Plenty of Open Space – FFfAW

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

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

photo-20160724072923118

And this is my story:

Plenty of Open Space

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

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

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

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

But his girl had long since gone.

*

Word Count: 175

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

A Pretty Village Called Dunster

Dunster Yarn Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiln 1

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

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

Inside Yarn Market for header

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

To Market, to Market (yet again)…

Old buildings around Market Square

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

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

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

To Market, to Market…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Writing Assignment from 1988

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

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

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

Tutor's comment on assignment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refuge – FFfAW

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

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

photo-20160718073128048

And this is my story:

Refuge

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

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

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

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

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

It would be a long, dark night.

*

Word Count: 174

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

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

Model of Gough in Cox's Cave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gough's Cave 6

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

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

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

Cheddar Cheese stored in Gough's Cave
Cheddar Cheese stored in Gough’s Cave

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

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

***

The Cheddar Gorge Caves

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

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

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

012

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

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

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

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

Cox's Mill, Cheddar Gorge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wall illustration in Cox's Cave - 5+ R

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

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

There are cave drawings

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

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

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

Evidence of cannibalism found in Gough's cave
Evidence of cannibalism found in Gough’s cave

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

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

Flash Fiction Competition

shutterstock_87944773

I thought I’d just let everyone who writes flash fiction know about this competition I came across. It’s run by Print Express (a UK design blog covering print, web and mobile design).

Many of the WordPress challenges ask for a word limit of 150 words, so I thought this may be of interest, especially as the story can be one that has previously published anywhere, including on your blog. Or you could write something completely new – and submit more than one entry, should you wish. The winner will receive a £100 Amazon voucher.

I’ve copied the rules here and put a link to the page at the end for anyone interested:

– The story has to be family friendly
– It has to be your own work
– It can be no longer than 150 words
– By entering your story, you’re agreeing to allow us to publish it on our site
– By entering, you retain full copyright but give us a non exclusive license to publish it on our website
– It’s free to enter, and it’s open to all

The deadline for entries is July 31st, 2016 and the winner will be announced shortly after.

If interested, here’s the link to the site with the rules (as above) plus details of where to send your entry and answers to other people’s queries in the Comments section on the page:

http://design.printexpress.co.uk/the-print-express-flash-fiction-competition

This competition sounds like a good idea, especially as it’s free, and entries can be ones that have been previously published! What’s to lose – and there’s an Amazon voucher to gain for someone. 🙂

I hope to be back on my blog a little more as soon as my book A Dash of Flash is formatted and published on Amazon. Hopefully, I’ll get that done during the next week or so.

A Dash of Flash (Small)

A Really Good Listener – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

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

This is the prompt, kindly provided by my daughter, Louise, at thestorytellersabode:

photo-20160626134608912

And this is my story:

A Really Good Listener

‘You know, Stanley, it’s no fun living with a man who takes me for granted and never listens to a word I say. He’s really selfish, when I think about it.’

Glum-faced, Melanie leaned against the gate beside her friend, considering how miserable she’d been since Jack moved into her flat. ‘He never wants to go anywhere, even at weekends, says he’s too tired after working all week. Cobblers to that! I work all week, too, and have all the housework to do. Jack doesn’t even help with that. He just sits in front of the telly, waiting for his meals. And don’t get me started about the washing up.’

Feeling more positive than she’d done for months, Melanie made to leave. ‘Thanks for being a good listener, Stanley. This little chat’s helped me make my mind up. Jack can pack his bags tonight.’

Stanley the Scarecrow watched Melanie stomp off down the lane. Yes, he was a good listener. He’d be a good talker, too, if someone had thought to give him a mouth.

Word Count: 175

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