The Mill

Here is something I wrote for my writing group… I have a feeling it’s going to develop into something longer!

The Mill

It was ridiculous to be lost… she knew how it had happened, the last footpath arrow was pointing down a strangely overgrown track – no doubt some hilarious prankster thought it would be funny to send strangers off into the wilderness… It wasn’t exactly wilderness, it was the outer reaches of the Wolfston Estate; Clare had been to the inaugural exhibition in the new little gallery at Wolfston Hall, and since it was such a pleasant autumn day she had decided to go for a walk, and had chosen the yellow three mile route, well-sign posted.

But now she was following what was little more than a track through the woods. In actual fact she wasn’t really lost, she didn’t know exactly where she was but sooner or later she would come to a road and be able to make her way back… a bit more than three miles… She came to a fence, climbed over, and she was on a path, quite muddy but definitely a path and in fact what might have been an unpaved road. She sensed she should turn left and head back uphill but when she looked to the right she saw, almost hidden by mature trees, a red brick building. It had a low roof and was old, possibly very old.

How intriguing! An old farm maybe? Clare wandered down and followed a side path which took her nearer. It was ancient, she was right, the red brick had a soft bloom, and the roof sat low like a comfortable old hat worn at a slouch.

“Hello there!”

She nearly jumped out of her skin. A man was standing between two trees and she had been so focussed on the old building she hadn’t even noticed him. He looked like a woodlander, khaki cargo pants and a brown woollen jumper, brown hair and a tanned face.

She gave a guilty laugh. “I hope I’m not trespassing, I just saw this old place and it looks so lovely I had to have a closer look.”

“Not trespassing at all… it’s a watermill…” he said and then seeing her brightening look asked if she would like to look round. Yes please she certainly would! There was something intriguing about mills… especially watermills. “My wife and I are restoring it… or at least that was the plan… but…”

He called out and a woman emerged from behind a huge hydrangea.

“A visitor, Jenny!” he said enthusiastically, which did seem slightly strange… perhaps they were hoping to open it to the public, perhaps they wanted people to know about it. The woman greeted Clare in a pleasant enough way.

“I’, don’t feel obliged to be interested just because Darius is so keen…” she said which again was slightly strange.

Clare responded that she was fascinated by watermills but she’d only stay a moment… and followed them inside through a wide doorway with a circular window above it. She would have stopped to look properly but now the couple had invited her in when no doubt they were busy with their restoration…

They’d come into a big open room, with an old work bench in the middle; perhaps walls had been taken down, perhaps  it had always been like this… seventeenth century, corn mill changed to a timber mill,  the man Darius was saying as his wife Jenny talked over him about what a big job it was, more than she had expected, she was concentrating on their living quarters upstairs,  maybe AirBnB, maybe selling up – it all came out in a rush and Darius wandered away, as if used to being talked over.

“I’m sorry,” Jenny stopped abruptly. “We’re under a lot of pressure…”

“No I’m sorry, sorry to have intruded, thank you – ” and Clare turned to go even though now she was inside she was eager to see this old place. She could hear echoey drips of water and there were strange lights playing on the ceiling from water which must be on the other side of a balustrade.

“We are hoping to have it as an AirBnB,” Jenny repeated, followed her out of the wide door.  “Can I give you my card, for when we’re up and running… we’ve got a website but it’s not functioning yet…”

Clare took the card, a photo of the old place, dappled with sunshine, its warm bricks glowing beneath the lichen-gilded roof. She turned it over, Darius and Jenny-Lee Mapp, Wolfston Mill, Easthope.

“I was at school with a girl called Jenny-Lee,” Clare remarked. “In Castair… donkeys years ago…”

“I was there too!” Jenny-Lee exclaimed “I was Jenny-Lee Harper! What did you say your name was?”

Should she lie, pretend to be someone else…

 “Clare! Oh my gosh, Clare! I wouldn’t have recognised you but now I can see it’s you! Oh my gosh!”

And Jenny-Lee flung her arms round Clare and hugged her… which in all her bitter and angry memories, which Clare, never in a million of them, would have expected. Jenny-Lee grabbed her arm and pulled her back into the old mill calling out to her husband.

“Darling, the most marvellous thing, this is my chum Clare from school – we were spotty school girls way back in Victorian times – or so it seems!”

Darius smiled but there now seemed little warmth in his brown face.

“Come and have a cup of tea and we can catch up! Clare Cherry! Who would have thought Clare Cherry would come sauntering back into my life!”

Clare was so startled she somehow lurched into a work bench sending some sort of iron tool clatter in to the floor… As she picked it up her head was spinning – how can she think I’m Clare Cherry? Clare Cherry was Jenny’s best friend – how can she not see that I’m not that Clare?!

Darius took the tool, maybe some sort of plane maybe…

“So you’re Clare Cherry, are you?” he said in a strange, almost menacing way but before either of them could say more, Jenny-Lee was back.

“I’ve found a picture of us, look!”

And there they were in their school uniform – they were sitting on the grass under the apple trees, so they must have been in the fifth year as only the upper school were allowed to sit there.

“Look Clare – there you are, and me, and there’s Angela, and Sandra, there’s Joan and Pauline and Heather – and look there’s the Button!” and Jenny-Lee burst out laughing and Clare felt her heart clench and she wanted to snatch the plane from the man’s hand and smash it into her face…

“The Button?” he asked, but he was looking at Clare.

“Oh forget her! Tea! And cake! And maybe a glass of something! Oh Clare, I’m so pleased to see you!!”

© Lois Elsden 2018

If you want to read my other stories, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_6?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C143&crid=2LNC50CHUUHOY

The Gorman’s Gaston reading group

It’s not quite Halloween but we are approaching the night when strange things happen… Here is a story i wrote a couple of years ago, which I have shared before, but that’s the way with creepy stories, they are repeated sitting round the fire with the lamps flickering… no fire I am afraid and no lamps either, just the electric light!

Who could have predicted, who could have told through casting the runes or casting a horoscope, reading the tea leaves or reading the tarot, who could have foretold the curious and strange events surrounding the end of the Gorman’s Gaston reading group?

Gorman’s Gaston is a small Somerset village, about four hundred yards from the sea and four inches above it; despite the new sea defences, on dark nights, when the tide is high and the wind howls off the Bristol Channel and the rains inundate the Mendip Hills, the Quantocks and the Poldens, and flood down onto the Levels, the people of Gorman, as it is known, fear for their properties and check their insurance policies.

The name of the village is lost in antiquity, the most likely origin is Norman and there were Normans who settled in the area and there are towns which bear their names such as Bridgwater, the brig or wharf of Walter… but there is a yearning by some incomers for more ancient roots, Arthurian and beyond… Arthurian names were even banded about, Guiron le Courtois, Gornemant, Gaheris…  All most unlikely as in past times the site of the village would have been below the sea… and doubly unlikely since these are fictional names created in the thirteenth century

To return to the reading group… Inspired by the name of the village which had a resonance with the Gormenghast trilogy, written by Mervyn Peake in the 1940’s and 50’s, Jeremy Turner had moved to the village on his retirement. His passion was Gothic literature, and especially the works of Peake, and within a few months he had started a reading group, a Gothic reading group. The group met at first in the local pub, appropriately named The Bloody Judge, and then in Jeremy’s own home, which he had named Otranto, after the Walpole novel.

Otranto had been the gatehouse of a now vanished manor; in the 1880’s it had acquired crenulations, towers and other additions which afforded the villagers much private amusement and much work on these renovations. In the 1920’s another owner addressed the interior, and indeed, dressed it with suits of armour, war hammers, maces, spears, cutlasses and sabres, and other paraphernalia of an imagined medieval castle.

Now Turner was in residence he added to the furnishings, dark curtains, dark crimson suites and leather armchairs, blood-coloured throws and rugs, the large fireplaces with their chimneys swept, containing huge iron basket grates and menacing looking fire dogs which weighed too much to be practical except as weapons. Indeed one former member put his back out quite badly, trying to stoke the fire and used that as a convenient excuse not to attend the meetings again.

The rooms were dark, with lamps and lanterns and no central light; and another member left claiming her poor eyesight could not cope in the gloom. Upon the wall were tapestries and hangings, and grim paintings of sometimes unmentionable acts, which some of the members of the reading group found quite disturbing and unsettling, and they would choose to sit with their backs to the worst of these pictures… however that was unsettling too as there was a sense of the gory scenes almost coming to life behind them…

It was no wonder then, that the original ten or so members of the group dwindled to six, plus Jeremy Turner of course.

Maybe they remained in the book club, now renamed (by Jeremy) Gorman Gothique Groupe, because they too were passionate about the genre, maybe it was the excellent wine and refreshments which Turner served, each inspired by the novel they were reading, or re-reading. A riotous and splendid night was had by all when looking back at Dracula, a novel unexpectedly full of humour and excitement, and they were offered Tokay wine (have you seen the price of it?) and slivovitz, chicken and pickled herring (no garlic) In the earlier days when the group had been larger, there had been a certain reluctance to sample the lamb, having just read ‘lamb to the slaughter’ by Roald Dahl… a frozen leg or lamb used as a murder weapon… Lamb? Um, not thank you Jeremy, it always repeats on me… I’ll have a little more of the Valpolicella… (This particular Valpolicella had been seen reduced in Majestic Wines by two of the group at £29 a bottle… reduced!

© Lois Elsden 2017

 

 

Here’s one I wrote earlier

A little glimpse into my early writing…

When I was in my twenties I wrote a lot of  short stories and poems although I had started a novel called ‘The Man in the Sun’… a  family saga I think!

There was a women’s magazine called Honey, and I was lucky enough to win a short story competition and then have several other stories published too! Here is one I wrote while I was working at Manchester Airport; on night shift there were all sorts of odd people about, working there or just being there… so this is based on what I observed and what my imagination did with it!

© Lois Elsden 2017

The wind is my enemy, the wind is my friend

Here’s the short story I wrote for my writing group – the group I ma in not the one I lead. it’s a real challenge for me to write something short to have something complete and with an ending – I’m so used to writing novels!

The subject for this week was wind/air/sky/clouds, and I ended up writing a sort of post-apocalyptic, science fiction, fantasy piece… which may even develop into something else…

The wind is my enemy, the wind is my friend

For a while the wind had been so strong that all I could do was force the door shut, drop the bars across and hope it held. It was a stout door, a round door to fit the entrance, but not quite round enough so the wind could make ingress through a hundred different minute cracks and chinks and tiny holes. I had tried to block them up with  a sort of putty made from dirt from the floor and slime from the walls… as soon as I blocked one, another seemed to be there… but maybe they provided ventilation.

There were many kinds of wind, the moaning wind which I felt would drive me mad if it didn’t stop, the buffeting wind which came in lumps as if thrown, the constant ‘sailing wind’ which I could ignore, the shrieking wind like a soul in torment, the balmy gentle wind, the whispering wind and the singing wind – not that I could ever quite catch their whispers and songs…

 I remembered reading of Antarctic expeditions centuries ago when the explorers (mad adventurers maybe) would be trapped in their tents for days on end as the… as the… words came back to me, as they sometimes do “It is at the steep edge of Antarctica that the strong katabatic winds form as cold air rushes over the land mass…” Katabatic wind…. katabatic wind… That’s the word, katabatic. I search my memory banks… ‘formed by cold air masses descending on the ice-cap...’

This wind I had shut the door on was not freezing cold which might have killed me, this wind was merely annoying.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind 
Thou art not so unkind 
As man’s ingratitude; 
Thy tooth is not so keen, 
Because thou art not seen, 
Although thy breath be rude…

This wasn’t a winter wind, there is no winter, no summer, no seasons here, but this wind was like a winter’s wind, very cold, but not deadly, very annoying… but not as annoying as the moaning wind or the shrieking wind…

Now outside, roaring at my door, it was the sailing wind, and even the sailing wind as I called it, had its own voice; it was consistent, strong, and a medium tone, not screaming or growling… It was tedious but if I shut my eyes at least I could pretend I was on a vessel going somewhere instead of being trapped up here.

I did shut my eyes, and passed a little while imagining a voyage, maybe with dolphins leaping round the bow, maybe with flying fish shimmering in the air beside me, albatrosses curving ahead.. The roaring forties…

It’s amazing what I can remember… The Roaring Forties are strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, generally between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees.

My imaginary boat slowed as the wind outside came round, dying a little so it was blowing obliquely to the door…

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by…

Christina Rossetti… what would she make of my situation, trapped here in my little hole, no trembling leaves, no bowing trees, the only voice the wind…

There was a moaning behind me… the damned chimney! Now it was catching the wind… Well, there was nothing I could do, just have to put up with it and be ready to damp the little fire if it got a blow back of smoke…

My little fire was perpetual… I gathered the cave mosses growing out of the cracks of the walls around me and dried them by the fire, then fed the embers of the previous mosses. Whatever they were they burned slow and I had a store – bound bales of dried moss, bound with the strange white roots of something which dangled into my little place. The walls were damp, so I kept my dried moss close to the heat.

In the semi dark, the only light was from the little fire, and the chinks I hadn’t filled or which had blown through. I couldn’t write, but I held my journal and imagined my words…. The words of Burt Franklin Jennes came into my mind…

Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

The forties, those strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere…

The wind in the chimney had died away to an intermittent sobbing, and I felt some of the tension leach away. Should I open the door… maybe I would, just to feel a breeze on my skin…

I lifted the bar and the wind pushed the door open, not a rough, rude wind, just a wind. I could see nothing because of the clouds, and it was cold but while it was light I would keep it open. I had an arrangement to prop and wedge the round door ajar –  temperamental winds might whip round unexpectedly and I couldn’t have the hinge broken. The wind was my enemy, even when it pretended to be benign.

I took up my journal, and my pen made from one of the stiff mossy roots, and with my charcoal ink, I began to write my wind song.

I could sing winds…

crosswind, headwind, whirlwind, zephyr
tailwind, trade wind, knik wind, briza…

I could recite winds…

Haboob, Harmattan, Khamsin, Levant,
Bora, berg and Foehn
Chinook,Mistral, Scirocco and Leveche…

 The wind was my only friend, even when it was my enemy.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my published e-books and my paperback ‘Radwinter’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

The Boy

Here’s a story I wrote for one of my writing groups – not one that I lead, but one that I just go to!

The Boy

“Julie! Hello! Did you have a wonderful time?” I called.

She saw me and worked her way between the tables with her tray. I stood up as she arrived and took her coffee and carrot cake and set it down took off her coat.

“Hello, Dora, you’re looking well! What news?”

She sat down and then moved the table a little, altering the angle of her chair so she could see the counter. I thought she might have been bursting to tell me about the holiday… maybe it hadn’t gone as well as she hoped, although she’d definitely caught the sun. She glanced back to the counter, looking for her ‘boy’ as she called him.

The rest of us in the book club used to have a little chuckle, well, actually quite a big chuckle over Julie and the boy. Julie is the same age as us I guess, somewhere between mid-fifties and early sixties, the boy is probably about forty, so not really a boy at all. We could never see what she saw, he was an OK looking guy, very pleasant and friendly when he served us coffee or whatever. Julie had a big what we used to call ‘crush’ on him… which did amuse us!

I didn’t have much news; the hens were laying well, I’d made a great batch of both quince and crab apple jelly… the usual sort of domestic things, and I’d done a lot of walking and writing. She asked how my walking book was going. She was pushing bits of carrot cake around the plate. It’s her passion and usually she attacks it with gusto.

I was more interested in hearing about the Cape Verde Islands, but I obliged her with recounting where I was up to in my guide to unusual and unexpected places, and how to get there via an interesting route.

“How’s Ruby?” I had to ask after her mother. We tried to avoid it because otherwise the whole conversation would take a downward spiral. We all felt so sorry for Julie; Ruby her mother was lovely and we tried to visit regularly, but she was very wearying… sweet, but so dependent and so… well, so … well, trying really.

We took it in turns to have the book club at each other’s homes, but now we only saw Julie when it was her turn to host it – she couldn’t leave Ruby in the evenings. Ruby insisted on ‘being sociable’ and joining in, but she’d never read the book, and always tried to talk about other things. As I said, we felt so sorry for Julie that we put up with it, but it made it difficult to get any new members; a new person wouldn’t want to have a book club where we talked about Princess Diana and how Woman’s Weekly wasn’t as good as it used to be.

Julie was looking across at the counter; there’d been a big reorganisation in the museum, the café had become so popular that it had expanded into what had been the old library. The museum staff were expected to serve in the café as well as doing the museum work. We meet here regularly, good coffee, nice cakes, and a museum! What more could you want! But for Julie there was an extra, the boy.

The boy was Rohan and as I said we used to have a private chuckle over how much Julie ‘liked’ him – we called him her toy boy and it got shortened to the ‘boy’. We would tease her gently as she came back blushing and happy if he happened to serve her, and roll our eyes when we met her outside and she told us about him, what he’d been wearing, what he’d said to her, what she’d said to him – it was only ever ‘Is it raining outside?’ ‘Yes, a bit.’ ‘I thought it might be everyone’s coming in with umbrellas.’ That sort of thing…

“So, come on, how were the Cape Verde Islands?” I asked.

I thought for a moment she was going to cry, but she blinked it back.

“It should have been wonderful, it should have been such an escape! I should have felt free!” she exclaimed, almost angrily. I felt desperate for her; it was the first time she’d been away from her mother for more than a couple of days since she’d moved in when her marriage broke down. It turned out her husband had spent all their savings and remortgaged the house. Julie had had no choice but to live with Ruby… to become her carer in effect… her nurse…

Julie worked at home doing secretarial and the accounts for a firm in town, and a couple of times a week Ruby went to an old people’s social club which gave Julie the freedom to come out and meet her friends, as she was meeting me now. We nearly always met in the museum… I think it was the highlight of her week to sit drinking coffee and watching the boy surreptitiously.

So the holiday… Every day she was away Julie had rung the care home where Ruby had been accommodated… and it was always something… Ruby begging her to come back early, Ruby not eating (the food was disgusting she said) Ruby not sleeping (the beds were like concrete) Ruby not wanting to get up… the care home had been wonderful and told Julie there was nothing to worry about, her mother was fine… but it had ruined the holiday.

“And now I come back to this!” she said…

She’d come into the museum last week and again this week, several times she told me, and the boy was not here, not on any of the days he usually worked, nor was he working anywhere else in the museum.

“I thought maybe because it was half term last week he was looking after his son,” she was genuinely upset. “But no, now he’s still not been here!”

She abruptly changed the subject to the novel we were reading for book club. She always read them, even though she only saw us once in a blue moon.

Poor Julie… and we arranged to meet the following week, back here in the museum.

“Hello there, what can I get you?” it was Rohan, the boy, back behind the counter. He smiled in his friendly way and we had a trifling conversation about the new type of coffee beans. He was quite handsome I suppose, but I couldn’t really see what Julie saw.

I took my coffee over to her where she sat beaming. We don’t often embrace but she jumped up, unloaded my tray then gave me a hug.

“Your boy’s back!” I exclaimed and she grinned. “Are you going to ask him out? I’ll sit with Ruby!”

“Don’t be silly… it’s not like that… of course it isn’t… And anyway, even if he was older or I was younger it still wouldn’t be like that! I’m not free am I? But to come here a couple of times a week…” she stopped. “I know you think I’m ridiculous, that I’m a ridiculous old woman, and I know you all laugh at me, but the boy…” She tapped the side of her head. “In here, in my head, anything is possible! In here I’m free!”

© Lois Elsden 2017

If you want to read more of my stories, here’s a link to where you can find my ebooks, and my paperback Radwinter:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Sailing By

You may know that I’m involved in another blog, a writers blog with two friends; we share our own and other writers work. Today we share an absolutely brilliant story, called Sailing By. You may not know, however that Sailing By is the title of a piece of music; Wikipedia describes it: “Sailing By” is a short piece of light music composed by Ronald Binge in 1963, which is used before the late Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. A slow waltz, the piece uses a repetitive ABABC structure and a distinctive rising and falling woodwind arpeggio…. played every night on BBC Radio 4 at around 00:45hrs before the late Shipping Forecast. Its tune is repetitive, assisting in its role of serving as a signal for sailors tuning in to be able to easily identify the radio station.

Here is a link to the story:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/sailing-by/

… which I am sure you will enjoy! If you listen to BBC radio, particularly the Today programme on Radio 4, you might find something extra amusing in it!

If you don’t know, the music, here we are:

Royalty – part 2

I shared the first part of a story with you yesterday; it was something I wrote for my writing group. The topic was ‘Royalty’ and I was really struggling to think of what to write when I remembered two characters I’d started writing about before, a lonely man, and a woman who is staying at her father-in-law’s house while he is in hospital. These two people meet in a pub, just by chance, sitting at the same table as a young couple.

If you want to read part 1, here is a link:

https://loiselden.com/2017/04/21/royalty-part-1/

Royalty – part 2

“Are you in the quiz?” They all looked up at a small man in a yellow sweater with a golf club log who was standing with a sheaf of quiz sheets and a pint glass of pens.
… How did it happen? Who said what? Who tentatively suggested that maybe they might… should… could… Later no-one could remember, but they each handed over a pound, and were given a quiz sheet and a selection of pens and suddenly they were a team!
A quiz! She always went to the pub for quiz night at home, well, she used to… But a quiz!
There was a moment’s ridiculousness and confusion when they introduced themselves – she had thought the two young people were a couple, no, they weren’t, they had just got into conversation at the bar; they had thought she and the man beside her were married… no they weren’t, obviously!
“I’m Clare,” she said, and the man beside her was Gus, and the two separate young people were Elliot and Evie… four strangers who were suddenly a quiz team.
Before they could converse or say any more about themselves the quiz started, and they were plunged into understanding how it worked; it was a bingo quiz, and puzzling over the rather tricky and very random questions, Clare lost herself completely in the proceedings. Her three team mates were fun and funny, and as strangers they could relax and be themselves – whatever selves they chose to be.
The first round finished and the carbon copies of their answer sheets were collected… but there was a problem, they needed a team name. They looked blankly at each other… then Elliot said to the man collecting the answers, well, this was the Royal Inn, so they were the Royal team! It seemed a bit weak, but what the heck, what did it matter?
It was a natural time to get a drink… but… but… Gus stepped in; who would like a drink? He’d be pleased to buy a round… Pints of beer seemed to be the order, and while he was at the bar, the answers were read out, and they self-marked – the copies having been collected so no cheating.
Gus returned with beer to find his team in high spirits; he’d had to wait while the barrel was changed, and in that time, all the answers had been read out and believe it or believe it not, they had won! Clare, Elliot and Evie insisted Gus take the cost of the round from their winnings, and use another four pounds to buy the sheets for round two!
The questions were similarly random and tricky as the first round… and this time they were defeated… however, there was still enough of their winnings for four more pints. Clare sat back and glanced at her team mates; what did she know about them? Evie was a nurse and singer with a band, Elliot worked in an estate agent’s, Gus was not working at the moment, and she had told them she was here temporarily looking after her father-in-law’s house while he was in hospital and her husband in the States.
The quiz master came round with one final question for the beer round… Beer round? Yes, the winning team had a free round of drinks next week!
“How long is the Queen Mary, not the Queen Mary 2, but the original Queen Mary?”
It was simple for Gus… 1,019.5 feet…
“The winner of the beer round, with a bob on correct answer of 1,019.5 feet, is Royalty!” shouted the quiz master.
“Royalty?”
“Yes!! That’s us!!”
Somehow the Royal Team had become Royalty…
“Hey! We’ll have to come back next week to claim our free beer!” exclaimed Evie.
“Brilliant! I’ll be here! You, Gus? You Clare?” asked Elliot.
Clare smiled… If father-in-law was still in hospital, she would be here!
Gus picked up his glass. “Here’s to Royalty! See you next week, chums!”