Happy Saturday

In my memory, the sun was always shining. I’m sure that it must have rained. This was mid-seventies England after all.

Almost every Saturday, after my brother and father had returned from football practice, mum and I would journey to our nearest chip shop for the Saturday lunchtime treat. It was only half a mile away, but to my little legs,  it was in another land.

Sometimes we walked, but most often we would cycle. Me on my Raleigh Fourteen, mum on an old black bicycle which looked as though it might have been owned by Mary Poppins. It was probably no more than twenty years old, but appeared Edwardian. Or possibly Victorian, which means that Mary Poppins must have bought hers second-hand. She loved that bicycle, and I remember sharing her tears when a clumsy neighbour ran his car into it. Fortunately it was leaning against a wall at the time, not in use. Unfortunately, it was irreparable.

The journey took us out of our middle-class comfort zone towards a less leafy and busier part of town. Still quite young, I had just started to notice that there were houses smaller than ours, and where the only place to park your car was on the road. Unlike us, there was only one car per house. I was slightly scared of one particular road, flanked either side with vehicles, and I was glad not to be alone. Twelve years later I would dread being asked to navigate along that same road by my driving instructor. On Saturday mornings, the younger me would be rewarded for my bravery with fish and chips.

Our chip shop was, at that time, run from the side of another shop. Almost round the back. There was only a short counter and even on a Saturday lunchtime, the queue would spill onto the pavement. By the time I was old enough to visit on a Friday evening, the chippy had expanded into the adjacent shop, acquired a larger counter and customers had somewhere to sit to wait for their takeaway. Back in the mid-seventies, the queue for a Friday night fish supper must have stretched past several nearby houses.

Enjoying fish and chips is more than just eating. It starts when you are close enough to smell the food being prepared. As the chip-shop door was left open, our meal ‘commenced’ as we secured our bikes to a nearby lamppost. My mother unhooked her basket from the handlebars. It was a large gondola basket. I had a mini version which I too unhooked. My role in proceedings would be to carry the ‘mushy peas’ back home in my little basket.

The next phase of the meal takes place whilst standing in the queue. Nowadays I might spend that time changing my mind about what to order, but back then choices were from a limited menu and in your wait the increasingly strong smell built the anticipation of pleasures to come. You would never smell fish, just frying chips and the sharpness of vinegar on a satisfied customer’s purchase as they left the shop and you were one step closer.

Stepping inside the shop you knew you had reached the holy grail. Enormous jars of pickled eggs (YUK!) sat on the counter. They still make me think of eyeballs in a horror movie to this day.  I watched them with a mixture of suspicion and fear until it was our turn. The shop owner silently moved the chips around in the fryer whilst his ruddy-faced wife took our order. I wondered if she eat all the leftovers at the end of a day.

“Three fish and chips please. No vinegar on one of the portion of chips. Oh, and two cartons of mushy peas please.”

I hated vinegar with a passion, and if  ‘my’ chips (which I shared with mum) suffered even the slightest contamination from another portion, this little princess would be sulky all day.

Our fish would be wrapped together, and each portion of chips had its own parcel. All wrapped in greaseproof paper then each parcel cloaked in newspaper to keep it warm.

We left the shop heads high, smiling at the queue. We have our lunch, you still have to wait for yours. Be patient and you will be rewarded.

Baskets re-hooked and bicycles unsecured we headed back home. The return journey seemed longer, the scent of our lunch calling to us, tempting us to pull over and try just one chip. I split my attention between the road ahead and my little basket of jade green jewels.

Upon return we hastily leave the bikes in the driveway and head indoors to dish up. My brother and father are already waiting. A family of four enjoying a greasy smelly treat together, mine with no vinegar but lashings of tomato ketchup (ironically laced with vinegar). How the food stayed warm on the journey back I’ll never know. Magic newspaper? It was probably almost cold, but memory has a habit of glossing over such details.

We have knives and forks but are allowed to eat the chips with our fingers if we wish. A special Saturday treat.

 

MinG

Ref: Writing101, Day 10 Prompt: Tell us something about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Yes, I am weeks behind, will complete the course in my own sweet time…..

Click-Clack-Thwack

He could smell the wool, almost taste it. Even from several feet away.

Alison put her arm around him.

“Don’t fret my love. I know that it’s hard for you, but you did the right thing. No-one could have expected you to carry on by yourself. It wasn’t possible.”

Less than twelve months ago, Gavin Hughes had been a fourth generation mill owner. His forefathers had passed down the tradition through the years, instilling the love of the fibres, bestowing upon him the skills and secrets learnt over scores of years, until it all ended. With one son running a successful construction business in Australia, and the other studying a PhD in Genomics at Cambridge, there was no-one to take on the heritage. No-one to be the fifth generation. No-one.

Alison would tell him that it was not his fault that neither child had seen a future in wool, that other factors left the business untenable, but Gavin had a strong belief in “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. He knew that he hadn’t done enough to encourage Mathew, whose love of anything mechanical was ideal for keeping the Victorian machinery working. But the boy was more interested in fast cars and local girls, and too many heated exchanges had burned that bridge. Owen was too bright to be tied to the Teifi Valley. That was clear from an early age.

The local wool museum had offered apprentices, but Gavin’s stickling for tight timekeeping and short temper resulted in a high turnover in staff (unlike the sales) and the supply of willing volunteers ran dry.

As did the Teifi, several times a year. Perhaps those loony-leftie tree huggers had a point about global warming thought Gavin. A watermill cannot run without a water, and if there wasn’t a drought, there was a flood, overfilling the mill pond and spilling past the head race. Feast or famine. Drought or flood. Not biblical proportions, but enough to wonder if someone up there had it in for you.

As a child, Gavin had been fascinated by how shaggy fleeces had been turned into soft blankets of many colours. The willowing, turning the washed fleece into fine wisps like the hair of the angels. The fierce looking carding machines, aggressively drawing the wisps through an intricate route around their enormous drums. The click-clack-thwack as the shuttle shot across the loom, only to be returned with equal ferocity, then back again.

But now there was only silence. The fleeces were gone, the machines had been sold as scrap and the shell of the mill awaited the property developers. They said the conversion would be sympathetic to the history of the area. Gareth didn’t care. He had betrayed his ancestors and deserted his trade. He would live a comfortable but troubled retirement in Beaumaris, and never return to the Teifi.

MinG

Ref: Writing101, Day 9 Prompt: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

The Creator

Two adults please.

Grey-blue twinkling eyes greeted me and asked if we’d visited a model village before.

I explained that I used to live near one in Southport and had been taken there several times as a child. Nostalgic eyes smiled as he referred to as a particularly special collection, which he had visited on numerous occasions too.

We discussed various locations where fine villages could be found before the smile-wrinkles appeared again. With a mischievous grin, he asked if we would like to complete the treasure hunt. Yes please!

Walking round the from the ticket booth to be given directions, we were joined by a lean man who we estimated to be in his mid-sixties, dressed in tidy blue engineer’s overalls. Just one small smudge of grease on the front.

With muted pride he advised the best route and told us to watch out for the two model trains which ran at regular intervals.

We set off on our adventure, duly noting our answers on the quiz sheet. At the end of the route we were met by someone who introduced himself as the second in command.

The boss has gone to work on a spare motor for the windmill. He’s a perfectionist you know.

We enquired as to whether he had built the village. Yes, from scratch. And the trains. He used to be a cabinet-maker and couldn’t settle into retirement, so bought the land and created the village.

All by himself?

Yes. Pretty much. At the same time he renovated an out building which is now a holiday let.

Looking back at the village we were given an insight into the soul of its creator.

The paths were clean and free from weeds, as were the colourful flower beds which surrounded each tableau.

A lot of thought had gone into the character of each setting, right down to the contrast between the music playing from some. High Church of England hymns in the steepled church, quieter and more melodic praise from the Chapel of St Mary, while candy flossed barrel organ melodies rang out from the fair.

There was a pleasantly childish sense of humour in some of the signs, in Llangefni High Street you could visit from “Dan Druff’s Hair Salon”.

There was a keen eye to detail in the scale and architecture of the buildings, all based on local landmarks and surroundings. It was clear that he was as passionate about living on Anglesey as he was about his work.

And yet he was humble. Did he deliberately step into the workshop to avoid praise at the end of our visit?

We were surprised to hear that he was over seventy, and that he had decided to sell the enterprise. This could be our last visit to one man’s miniature Anglesey.

We hoped that someone would take it on and continue in the spirit that it was created, but if you read the original post relating to our visit, we also wondered whether this type of attraction is still popular.

MinG

Ref: Writing101, Day 6 Prompt “Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?”

Apart

This is a response to the most recent Writing101 prompt:

Today’s Prompt: You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

I have struggled with this post. Not least because I am unlikely to read a letter found on a path. When I imagined myself as someone who would, my closest reference point wouldn’t have been affected, just inappropriately interested. So again, no apologies, I will bend the rules…..

 

We first viewed the house in late August. It was empty due to a relocation and, as we had a cash buyer, moving in should be straightforward. 

Without the burden of an occupant seller we enjoyed inspecting every nook and cranny.  In “Bedroom 2” we stumbled across a message scrawled on the inside of a fitted wardrobe door:

I          miss          mummy

 

 

Had mummy been relocated in a high-powered career move?  Or was the separation more permanent?  What pain was the child going through?  We shall never know, but we still wonder.

Two months later, we arrived with removal van, kettle, milk, sugar and biscuits.  When we came to hang up our clothes in the wardrobe, the message had gone.

 

MinG 

The Grass Is Definitely Greener…

Today’s Prompt: Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

A few years ago I wrote a song called “Take Me Away”. The lyrics reflected my weariness at being in a city where I felt deprived of the space to breathe.

I was dissatisfied with my job, tired of the bureaucracy of being a small cog in a very large corporate machine, and grimy from the constant dust thrown up by improvements to the centre of Liverpool, as it was prepared for being the City Of Culture in 2008. I was ready for a change.

One day I observed someone pushing their way past everyone so they could to get to the ticket barrier first. They were not alone, and one bad days, I joined that race. On this occasion, they almost knocked down the blind guy who I often saw on the way into Liverpool. Something in my mind said, “they show you no pity”, and soon after, the song was born.

Sad sad song coming up from the pavement,
every day just the same such frustration,
look of sheer desperation and dismay.
Sad sad face looking out from the window,
saying “where did my yesterdays go?” 
Hanging on for tomorrow, night and day.

So take me away from the sad lonely face of the city,
Take me away from the grey and the black and the blue.
I don’t want to stay in a place where they show you no pity.
So sorry babe, I got to say,
Take me away.

Lyrically, I was yearning for open countryside. Move forward two years and I made my escape. For the last few years I have been working in a rurally based company with an agricultural focus. Yes, there’s still bureaucracy – I suspect that I will always experience this in my line of work – but I am a larger cog in a smaller machine, and there is so much fresh air just outside the door.

Where I took my lunchtime walk on Wednesday

Where I took my lunchtime walk on Wednesday

Ironically, the thing I miss the most about not working in Liverpool is the train journey. Logistically I am forced to drive to and from work every day, which affords me the privacy that public transport cannot, but I am not able to read, or close my eyes and drift away, and write a song or two.

 MinG

Sing, Sing, Sing Rewritten. Part One 

After posting my reponse to today’s writing101 prompt, I wasn’t happy. So I am having another go. In pieces because it’s late. Apologies for the lack of formatting, I am using the iPad app, which I am not used to.

I am nineteen. Having moved into a bedsit, I feel so mature and in control. I am so young and have so little control. I check that I have my keys, close the bedsit door behind me, plug in my Walkman earphones and press play.

Telegraph Road starts with a quiet held note. A high D which sits somewhere at the back of my head. The volume and instrumentation builds and I am pulled along the deserted streets of my seaside hometown towards the station. 

The song tells the tale of the birth, growth and demise of a working town based around the eponymous road. As the music soars to the height of industrial power, my steps quicken.

Then the tempo slows, and I stand at the head of the main town thoroughfare and ponder the parallels between these roads. My hometown had a glorious Victorian heyday but looks tired in the darkness before dawn. The discount stores seemed to increase at the same pace as the rust on the wrought iron verandas that skirt one side of the street.

The song is approaching its climax now. A jam around a classic rock chord sequence. I too am nearing my destination. The walk and song match each other in length. A happy coincidence which allows me to use a combination of lyrics and landmarks to pace myself. 

I will listen to something different on the return walk this evening, but tomorrow will start with that single high D.

MinG

Sing, Sing, Sing

Today’s Prompt: Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

As with Day 1, I am using a piece of music to time my free writing. It last just over 14 minutes long, so I need to continue for at least another minute when it ends. It also happens to be:

Song 1: “Telegraph Road” by Dire Straits
Taken from the 1982 album “Love Over Gold”, this is an epic track telling the tale of the birth, growth and demise of a community based around the eponymous road.

It transports me back to 1986 when I had left home for the first time. I’d moved into a bedsit close to the promenade of the seaside town that I grew up in. I was on the opposite side of town to my parents, so we were close and far enough apart. Every morning, I would walk to the station and almost always listened to this song en-route.

From the door of the detatched Victorian house to the train station entrance took almost exactly the same time as Telegraph Road. It starts with a single opening note, then an slow finger picked national steel guitar. As vocals, piano, bass and drums are added, the steady rock beat would pull me into the day ahead. I could also use a combination of lyrics and landmarks to determine whether I was running late or not.

It’s classic AOR, but so well crafted, from Knopfler’s soaring solo, to Alan Clark’s moody piano back-drop and the thoughtful percussion of Pick Withers – why did he have to leave the band?

Whenever I hear it, I am walking the streets in the semi darkness before the dawn. Head down and hands in pockets. I still have a fair journey ahead of me and it’s going to be a long day….

Song 2: “Jerusalem”, words by William Blake, music by Hubert Parry.
From the moment that Miss Crayston thundered out the opening notes on the school grand piano you knew that this was important. It was our school song and performed at every special occasion. First day of term, last day of term, speech day, all were appropriate for us to belt out what is a pretty rousing piece. Just ask an England rugby fan. And for a music semi-snob, emphasising some of the timing nuances in different verses, and seeing who got it wrong was, well, fun.

It may be viewed by some as an anthem to archaic patriotic breast beating in a multi-cultural world, but I cannot help but feeling proud of where I came from when I hear it. It represents the fine schooling and support from my parents in formative years, rolling green hills and valleys, and what I still believe is a good country to be born and/or brought up in. I am not putting England on a pedestal above other nations, but to celebrate diversity you have to recognise differences. You cannot have one without the other. And yes, I am jealous of the relative strength of national identity of our neighbours in Wales and Scotland.

But I’m getting off piste again. This song is standing on a parquet floor, next to best friend Andrea, singing as loud as we could, because we could. It’s a lump in my throat watching the “Last Night Of The Proms”.

Song 3: “Whisky Is The Life Of Man” by Bellowhead
What a raucous rebel rouser. A hymn to the nectar of the Gods. Thoughtful songs are all very well but you have to let your hair down sometimes. I can’t honestly say that this song has any great meaning to me but it never fails to make me smile. Sometimes I will dance too.

I think that the original song is Australian, and it has travelled the globe in several guises, but I first saw this on a Christmas folk music special broadcast by the wonderful BBC in 2009. A pre-requisite for performing in that concert appears to be adorning Victorian dress. As one comment on the You Tube clips puts it “love how many tophats there are in that room”.

Almost four years later I saw Bellowhead live in concert. Oh how we danced that evening. Most concerts I attend are sit down affairs (jazz, classical), but sitting still was not an option in November 2013.

I thoroughly recommend checking out :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-x9KtmSwLA

and I challenge you not to at least tap your toes a little.

Closing thought. Considering that this is a challenge about music, one of the most important things in my life, I found it incredibly difficult to write.

MinG

A Room With A View. And a Stairway to My Heaven

“If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?”

“We’re nearly there”, I said as we headed around the next headland.

“Good thing too, the fish and chips will be cold soon”.

 We were on a brief road trip around the north west of Scotland, stopping at small Bed and Breakfasts each night before moving on. Our budget wouldn’t stretch to dining out, so we would purchase food from the local grocery shop and either sneak back into the B&B for a surreptitious supper, or head out to a local beauty spot and dine almost alfresco. This limited our menu for the week, and on the evening that we stayed in Mellon Charles we decided to treat ourselves to takeaway fish and chips. The layout of our overnight residence would have meant transporting our dinner through the lounge to get to our room. The landlady could have been on guard and might not have taken to well to our rather aromatic dinner being consumed in a tiny space which had been adorned with swags, cushions and tie-backs galore. All just waiting to absorb the scent of salt and vinegar.

So we headed out to Gruinard Bay. Si was new to being this far north, but I had visited there two years earlier.

The road between Poolewe and Ullapool almost hugs the coast, allowing you glimpses of inlets and islets on one side, and contrasting rugged mountains on the other. This makes for pleasant journeys, but can result in your oasis being further away than you first envisaged. Mirage like it appears in the distance, only to disappear, reappear then disappear again.

But we did reach our destination and stopped in the deserted car park across the road from the bay. It was odd to see it empty. When I had visited with my parents in that lovely summer, it was jam packed with families wanting to make the most of the sunshine and beach. At the time that Si switched off the engine, most wise people would be indoors, secured away from the midges, which can ruin an otherwise pleasant evening with their incessant biting.

Somehow, we were lucky and the midges had headed off to the nearest campsite to wreak havoc, leaving us to enjoy the view across the bay to Gruinard Island. Beyond that was the peninsula where we were stopping. It looked so close.

We had dinner uninterrupted by man or midge, crossed the road and made our way down the rickety wooden steps which allow access to the beach. The sun was setting but we had time for a quick stroll along the shore. Again, I was struck by the contrast to my previous visit. The sands are a pale gold and there is shelter from the band of coast which is slightly raised. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there are cliffs, the drop from the road ranges between ten and twenty feet. This makes it a haven for beach lovers, the only dark cloud being the ominous shadow of Gruinard Island, which was used for biological weapon testing in the cold war and which was only decontaminated in the late 20th century.

We walked and talked, and talked and walked. Before we knew it, the sun had gone and the moon was reflecting gently on the still bay waters. Temperatures can fall quite quickly in this area and, not knowing the road that well, we decided to head back to our over-upholstered abode for the night.

Halfway up the steps to the road we turned back to take in the view. It was then that we spotted the seal. We hadn’t seen any whilst walking on the beach, but there it was, bobbing up and down, appearing to watch us.

 “Goodbye Gruinard Bay. Goodbye Mr Seal”  I whispered as I waved. Incredibly, the seal raised a flipper and appear to wave back. It was probably just scratching its nose, but to us, on that magical evening, we had been bid farewell. This was before the days of mobile phones with cameras, and we weren’t carrying the 35mm, so I cannot share a picture, but I can still see it clearly in my mind over 25 years later.

The following morning we drove past the parking as we headed north for our next destination. We didn’t stop, it would have broken the spell of the previous evening. Despite observing this taboo, I would love to return to the area, smell the sea and dodge the midges. Who knows, we might even do some seal spotting.

With my eyes still on the horizon,

MinG

Writing 101: Mind Unlocked

“Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.”

Well, having read the instructions for the course, I’m not sure if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’ve taken that plunge into the deep waters, without considering the middle depths that splits this place from the comforting pull of the shallow end.

I’ll confess right now that I am editing a little as I go along. Twenty minutes of heading off into Lord knows where without looking back over your shoulder isn’t my style. I’m used to rules, order, cross checks and validation. I’m typing this into word to upload later, but to be honest, I’m happier building something in excel.

So why write?

Well, I feel limited by my profession. It’s not that it isn’t satisfying within its own bounds, but I am more than its bounds allow. So I set up a “me” space on wordpress and I wrote. A little. Mainly when on holiday. In between the time when I sit in my own space and “do my thing” and the day job, there are flashes on inspiration. Some even when I am constructing the formula in cell C1. But how to turn those flashes into something readable? Something worthy. Not worthy, I don’t really like the word. It conjures up images of long full skirts with high elasticated-waistbands. And sensible shoes. Although I am a fan of the latter. I hope to produce something that someone out there will enjoy, and maybe be inspired by.

It isn’t helped by the lack of “life experience”. I was lucky enough to have a happy up-bringing with loving parents, a good education and I made the most of that. I have a husband who loves me and we live a simple but comfortable existence.

So am I saying that art has to be created from adversity? My favourite pieces are in a minor key.

But as I sit here typing my thoughts as they appear, with a backdrop of Eno’s Ambient 1 (track 1 – a good timer), I fear that I will experience what Kazuo Ishiguro recently related in an interview publicising his latest book. In his youth he attended a writing course run by Malcolm Bradbury. The students had given up a year of their life to develop their literary muscles. Many had self-funded. They knew that they had not been able to fulfil their dream of professional writing because of constraints. Constraints placed upon them by work, or family, lack of space. How heart breaking for them to discover that, when presented with the blank canvas and the time to fill it, they had nothing to say.

What if that is me?
Eno track 1 has completed which means that I must stop in two minutes. I will re-read. I’m not so brave to publish blind, yet…

MinG