt a compulsion to find Catherine Housley’s mother. Eight months later and counting at time of writing, and she is still my most amazing Helper. The first thing she said in the message was “Right. Let’s start at the beginning. What do you know for sure.” I said Mary Ann Gilman Purdy, my great grandmother, and we started from there.
Fran found all the documentation and proof, a perfect and necessary compliment to my own haphazard meanderings. She taught me how to find the proof, how to spot inconsistencies, and what to look for and where. I still continue my own haphazard wanderings as well, which also bear fruit.
It was decided to order the birth certificate, a paper copy that could be stuck onto the back of the portrait, so my mother in Wales ordered it as she has the portrait. When it arrived, she read the names of Catherine’s parents to me over the phone. We were expecting it to be John Housley and Sarah Baggaley. But it wasn’t! It was his brother Samuel Housley and Elizabeth Brookes! I had been looking at the photograph of the portrait thinking it was Catherine Marriot, then looking at it thinking her name was Sarah Baggaley, and now the woman in the portrait was Elizabeth Brookes. And she was from Wolverhampton. My helper, unknown to me, had ordered a digital copy, which arrived the same day.
Months later, Fran, visiting friends in Derby, made a special trip to Smalley, a tiny village not far from Derby, to look for Housley gravestones in the two churchyards. There are numerous Housley burials registered in the Smalley parish records, but she could only find one Housley grave, that of Sarah Baggaley. Unfortunately the documentation had already proved that Sarah was not the woman in the portrait, Catherine Housley’s mother, but Catherine’s aunt.
Sarah Housley nee Baggaley’s grave stone in Smalley:
I hope all this social media as they call it stands the test of time because little things like this are priceless and so few and far between, and someday someone wants to know a little thing like this to paint a picture in their mind. I don’t know if this is one of ours as they say but but he was there too and could even have been one of you or another one of me, the possibilities are endless and the charm of the random snippet is boundless.
“The gallery stairs were honeycombed on
each side by old Jonathan Beniston’s spiked
crutches, and although Jonathan could not
read, he considered himself a valuable
addition to the choir, contributing a sort of
drone bass accompaniment to the melodies. after the style of a bagpipe ” chanter.”
Here’s another one I want to include in my book:
Mr. Joseph Moss, formerly a framework knitter of Woodhouse Lane, for several years kept a Diary of the principal events and incidents in the locality: a most commendable undertaking. It is much to be regretted that so few attempt anything of the kind, so useful, and always interest- ing. Besides the registration of marriages and funerals, we have notices of storms, removals, accidents, sales, robberies, police captures, festivities, re-openings of churches, and many other matters. His record begins in 1855, ^^d ends in 1881, Mr. Moss was a violinist of some ability, and was in great demand at all rural festivities. He was a good singer, and sang (inter alia) ” The Beggar’s Ramble ” with his own local variations^ in good style, and usually with much eclat. The following are a few extracts from his Diary : —
” — July. Restoration of Horsley Church. New weathercock placed on spire by Charles, son of Mr. Anthony Kerry, the builder, on the 31st. A few days later, the south arches of the nave fell down, bringing with it the roofs of nave and south aisle. The pillar next the tower had been under- mined by the making of a grave, and as soon as the gravestone over it was moved the column began to settle : a loud shout was made, and the workmen had only just time to scamper out of the building before the roof and top windows and all came down.”
VanGogh darted toward the cypress fence and when close enough started to bark.
“Good dog!” said a feminine voice, “You recognised me?” It was Julienne, she was about the same age as Bob and lived in the old vicarage not far from Bob’s house. “I was tending to my raspberry trees and I thought I could bring you some of the offshoots”, she said showing her pink plastic bag. “Hi Clara, I didn’t know you were there,” she added as if she should have.
Clara looked at Bob. Not a word, he said with his lips.
secret feet clothes
finally story suddenly known
pain added sometimes feeling
top side telling
mars work bag
Damn these municipal restrictions! Frustrated, Nora looked again at the photo of the inscriptions on the mysterious pear shaped box that Clara had found. She picked up a pen and copied the symbols onto a piece of paper. Glancing back over the message her friend had sent, her face softened at Clara’s pet name for her, Alienor. Clara had started called her that years ago, when she found out about the ouija board incident and the aliens Nora had been talking to. Was it really an alien, or….? Clara had asked, and Nora had laughed and said Of course it was an alien or! and the name had stuck.
Nora’s mood had changed with the reminiscence, and she had an idea. She was working from home, but all that really meant was that she had to have internet access. Nobody would have to know which home she was working from, if she could just make it past the town barriers. But she didn’t have to go by road: the barriers were only on the roads. There was nothing stopping her walking cross country.
Putting aside the paper with the symbols on, she perused a map. She had to cross three town boundaries, and by road it was quite a distance. But as the crow flies, not that far. And if she took the old smugglers track, it was surprisingly direct. Nora calculated the distance: forty nine kilometers. Frowning, she wondered if she could walk that distance in a single day and thought it unlikely. Three days more like, but maybe she could do it in two, at a push. That would mean one overnight stay somewhere. What a pity it was so cold! It would mean carrying a warm sleeping bag, and she hated carrying things.
Nora looked at the map again, and found the halfway point: it was a tiny hamlet. A perfect place to spend the night. If only she knew someone who lived there, somebody who wouldn’t object to her breaking the restrictions.
Nora yawned. It was late. She would finalize the plan tomorrow, but first she sent a message to Clara, asking her if she knew anyone in the little village.EricKeymaster
“And who might you be?” Finnley looked at the oddly clothed bag lady who’d appeared in the staff wing.
“I’m November, you punny insolent thing.”
“What sort of name is that? Is that a woman’s name anyway?”
“Jeeze Louise, consider it non-binary. It feels like there is too much woman energy in that den anyway.”
“And what makes you feel like you are in charge now?”
“Let’s call it power vacuum, sweetie. And if you’re itching at the thought, just wait until you see my boss.”
“Let me guess. She’s December, right?”
“Yep. And they are a mean piece of work, and going to make a swift clean up of all the dregs left over by that orange nightmare.”
“Will you look at these prices!” exclaimed one of the middle aged ladies.
Privately, Tara called them the miserable old bag and the crazy old witch, or Mob and Cow for ease of reference. Anyway, it was Mob who was banging on about the prices.
“Feel free to take yourself somewhere cheaper to eat,” she snarled.
“Oh, no, that’s okay, as long as you’re happy paying these outrageous prices.”
Cow cackled. “I’ve not eaten for a month so bugger the prices! Not that I need to eat, airs good enough for me seeing as I have special powers. Still, a raspberry bun wouldn’t go amiss. Thank you, Ladies!”
“Sorry, I were trying to help,” she said with a shrug.
Tara scanned the room. The only other people in the cafe were an elderly gentleman reading the newspaper and a bedraggled mother with two noisy snot-bags in tow. Tara shuddered and turned her attention to the elderly man. “Those deep wrinkles and wasted muscles look genuine,” she whispered to Star. “There’s nobody here who could possibly be Vince French. I’m going to go and keep watch by the door.”
“Good thinking,” said Star, after covertly checking her Lemoon quote of the day app on her phone; she realised uneasily she was increasingly relying on it for guidance. “There’s a sunny seat over there; I’ll grab a coffee and look inconspicuous by doing nothing. I don’t want to blow our cover.”
Tara glared at her. “I saw you checking your app! What did the oracle say?”
“Oh, just some crazy stuff.” She laughed nervously. “There is some kind of peace in not feelign like there’s anythign to do.”
“Well that’s not going to get us far, is it now?”
“Bugger off, then,” said Tara. “I’m going to have a few more gin and tonics before my hair appointment. Wish me luck!”
“Oh, my!” said April with an embarrassed titter. “Fancy meeting you two here!”
“How dare YOU!” said April, scrambling over the fallen pot-plant in her haste to get away.
“Look!” cried Star. “On her shoulder! A bell-bird.”
Well. I did it. I made my escape. I had to! Nobody came for three days and I’d run out of biscuits. Thank the lord my hip wasn’t playing up. I decided not to take anything with me, figuring I could just steal things off washing lines when I wanted a change of clothes. I’ve always hated carrying heavy bags. I reckoned it would look less conspicuous, too. Just an old dear popping out for digestive perambulation. Nobody suspects old dears of anything, not unless they’re dragging a suitcase round, and I had no intention of doing that. I did put a couple of spare masks in my pocket though, you can’t be too careful these days. And it would help with the disguise. I didn’t want any do gooders trying to catch me and take me back to that place.
I had the presence of mind to wear good stout walking shoes and not my pink feather mules, even though it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. I used to love to see them peeping out from under my bath robe. One day I might strike lucky and find another pair.
I’ve been eating like a king, better than ever! I accidentally coughed on someones burger one day, and they dropped it and ran away, and I thought to myself, well there’s an idea. I stuck to random snacks in the street at first and then one day I fancied a Chinese so I thought, well why not give it a try. Coughed all over his brown bag of prawn crackers as he walked out of the restaurant and he put the whole takeaway in the nearest bin. Piping hot meal for six! Even had that expensive crispy duck!
Tonight I fancy sushi. Wish I’d thought of this trick years ago, I said to myself the other day, then my other self said, yeah but it wouldn’t have worked so well before the plague.
Not having much luck with the washing lines though, lazy sods either not doing any laundry or putting it all in the dryer. Weeks of sunny weather as well, the lazy bastards. Lazy and wasteful! You should see the clothes they throw in the clothes bank bins! If the bins are full you can get your arm in and pull out the ones on the top. I change outfits a dozen times a day some days if I’m in the mood. I do sometimes get an urge to keep something if I like it but I’m sticking to my guns and being ruthless about not carrying anything with me.
Star paused in the lobby. “I need some more persuading,” she said. “What if she dies in that wardrobe? What will we do with the body? Or, worse, what if she doesn’t die and sues us?”
“I’m going back. I can’t leave Rosamund to face the consequences of our drunken stupidity.” Star headed defiantly towards the stairs; the lift was out of order, again. “We would have to be on the eight bloody floor,” she muttered. “You do what you like,” she flung over her shoulder to Tara.
Tara sighed. “Wait up,” she shouted.
Star was relieved that Tara decided to follow. The building was scary at night – the few tenants who did lease office space, were, much like themselves, dodgy start-ups that couldn’t afford anything better. Missing bulbs meant the lighting in the stairwell was dim, and, on some floors, non-existent.
As they approached the door to their office, they paused to listen. “Can you hear something … ?” whispered Star.
“Is it … singing?”
“That’s never Rosamund singing. She’s got a voice like … well let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.”
“I’m going in,” hissed Tara and flung open the door.
“Don’t come any closer!” cried a woman in a mink coat; she did make a peculiar sight, surrounded by empty pizza boxes and brandishing a broom. “And you, shut up!” she said reaching out to bang the wardrobe with her broom. There were muffled cries from within, and then silence.
“Was that you singing?” asked Star in her most polite voice.
“Yes, what’s it to you?”
“It was rather… lovely.”
The woman smirked. “I was rehearsing.”
“We are awfully sorry about locking you in the wardrobe. We thought you were a masked intruder.”
Loud banging emanated from the wardrobe followed by mostly unintelligible shouting but it went something like: “Bloody-let-me-out-or-I-will-friggin-kill-you-stupid-bloody-tarts!”
April nodded. “Go on then, little fool’s learnt her lesson. The cheek of her not letting me have pineapple on my pizza.”
“About bloody time,” sniffed Rosamund when the door was opened. She made a sorry sight, mascara streaked under her eyes and her red fingernails broken from where she had tried to force the door.
April crinkled her brow.”Well, as I may of mentioned on the phone, my husband, Albert — that’s your Uncle Albie,” she said to Rosamund, “is cheating on me. He denies it vehemently of course, but I found this note in his pocket.” She reached into her Louis Vuitton hand-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. “That’s his handwriting and the paper is from the Royal Albert Hotel. He was there on a business trip last month.” Her face crumpled.
April sniffed. “It says, meet you at the usual place. Bring the money and the suitcase and I will make it worth your while.”
“Let me see that,” said Rosamund, snatching the note from April. She reached into the front of her tee-shirt and pulled out another crumpled note which had been stuffed into her bra. She smirked. “I found this in the wardrobe. I was keeping it secret to pay you back but … ” She brandished both notes triumphantly. “The handwriting is the same!”
“It says, If you find this note, please help me. All is not what it seems..”
“Wow, cool!” said Tara, her face lit up. This was more like it!
“Let’s begin,” said the teacher. She was short and seemed around sixty seven. She walked around the room like a tamer surrounded by wild beasts in a circus. Her dark hair was tied into a long braid falling on her straight back like an I. She wore a sari wrapped around her neatly. “I’m Ms Anika Koskinen, your cryogurt teacher today. You’ve got the recipe in front of you on the benches right with the glass and a bottle of water. The ingredients will be in the cabinets on your left and everything is referenced and written big enough for everyone to see.”
“Those benches look like the ones in chemistry class when I was in college,” said Glo. “I have bad memories of thoses.”
“You have bad memories, that’s all,” said Sha making them both laugh.
“How do you want me to know? I was with you since we left the bungalow,” said Sharon who was trying to decipher the blurry letters on the recipe. “Their printer must be malfunctioning, it’s unreadable.”
“You should try putting on your glasses.”
“I didn’t bring’em, didn’t think we’d need to see anything.”
“I saw you! no need to shout,” whispered Mavis loudly. She muttered some excuse to the teacher who had been giving them a stern look.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to go with your friends,” said Ms Koskinen, “We don’t have enough material for everyone.”
The teacher resumed her explanations of the procedure of making frozen yogurt, checking regularly if everyone had understood. She took everyone bobbing their head as a yes.
“You shouldn’t ask us,” said Glo, “our eyes are like wrinkles remover apps.”
“I think he looks better without glasses,” said Mavis.
After Ms Koskinen had finished giving them instructions, she told everyone to go take the ingredients and bring them back to their benches.
“I’m going,” said Sha who wanted to have a better look at the man.
“Don’t forget the recipe with the list of ingredients,” said Mavis waving the paper at her.
She came back with the man helping her carry the tray of ingredients.
“Thank you Andrew,” said Sha when he put the tray on their bench.
“Oh you’re welcome. And those are your friend you told me about?”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Andrew. “I’m Andrew Anderson. I suggested Sharon we could have lunch together after the workshop. I’d like you to meet my friends.”
“Of course!” said Sha. She winked at her friends who were too flabbergasted to speak.
“That’s settled then. We’ll meet at 1pm at my bungalow.”
“See you later,” said Sharon with a dulcet voice.
“What the butt was that all about?” asked Glo.
“Oh! You’ll thank me. I pretexted not to be able to find everything on the list and Andrew was very helpful. The man is charming, and his yacht makes you forget about his Australian accent. We’re going to have lunch on a yacht girls! That means we’re not stuck on the beach and can have some fun exploring around.”
Sha looked quite pleased with herself. She put a bottle of orange powder among the ingredients and said :”Now! Let’s make some wrinkle flattener ice cream, ladies. I took some extra tightener.”
I’ve been up since god knows what time. Got up for the loo and couldn’t face going back to the awful nightmares. That girl that came yesterday said she’d been having nightmares, she said it was common now, people having nightmares, what with the quarantine. I think I might have just snorted at the silly girl, but when I woke up last night I wondered if it was true. Or maybe I’m just a suggestible old fool.
Anyway, I stayed up because lord knows I don’t want to be in a city in America at night, not waking and not dreaming either. I’ve had a feeling for a long time, and much longer than this virus, that it was like a horror movie and it would behoove me not to watch it anymore or I’d be having nightmares. I didn’t stop watching though, sort of a horrified fascination, like I’d watched this far so why stop now.
In the dream I was on a dark city street at a bus stop, it was night time and the lights were bright in a shop window on the other side of the sidewalk. I had a bunch of tickets in my hand all stapled together, but they were indecipherable. I had no idea where I was going or how to get there. Then I noticed the man that was by my side, a stranger that seemed to have latched on to me, had stolen all my tickets and replaced them with the rolled up used ticket stubs. I made him give me back my tickets but then I knew I couldn’t trust him.
Then I realized I hadn’t finished packing properly and only had a ragged orange towel with bloodstains on it. So I go back home (I say home but I don’t know what house it was) to pack my bags properly, and find a stack of nice new black towels, and replace the bloody orange one.
I’m walking around the house, wondering what else I should pack, and one room leads into another, and then another, and then another, in a sort of spiral direction (highly improbable because you’d have ended up back in the same room, in real life) and then I found a lovely room and thought to myself, What a nice room! You’d never have known it was there because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere and didn’t seem to have a function as a room.
It was familiar and I remembered I’d been there before, in another dream, years ago. It had lovely furniture in it, big old polished wooden pieces, but not cluttered, the room was white and bright and spacious. Lovely big old bureau on one wall, I remember that piece quite clearly. Not a speck of dust on it and the lovely dark sheen of ancient polished oak.
Anyway in the dream I didn’t take anything from the room, and probably should have just stayed there but the next thing I know, I’m in a car with my mother and she races off down the fast lane of an empty motorway. I’m thinking, surely she doesn’t know how to take me where I have to go? She seemed so confident, so out of character the way she was driving.
I got up for the loo and all I kept thinking about was that awful scene in the city street, which admittedly doesn’t sound that bad. I won’t bother telling the girl about it when she comes to do my breakfast, it loses a little in the telling, I think.
But the more I think about that lovely room at the end of the spiral of rooms, the more I’m trying to wrack my brains to remember where I’ve seen that room before. I’ve half a mind to go back there and open that dark oak bureau and see what’s inside.
It wasn’t such a bad day, thought Olliver, and it might even be a good day. The birds are singing, we saw a boar and a few deers already. Animals are getting back and they don’t seem to fear the humans so much.
Rukshan was walking first and Fox was following him with a heavy backpack. Tak and Nesy were mostly playing around and marvelling at everything their path crossed. Olliver envied their innocence, the innocence he had lost not so long ago.
Except the animals and the two guards they had to hide from, the day had mostly been uneventful and Olliver’s mind was wandering off into the mountain where he could feel useful and strong. He felt strangely blissed and suddenly had the impulse to walk toward a patch of yellow flowers.
“STOP! Pay attention where you walk,” said Rukshan. “Come back to your left two feet and walk straight. I told you to follow my every steps.”
“Okay, uncle Ruk!” said Olliver a bit ashamed to have been caught not paying attention.
“I don’t understand,” said the Fae. “Glynis’s potion doesn’t seem to work for you. The aetherical tentacles around the traps don’t seem to detect us but only you, and you also seem susceptible to their power to attract you. It’s not the first time I had to warn you.”
The Fae could see the etherical traps and especially the free flowing tentacles or the tension lines attached to trees, stones, wooden posts, anything that would cross a trail at different heights. With the potions they should be impervious to detection and affections by the traps. Olliver hadn’t thought that far. He had thought that by following them he could manage not to be caught. Right now, he feared more Rukshan’s piercing eyes than the traps. He looked at Fox involuntarily.
“It’s my fault,” said Fox looking a bit contrite. Sweat was pearling on his face. “It’s becoming too dangerous for Olli so I must confess something.” He put his heavy bag on the floor and opened it and a dwarf’s head peered timidly out.
“By the fat belly of the giants! What made you do such a stupid thing?”
“You didn’t think at all!” said the Fae. “The potions were not just for the fun of drinking something pungent and bitter with the taste and texture of yak wool.”
“Leave me out of this teleportation stuff!” said Gorrash.
“What an idea! But I already thought of that my little friend. You two are going to to back.”
“No we’re not! If you make us go back we’ll follow you from a distance.”
“Oh You, I’m sure it’s your idea,” started Rukshan.
“No, it’s mine,” said Olliver. “Uncle Fox had almost convinced Gorrash it was better to stay, but I couldn’t let him be stay behind after just being reborn. You said it once, we don’t leave our friends behind.”
“I’m sure it was under another set of circumstances,” countered the Fae.
“Anyway you see the traps, I can follow your instructions. And if there is any fever problem I can teleport Gorrash back to the cottage.”
“I do not totally agree with you but I see you have learned to make an argumentation.”
Fox felt the Fae relax. “Agreed, you come with us to the Great Lakes to meet the Graetaceans and you’ll follow what I tell you to do from now on. I’ll treat you as a responsible adult.”
“Yay! We’ll meet the Graetaceans!” said Nesy.
“Olli and Gorrash will stay with us,” said Tak jumping around his friends with such a broad smile. Rukshan thought he was growing too soft on them all, with the new generation growing he started to feel his own age.
I don’t keep track of the days since we have been forcefully encouraged to stay home. I have plenty of carrots and chocolate mousse. Talking of mousse, I might have a mouse keeping me company. Let’s not hope it’s a family. But I heard that animals are coming back into town now that we are all cozy in our burrows. There have been mentions of chicks on the ring road. Not the kind of chick with makeup, the real fluffy and yellow ones. And one of my friends saw a fox roaming the streets while going to the supermarket. I bet he had a bag full of carrots. Now I wouldn’t be surprised having rabbits everywhere with all those carrots around.
I may sound confusing but I guess that’s what being confined does to people. I even had day dreams of birds flying in my bedroom. I swear I really saw one. Well, to be fair I only saw its shadow, but it was a shadow in the air, not on the wall. I wonder what kind of bird it was. My little pinky said it was a finch, the one my mother loved looking at in her garden. She will be part of the numbers soon. Either with her death or with her survival. Now when I think of her I see her surrounded by a bunch of animals. I even saw the fox, but I don’t think it would count amongst the animals I see in town.
Since I’m not trying to be analytic, I’ve found a strange poetry in life around here. People are talking like senators, all trying to give their certainties to the world, but I can tell you nobody knows shit and nobody has a clue. You might as well welcome the virus for some tea to get to know each other and have some interesting stories about yourself and your relation to nature.
I’m raving again. Someone told me a joke recently. The national board of psychologists published a official communiqué because they received too many calls from people. They said it was normal in this time of confinement to talk to the walls or the objects in your house, and to call them only in case the objects talked back.
What would they think if they knew I’m talking to a whale and it’s giving me advice for my writing? I can even hear them as it sends me short audio. I haven’t been able to figure out what they said in the audio though. I’m glad the advice for my writing do come directly translated and not in the form of a whale song. I’m grateful for technology in that case.
Oh and one last mention. A friend told me about the current roller coaster of the stock market. I dreamt of a stocking market. I must say it was very colourful and the seller used their stockings in very creative ways.
Keep the connection going! Talk to you soon Whale. I’ll have to find you a name. My pinky suggested Jorid so it will be my name for you.EricKeymaster
Or is it just 22? I’m losing count. Who would have guessed after the escape from the cruise nightmare, we’d be again confined to our homes. The world has gone in stasis, and it feels like the story has taken a dire turn. At least it is a welcome change; unpredictability reshuffles the cards,… if only slightly.
We now should have more time to write the story of our lives, yet it’s still difficult to not feel absorbed by the global apathy and the impeding measures. Is it a failure of imagination?— I’m not sure I can project myself into a future without discarding a lot of useless garbage. Maybe it’s a collective wake-up call.
For now, the whale is fed, but she’s close to an indigestion of epidemic scare news. We need to change her diet, that’s what I know. Because we’re in its belly, and it starts to smell of death.
So, who’s up for a quest?
“Well one of you isn’t going either!” Rosamund shouted through the door, as Tara and Star headed out. “One of you better get back in here to hold the fort. Mum’s been on the phone, says she’s packing her bags for sure this time. It’s not just Auntie Joanie coming, Auntie April’s on her way too! I gotta go and calm her down.”
“This is not the most salubrious start for a new employee,” muttered Star.
“We can’t afford anyone else yet!” Tara whispered back.
“You stay and hold the fort then. I’ll go and see to Vince,” Star replied. “Might get more out of him if only one of us goes, know what I mean?” she said with a lewd wink. “Here’s my password to the cult forum. See what you can find out. And don’t start making daft comments on there! Neutral observations only!”
“I thought you said we were going to Australia, April? This doesn’t look like Australia to me,” she said casting a despondent eye around the dismal cell. “Why do they always paint them grey?”
“To make you suffer. You’re not supposed to enjoy it.”
“Barbaric,” sniffed June. “And inefficient. I refuse to be rehabilitated unless they improve the accommodation.”
“Fat chance of that” April snorted. “We’ll be sewing mailbags or being a guinea pig for the latest bolonavirus vaccine.”
“What? No art classes and gym and choice of menu?” June was aghast. “You had better get us out of here! That latest scam was all your idea, anyway.”
“Actually, no, it wasn’t. It was that guy, what was his name? Godfrey? The one that comes to see Mr August sometimes. I was in the elevator with him one day and right out of the blue, I mean, I don’t know him personally, but he planted all these crazy ideas in my head telling me about how fool proof this credit card trick was…”
“He can pay the bail money then.”
“Now there’s an idea.”
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