Living by the sea there is the continual calling of gulls… and in many inland areas there is the continual calling of gulls as they have spread inland scavenging, often at waste-disposal sites. We have mainly common gulls, but there are many others who are here, herring gulls and black-headed gulls for example. At this time of year, especially on warm summer evenings when the ants are flying, the gulls circle round with their mouths open, having dinner on the wing! They don’t only eat the ants (getting almost drunk on the formic acid they contain) but they use ants to relieve the problem of mites. Gulls (and other birds) will land on an area where there are lots of ants and nestle down on the ground, wriggling around, encouraging the ants to bite them or be crushed against their skin and feathers, releasing chemicals which affect the mites and other bugs. These chemicals also have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties… I wonder how the gulls know that?!
Everywhere you go in Britain there are war memorials, remembering those who gave their lives for their country, mostly during the two world wars but also in other conflicts since then. My dad was in the Parachute Regiment; he was called up in 1939 just before he was twenty and he was demobbed in 1946… seven years. My grandfather Reg, served in both World Wars, and every time I see a memorial I think of the years they gave up and also of the men and women who died and did not return home to their families.
I was just wandering round St Paul’s Church, Walliscote Road, Weston-super-Mare, and came across this memorial board to men (and one woman) from World War 1.
I did a little research about these men; most of the ones I could identify signed up here in Weston-super-Mare and some at other towns in Somerset, and most of them signed up to Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry, seven among the men I found. Two joined the Gloucester Regiment but then there was a wide spread of other regiments:
- Dorsetshire Regiment
- Royal Welsh Fusiliers
- Royal Dublin Fusiliers
- Hampshire Regiment
- Durham Light Infantry
- Princess Charlotte Of Wales (Royal Berkshire Regiment
- Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire And Derbyshire Regiment)
- Prince Of Wales Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians)
- Duke Of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment
- Welsh Regiment
There were men of every rank, pirates, lance-corporals, corporals, sergeants… I have yet to find out their ages, but it was a tragic loss for their families; in some cases relatives, maybe brothers or cousins, died in the conflict. Two men called Ruck Keen died, one was a chaplain; three Le Poer Trenches died and as I mentioned above, this is a memorial board in one small parish church in one small town in England.
- C. Badman
- H. Banwell
- R.H. Basker
- A.E. Bird
- H.P. Bonsor
- R.K. Byers
- J.K. Chiswell
- G. Bryan Davies
- B.E. Eastwood
- W.J. Edwards
- H. Ferris
- R.E. Ruck Keene
- F. Le Poer Trench
- H. Wickham Warlock
My novel, Flipside is set in Oldham, Lancashire, in the area I used to live. I liked Oldham very much, have very happy memories of living and working there, and made some life-long friends – the sort of friends who you can meet up with after a while, even years, and just take up the friendship where it left off.
I lived in an area called Lees, which has had a settlement for hundreds of years since the 1300’s, and this is the place where most of the events of Flipside take place. A couple of hundred years ago the springs in Lees attracted many thousand visitors and there were plans to turn it into a spa town… how different Oldham would have been if that had happened!
One thing which is commented on in Flipside, is the number of ‘watery’ names in the area, I lived on Spa Lane, which was just off Spring Lane, near Brook Street, not far from Wellyhole Street, and with the village of Springhead further on up the main road out of Lancashire and into Yorkshire.
Although I have used real locations, I have also created some entirely fictitious ones; Kiran and Des work in Spo Mill on Spo Street – there is no such place; Des lives in Thomas Allen Street… no such place, and they visit some entirely made up pubs, the Leopard and the Locomotive, for example. Jaz works in made-up school, James Kellog High, which is not like any of the schools I’ve ever worked in!
“I’m so glad you’re here, Jaz, I can’t tell you what it means to me,” Kiran said, heart-felt. “I’m only sorry you’ve taken this temporary job – you could do much better, you should be aiming at senior teacher posts now. You just rush into things without thinking,” and I thought of my friends word, impetuous.
I reassured him that I’d done the right thing; I loved teaching, I just wanted to teach and even at this lowly level there were more than enough meetings and bull-shit. It was a good career move. I really liked Oldham, I liked the school, I liked the kids and perhaps I’d get a permanent job.
Kiran was delighted at the prospect. “It’d be great to have my little sis with me. Des has kept me sane over the last few months, but, well, I never did want Des to give me a hug!”
We laughed as we crossed the road and into the Lees Spa Hotel. There’d once been a spa in Lees, and the whole area was full of watery names, Springhead up the road, Waterhead and Watersheddings nearby, Waterworks Road, and the curiously named Wellyhole Street.
On the south side of Stonehenge, lying on its side is one of the huge stones which make the monument. You can see it at the front of the photo. It is called the Slaughter Stone, which is a bit misleading, because it makes it sound as if it was used for some sort of ritual sacrifice. In fact it probably wasn’t, and may not even have been lying down but my have been standing as the other stones are. It is about 21foot long but it has sunk so only the upper part of it shows through the grass. , When it rains, the stone appears red because of the type of stone it is; if the other stones were similarly p[positioned they would look red too. Rainwater affects the iron in the stone and makes it look like blood. Three different sorts of stone make up the henge, bluestones from the Presili Hills in Wales, the sarcens which come from an area north of the site near Avebury, and this stone, a red sandstone, which may have come from near Milford Haven, thirty miles south of the Presili Hills.
I think the three black birds are crows… I wish they were ravens… here’s a poem about three ravens, the twa corbies:
The Twa Corbies
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies makin a mane;
The tane unto the ither say,
“Whar sall we gang and dine the-day?”
“In ahint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And nane do ken that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound an his lady fair.”
“His hound is tae the huntin gane,
His hawk tae fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s tain anither mate,
So we may mak oor dinner swate.”
“Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike oot his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We’ll theek oor nest whan it grows bare.”
“Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken whar he is gane;
Oer his white banes, whan they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair
Editing my soon-to-be-published novel, Flipside I have come across a curious thing… the missing moustache. The main character, David Sullivan, has the face of a man I briefly saw about twenty years ago; he was the manager of a garage I had taken my car to and I was struck by the melancholic expression on his face. That expression led me to write about a melancholy man and the reason for his sadness… my character was based on this real man who I had seen for about three or four minutes many, many years ago; this man was handsome, with a dark moustache, receding brown hair, and was tall and well-built. So he became David Sullivan.
The wonders of Word… you can go through and replace words, or change words, Mr Smith can become Mr Jackson at the click of the ‘replace’ button. years ago I heard someone talking about how useful it was but how careful you had to be; it was no good changing someone’s eye colour from blue to green and just click replace blue/green because then you might end up with a green sky, green sea and greenberries, greentits, greenbottles etc.
Going back to David Sullivan, my character with the moustache; for some reason, at some point, I decided he should no longer have a moustache so I replaced ‘moustache’ with ‘ ‘… Why did I do it? I have no idea but when editing I come across these inexplicable blanks where the moustache used to be. I want David’s moustache back, he needs that moustache… a lesson learned, don’t get rid of the moustache unless you are really, really sure!