Friday, March 26, 2010

Cromford Canal — a walk in Derbyshire

A walk along Cromford Canal.

Winter has gone and spring has arrived but it is obvious that everything is behind within the natural world. Even so on our short break in Derbyshire (celebrating out 57th wedding anniversary) we found great delight in taking short walks, one of which was by the Cromford Canal.
Cromford is well known for its cotton manufacturing history (Sir Richard Arkwright) and indeed a mill museum is there to inform interested visitors. Mill buildings stand as strong-looking as ever, as indeed are the large Masson mills on the nearby River Derwent (along with the interesting museum there is also a retail outlet too). The original Masson mill water turbines still operate and generate electricity.
Close by is Sir Richard Arkwright’s mansion, Willersly Castle – now a Christian-based hotel open to all.
At the start of our walk we met a photographer waiting to snap a friendly vole. I admire these photographers who wait many hours to get their pictures. We did not see a great deal of water life, certainly not as much as we usually do but maybe they were further away. Even so, it was a pleasant walk. A train rushing on the lines below the canal, and the stink of a nearby sewage disposal works, did little to disturb our tranquil mood.

(The ducks in the photograph are out of focus but I love the 'Impressionist' feel about the picture)

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Short story — Trixie Avenged by Gladys Hobson

Trixie Avenged, a story taken from my book, Still Waters Run Deep, stories of hidden depths.


Ulverston’s Gill Footpath is a beautiful place in the daylight — colourful trees and bushes, many wild flowers, scented air, bubbling stream and birdsong. Likely, it is also lovely at night but I have never visited that area after nightfall.
Walking a lonely path with the aid of a torch has never appealed. Should I ever be tempted to view the place by moonlight, what we ocassionally see in the morning — cans and bottles, plastic bags and food containers, damaged seats and other signs of bad behaviour — is enough to put me off. Moreover, from our bedroom, in the stillness of the night, we can sometimes hear rowdy voices coming from that direction.
Occasionally, on my strolls, I pass by young people sitting on the seats. They are usually quite friendly. Apart from the occasional hello, I have been known to engage in a little conversation. Some lads are keen on engineering projects — damming the stream or whatever. Looks like fun. We did the same thing with our kids on sandy beaches. On the whole, the young and the old seem to get along okay. So why this macabre tale?
I guess nightfall changes our perception of things and imagination can run riot. There have been some unhappy events along the Gill footpath at night — a suicide, an accidental drowning — but this one is pure imagination!
As to the perception that elderly people are generally harmless creatures that can be ignored or patronised, this yarn is a warning!

Trixie Avenged by Gladys Hobson

She waited quietly in the shadows, her thin arthritic body quivering with anger, while her bespectacled sore eyes watched them drink from cans.
Boys! Always the same: when not smoking or gulping down lager, they were shouting obscenities at passers by. Foul-mouthed louts! Oh yes, she’ll make them pay for what they did to Trixie. ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ That’s what the Good Book says.
She had a few issues to settle. Maybe she could manage two birds with one stone? Hmm….

‘Do you think Mum’s all right? I mean, she seems to be acting very odd lately. Mumbling to herself, not eating properly, and I’ve heard her walking around her room at night. She hardly talks to me — to any of us — since we moved here.’
Sam looked over his paper and gazed at his skinny, dark-haired wife as she stood preparing his breakfast. He sure did wish she would do something to improve her image. She looked nearly as old as his mother. ‘It’s the move. Grief for what was, and never will be again. Just the same when Dad died. Give her time.’
‘All right for you. Off to work, leaving me to cope. Same at night, you sleep while I have to make sure she comes to no harm. The way she is now, she’d be better off in care.’ Laura slammed down a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him. ‘You just won’t accept that Mum’s gaga.’
Sam put aside his paper and picked up his fork. ‘Admit it, you never did want my mum living with us. I put up with your mother for a year before she had that fall. Besides, have you any idea how much it would cost?’ He loaded egg into his mouth but went on talking, ‘Bad enough we have to fork out for your old biddie without mine joining her.’
‘Do you have to talk with your mouth full? And we are not paying anything for my mother; the sale of her house raised more money than she’ll ever need. With that cancer eating her away, the poor old thing hasn’t long to live.’ She sat down, hands over her streaming eyes.
Sighing heavily, Sam threw down his fork and pushed his plate aside. ‘Oh for goodness sake, Laura, stop wailing.’
‘I’m not wailing. You have no idea what it’s like here all day with your mother the way she is.’
‘Just give the old buzzard time. She’s probably missing our kids as well as her old home. I’m late for work. We’ll discuss it tonight.’
‘As usual, run away and leave me to cope.’
Sam, already in the hall, pulled his coat over his rotund body. ‘Get yourself dressed, woman; you’re always hanging around in a dressing gown.’
The front door slammed behind him.

Huh, fighting again, they’re always bloody fighting. They don’t want me here. They just want my money. ‘Honour your father and mother.’ But not them, no, not them. Well, I’ll show them who’s an old biddie. Oh yes, I’ll creep out tonight when they’re busy in bed — do they think I can’t hear them at it? — and take revenge for Trixie. Those kids’ll wish they’d never been born. Laura won’t be happy either!

She peeped through the curtain. It was now dark outside, only light from street lamps lit up the garden. Noises escaping through the ceiling told her Sam and Laura were at it again. Through the open window, she could hear the lads on the footpath by the stream. Creeping across the hall, she slipped on Laura’s old voluminous black coat and fished out a silver-knobbed walking stick from the back of the cupboard. Then she put on Laura’s shiny black boots and pulled the hood of the coat over her dull, thinning grey hair. Silently giggling, she let herself out of the front door, closing it to, but not locking it.

Yes, they were there, just ahead. A blazing fire silhouetting a couple of lads waving pieces of wood in the air. Probably another broken-up seat. They’ll be two more somewhere. Take it steady, mustn't trip and ruin things. Little devils, what a mess all over that picnic table. Cans and cartons all over the place. Huh! Now they’re throwing the cans down into the stream. Tinny music’s coming from somewhere. They must have one of them phone things that can do everything except wipe your bottom.
They’re all sitting at the table now. Chips smell nice. It’s ages since Laura brought some fish and chips home from the shop down town. She knows I like them.
I can see those little devils quite clearly. Wearing them ‘orrible hoods. Right, go carefully.

Raising the knob-end of the walking stick in the air, she ran forward howling like a hound from hell!
Startled, the four boys looked up to see the dark figure towering over them with arms in the air. Too late for one boy to move out of the way — the silver knob caught his nose and eye. A pitiful scream faded as the boy collapsed over the table; blood streaming over his supper… like tomato sauce from a broken bottle.
Yelling and falling over each other, the three other youths tried to escape the punishing blows of the howling monster’s stick. An injured boy backed into the fire: shrieks, accompanied by sparks, rent the air! Another youth tripped over and rolled over nettles and rough ground down to the stream below. The last of the group, trapped by the table, pleaded for mercy. But the demented ghoul refused to be assuaged: the bloodied silver knob struck him again and again and again.

She opened the door quietly. Muffled voices came from upstairs.
‘Huh! Still at it.’
She silently locked the door and, in the semi-darkness, slipped off Laura’s boots, carefully placing them in the hall cupboard. Still wearing the coat and carrying the stick, she felt her way to the kitchen, where she wiped blood from off the coat and walking stick with a piece of dry kitchen towel. Happily humming to herself, she returned the half-cleaned coat and stick to where she had found them.
Stocking-legged, she felt her way back to her bedroom, where she poured herself a glass of brandy from a bottle kept in a secret place — the back of her clothes cupboard — and prepared herself for a good night’s sleep, content in the knowledge that Trixie had been avenged. ‘That showed ’em — all of ’em!’ she chuckled, ‘and just maybe….’

Laura poured tea into Sam’s cup. ‘Have you heard anything about that attack on those boys the other day?’
‘Don’t expect any more than you have. One youth has died, and the other boys are too badly injured to make much sense. They keep muttering about a demon coming at them from behind. At least one does, the others say it was an alien from space, which kept howling and shrieking. I guess it was a rival gang. Bloody kids; drinking and drugged out of their minds.’
‘It doesn’t feel safe here any more. What about your mother? Maybe we shouldn’t let her out on her own. She’s getting quite frail, anyone could attack her. It really is time she went into care.’
‘Not again! Just drop it. She’s been quite happy these last couple of days. Haven’t you noticed?’
‘Huh! The old biddie is demented! She keeps muttering something about Trixie. Who the hell is Trixie?’
‘Trixie? That old mongrel she had about twenty years ago? If I remember right, it came home one day looking as if it had been in an accident. Poor old bitch. It was already half blind and crippled with arthritis. Due for the knacker’s yard anyway. It should never have been out.’
‘So she is barmy then?’
‘Of course not. Just forgetful. Drop it, can’t you? Mum’s never done you any harm, leave her be!’
The doorbell rang. Laura went through to the hall. Sam heard voices beyond the open door.
‘Mrs Brown? Mrs Laura Brown?’
‘Yes. What is this about? Oh, you’d better come in. The neighbours are twitching their curtains.’
‘Thank you. I understand from our enquiries that you own a long black coat. Or maybe a cloak?’
‘Yes, it’s in here.’ Laura pulled the coat out of the hall cupboard. ‘Looks a bit grubby. I didn’t notice the last time I used it. What’s this all about?’
‘We’ll come to that. Do you have a pair of black boots?’
‘Yes, in here.’ Laura dragged several shoes out of the cupboard before reaching the boots. ‘Here. Gosh, they’re grubby too. I must have worn them when we had that storm. Now will you tell me what you are doing here?’
‘First, tell us if this is your driving licence.’
‘Let me look. Seems to be. Where did you find it?’
‘We’ll come to that later. Do you have a walking stick in the house?’
‘My old mum-in-law has one. She’s quite crippled. And I think Dad’s old one is somewhere or other. It’s got a fancy, silver knob on it. Do you want me to look for it?
‘No need. Mrs Laura Brown, we have a warrant to search these premises.’
From another part of the hall came a muffled sound of cackling laughter.

As two detectives drove a protesting Laura away, Sam sat at the kitchen table and put his head in his hands. ‘My poor Laura, I should have listened to her. Mum must have driven her to breaking point.’
At that moment his smiling mother hobbled into the kitchen. Placing her wrinkled hands on Sam’s shoulders, she bent over and kissed his balding head.
‘Don’t you worry, Sammy, I’ll look after you.’

See Magpies Nest Publishing for further samples of the book. It can be ordered on line or bought from the Tinners Rabbit Bookshop in Ulverston, Heath’s Bookshop in Barrow, The cafĂ© at the back of South Lakes Garden Centre in Cark. Or ordered from any good bookshop.
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Swanning along by the Ulverston canal

Industry and nature — side by side.
We drove down to Ulverston's Canal Foot to take a little walk on this sunny afternoon. The canal is a little over a mile long but I was not able to walk that far. We had been for a stroll this morning so this little saunter was to drink in the sea air and photograph the swans on the canal. It is a drab time of the year but the sun on water brought sparkle, and the clear sky reflected shades of blue. In shallow areas of the canal a warm glow framed some signets. Just to look at that photo gives me tremendous pleasure. Shimmering reflections have brought life to the photographs too.
The GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceutical buildings run alongside the lower end of the canal and there are no leaves on the trees to hide them. Even so, it is good to see that nature can live comfortably alongside industry.
The canal is blocked at the sea end. There is talk of the canal becoming a marina. A boat lift would be needed for sea-going vessels. But that is some time away. At present it is pleasant enough as things are. A 'rough' walk along the coast path takes in splendid views across the bay. (An earlier post talks about this). But the canal path is great for young and old alike. Watch out for youngsters on their little bikes! It is one of the few safe places for them to 'let rip'! Wheelchairs, pushchairs, wrinklies with walking sticks. Wheels and walkers - all can be seen on a sunny day. Everyone smiles, people greet one another and dogs wag their tails! And, of course, there is a hotel at Canal Foot which serves meals. Coffee or afternoon tea overlooking the sea — great!

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Homes — Something To Crow About!

Birds of a feather…
As I sit listening to the stories my husband reads to me, I watch the crows building nests in a couple of trees about a hundred yards away.
I wonder at the community gathered there. At least eight nests are under construction and it gets a little noisy at times. What are they saying to one another? All the birds are engaged in building but they don’t seem to squabble or fight. No laying down tools or flying off in a huff.
They come to our ancient beech tree and hack away at the the joints of twigs, then fly back to put another ‘brick’ in the ‘wall’ of their large constructions. There they are, safe in the tops of the tall trees and not one stopping for a fag or a cuppa. As they ‘prune’ our beech, I think to myself ‘that will be less leaves to sweep up in the autumn.’
Last year birds broke the twigs off our silver birch trees, taking them off to trees at the other end off a near-by field. I admit they made me cross. The six trees are already short of their twiggy branches. What’s more they dropped quite a few and just left them on the grass. Waste! I hate waste! The lacy twigs and branches look lovely when the buds open and small fresh green leaves tell us it is spring. They sway and rustle as the sun filters through to the daffodils below. Ah, but that is yet to come. And this year their branches are intact!
Soon we will see the smaller birds nest-building. The tits seemed to be doing that during the last sunny spell. Then all went quiet again. I worry about the little birds, especially those that sing to us. We know we have birds of prey in the area. Of course, all birds have a right to food, but I find it sad that our delicate harmless feathered friends end up as meat in a feather sandwich. Bad enough we have cat prowlers.
Soon spring will be here and the gorgeous dawn chorus will start my day in an enchanted rhapsody.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Lakeland in Late Winter

The sun shone today so we decided after doing the domestic chores we would go for a run out in the car.
We first went for an early lunch at the Lakeland Nurseries at Cark. We had a light meal, beautifully set out and highly colourful — salads don’t have to be dull. Since I did a rather large bake on Saturday, we did not have our usual cake for ‘afters’ — we have to watch our waistlines even if no one else gives a damn.
We then drove off towards the lovely Lyth Valley, passing through Grange-Over-Sands. The sands disappeared years ago but maybe one day they will return. Presently there is grass and before that mud. But the Victorians who came here by train, would have had alighted at the station, their eyes feasting on sands, sea and the pretty park, as well as, no doubt, by carriages from the huge hotels on the hillsides. Even today, Grange is a pleasant place and many people retire there. I would recommend a visit to the Netherwood. It is an amazing hotel, which serves good food at reasonable prices. The scenery magnificent and the public rooms are wood panelled with open fires.
On along quiet roads towards Bowness, the sun shone for us, even if dark clouds threatened rain.
We drove on to Ambleside. Then we took the Coniston route towards home, driving on the eastern side of the lake.
‘Look,’ I said, pointing to a fantastic piece of property on the hillside, ‘that’s Robert Watson’s nursing home.’
I should point out that I am speaking here of a character in my latest book, to be shortly published — Checkmate. Watson opens up a posh nursing home overlooking Coniston Water. The house is set in grounds filled with azaleas and other acid-loving shrubs. I knew exactly which house he would choose, and that nothing would get in his way. Robert Watson is a rich and powerful man. (I think we have heard about a lot of those lately!)
Well, we had a good laugh about that. I had already pointed out properties I had chosen for other characters and businesses, on a previous trip out. These people and places are very real to me.
Driving down by the side of the lake, we came to a spot where we could stop long enough to take some photos. Of course, it is still winter and the countryside a little drab, but snow on the peaks gives it a little sparkle in spite of a bit of mist.

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