The miller’s tale

Winter nights are perfect for ghostly stories – even as we’re in the new year… Here is a true story, or maybe it isn’t, but if you ever see a ghostly miller, weeping and distraught, this might be his story:

My uncle used to tell a story of when he was a boy… or maybe it was when his father was a boy… or maybe it goes back before that, or maybe it was just a local story he heard… He thought it was true, and had much more detail than I now remember.

A man who lived in a village near Cambridge in the early part of the twentieth century, or maybe it was the last years of the nineteenth, or maybe it was even before that… had a windmill… He was a miller, and maybe it was the mill he’d had for a long time, or maybe it was one he had bought to begin a new business. This mill needed its sails replacing and cost a lot of money and time and effort to do so… in fact the miller nearly brought himself to ruin by doing it.

After much hardship, and trouble for him and his family to replace the sails on the windmill, the day came when they could unlock the sails and let them turn gracefully and beautifully in the east wind. The sails began to gently turn and then disaster! Some miscalculation had been made, something went wrong, but the tip of the sail struck the ground with a juddering blow and became embedded, stuck.

The miller looked in horror at the end of his dreams, his future shattered before his eyes. Distraught he turned away, left the mill, left his family and went away somewhere and then the greatest tragedy of all, he took his life. I don’t know how he died, maybe he hung himself among trees, maybe there was a flourishing watermill nearby and he went and drowned himself in the mill-race, but I imagine his ghost walking, walking back to the mill to see if the sail was still stuck in the ground.

I don’t really know if this is a true, but it makes a terrific story.

Here’s a not very ghostly video which mentions a miller telling a tale:

28:11:54 – South Goodwin Lightship lost on Goodwin Sands’.

Here is something I wrote a couple of years ago, about evens which happened on this very day over sixty years ago, in 1954:

Photo0299

The owner of this Prayer Book made diary entries of significant events; you may just be able to make out the bottom entry ‘Southerly gale 28:11:54, South Goodwin Lightship lost on Goodwin Sands’.

The Goodwin Sands is a treacherous sandbank off the east coast of Kent, in the Straits of Dover and ever since people first crossed the English Channel in boats, there have been shipwrecks here, including Viking longboats, galleons and liners. However on the night of Saturday, November 27th 1954,   gales of 80 mph raged up the Channel and the South Goodwin Lightship, LV 90, broke from her anchors and became stranded on the Goodwin Sands. The lightship, as you can guess was like a floating lighthouse, positioned to warn shipping in the busiest strait in the world, of the very danger that the South Goodwin Lightship met herself.

The captain was Tom Skipp, and no doubt on that dreadful night, he and his crew were doing all they could to keep the lightship steady and themselves safe. At about 1 o’clock in the morning the cable snapped and the ship broke free; nearby was its sister ship the East Goodwin  Lightship LV12 and the crew saw LV90 had detached itself from its cable and was being swept away. There was nothing they could do.  The LV90 foundered on the sands and fell on its side, trapping the crew beneath decks, all except one man who managed to get out of a skylight and hang on.

Lifeboats from Dover and Ramsgate were launched into the foul night, and a helicopter from  Manston tried to find the stricken vessel, and by some miracle it found the capsized lightship as dawn rose. The helicopter crew managed to rescue Ronald Murton, the sole survivor, but sadly the rest of the crew was lost and were never seen again. It must have been traumatic beyond imagining for Ronald as he knew that when he was lifted to safety, the crew were still alive and trapped inside.  There are still traces of the lightship on the Goodwin Sands which can be seen when the tide is low enough.

The ghastly news must have been broadcast on the radio and the owner of the Prayer Book, living so close to the sea and knowing what havoc bad weather could cause must have noted down the details. 

Photo0298The diary entry at the bottom of this page just says ‘Flood East Coast 31.1.53’. On January 31st 1953 there was a horrific sea surge which affected the countries along the North Sea causing huge loss of life. 2,551 people are known to have drowned, 1836 in the Netherlands, 307 in England, 28 in Belgium, 19 in Scotland and others at sea. In England 30,000 people had to leave their homes and 24,000 homes were damaged. The owner of this Prayer Book lived in Kingston Seymour on the west coast of England, a little village which had suffered many floods over the hundreds of years of its existence; there is a plaque in the church commemorating the devastating tsunami of 1607 which I am sure the owner of the Prayer Book would have looked at many times, particularly after the events on the last day of January in 1953

Love so sudden and so sweet

I had scheduled this post for another time, but it seems so appropriate today, Leonard Cohen changed my life…

I came across this poem by John Clare; he lived from 1793 to 1864, and yet the emotions he expresses in this poem are felt as much today as they were for him two hundred years ago – and for other people probably for as long as there have been people!

This poem is timeless, and although it suggests youth, in fact love can strike like this at any age!

First love

I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start —
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.

Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more

Here is a true story I have shared before, but it shows how modern experience is the same, exactly as that age old emotion.

Love so sudden and so sweet

It was July and Kate had finished her A-levels and was staying for two weeks in the summer with her aunty who lived in Plymouth where she had used to live. Kate had great fun with all her friends from when she’d lived there – some of them were working and could only get together with her in the evenings, but others were a similar age and either on holiday from university, or waiting to go as Kate was.

One evening they were down wandering round the harbour and stopped at one of the many pubs. Kate was standing with her friends, when she noticed Philip talking to a tall blond young man she didn’t know. The man looked across at her and their eyes met. Minutes later they were talking to each other, as if they had known each other for ever. He wasn’t English but she couldn’t place his accent, Australian, maybe? But no, he was Norwegian and he was here in Plymouth for two weeks to improve his impeccable English at a language school. His name was Óli, he was two years older than her,  and he came from Bergen. Unfortunately he had already been in Plymouth for a week and then he was returning to Bergen.

Kate and Óli spent the evening together, wandering round with the others, and they agreed to met the next day when he had finished his classes. He had a car, which was great because they could drive out of the city and go to little pubs nearby. They spent the next week together, when he wasn’t at the language school; one afternoon when it was not very nice weather, they just went to the room in the house where he was lodging and listened to music… yes, it really was as innocent as that. He was captivated by an American singer  Philip had introduced him to, Leonard Cohen.

Leonard sounded as if he was singing a dirge to Kate, but his lyrics were interesting and witty… and in actual fact, when the LP was played for about the third time – Óli only had one LP and that was Leonard, Kate began to actually quite like the songs. That was the last afternoon Kate was with Óli. He returned to Bergen and she returned home to her family, and to a place at University. Óli and Kate wrote to each other, but they both began to meet new friends at their respective universities in Norway and England. Óli visited her, but it wasn’t a success. He had come over for a friend’s wedding in Plymouth, and Kate had gone down to meet him… but somehow things weren’t right. The following summer he came again, and they went away for a few days together, but he seemed annoyed for some reason. Kate meanwhile had met other friends, not boyfriends although they were boys…

Life took its course and soon it was merely a card at Christmas, until suddenly, one July Kate received a letter telling her that not only was Óli married, but he and his new wife had a baby. Kate wasn’t sure how she felt… she had fallen in love with someone else – not a successful or reciprocal relationship, and she had moved on from her feelings for Óli, but even so it was somehow a shock.

Years passed… there was no internet, no mobile phones, no texting or messaging or emailing until the 90’s. How different things might have been if there had been that instant way to stay in touch. These days if a young woman meets a young man, even if he lives halfway round the world from her they can stay in constant touch with each other. For Kate and Óli they just had to rely on the postman.

Now, whenever Kate hears Leonard Cohen, she is taken back to that wonderful sunny week in Plymouth, so long ago.

Fear of creepy-crawlies… in the middle of the night…

I read an amusing blog about arachnophobia – not that it is amusing to people who are afraid of spiders, it is a horrible phobia, and can be really inconvenient and disruptive to ordinary life. The blog I read, which I will share below, is about someone who had to rush round to remove a spider from a friend’s student digs (it was in the USA so i guess they aren’t called ‘digs’!) it reminded me of a true story, something which happened to me.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I used to live at the top of a very old Victorian house in Manchester, in what was amusingly called a ‘flat’. In fact it was a bedsit – two beds, a table, two chairs, a cupboard and a Baby Belling – do they still make them? It was described as a table top mini-oven with two hot plates/electric rings – in fact I’m not even sure ours had the oven, it may just have been the two rings to cook on.

I digress… It was the middle of a winter’s night, my room-mate and I were shivering under our paltry blankets as the condensation froze on the inside of our windows, when there was a knock on our door. A voice quietly called our names – it was our friend, who I will call Zena. In the house we lived in there were a number of rented rooms and shred bathrooms and lavatories. The light switch was on a timer so after about twenty or thirty seconds it went out.

I opened the door for Zena who stumbled in shaking, I thought from cold but it became apparent it was fear. She lived a couple of miles from us in a shared house. The problem was, we discovered, that there was a spider in her bath – the bath in a bathroom separate from her room (no en-suite in those days) the bathroom on a different floor from hers.

I guess my flatmate was less sympathetic, but anyway, it ended up with me getting dressed and going out, down the several flights of stairs, across the couple of miles and into the house where Zena lived. To be sure it was a pretty big black spider… but I think if I’d been in my own room on a different floor of the house I could have lasted until morning… But such was Zena’s fear, that she couldn’t. She was amazingly brave in other ways, risky almost, but she had certain fears which overcame her.

I got rid of the spider, picking it up with a flannel or a towel (no soft toilet tissue in those days) and throwing it out of the window. Thinking back now, I think Zena then walked me back to my flat through the deserted Manchester streets…

Here is a link to Tony’s amusing story – I recommend you have a look at other stories he’s written too!:

https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/

50 and 500

For my new writing group we had to try to write a story in fifty words which had a beginning a middle and end. We also had to write another story based on a photo and I thought that should have been five hundred words, so that’s what I did… in fact, there was no limit! Never mind! I have been so busy, what with one thing and another, I didn’t have time to write the 500, but I did find a true story I had written some time ago.

Here they are

Fifty

As I passed she suddenly vaulted the rail; somehow, who knows how, I grabbed her wrist. She nearly took me, nearly dragged me over, but I hung on. Her white face looked up at me. ‘Farewell’ then her hand slid from my grasp and she dropped, fell to her death.

Five hundred

Raymond was a lovely man, a true gentleman, very kind, very helpful, the nicest guy you could ever meet… but he was soooo boring! He really could bore for England; he was nick-named Tirpitz after the German Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, why he acquired the name is another story.

Tirpitz was a very precise and particular man, as you might imagine; he was a reliable colleague, utterly trustworthy, a happy and devoted husband and father. At lunch time it was inevitable that he would join a conversation and soon everyone would be almost comatose with boredom as he went on, and on, and on, and on… He got a new car, and being the man he was he kept a record of every gallon of petrol he put in the car, how much it cost and how many miles per gallon the car could do.

Many a lunchtime was taken up with the latest mileage of Tirpitz’ spotless car. Alf and Neville who were in the same department as Tirpitz had to listen to his stories before work, at coffee break as well as lunchtime and in the sitting about time after work when everyone relaxed and chatted.

One day, Tirpitz was most exited… his car had over the last week done ten extra miles per gallon! It must be his careful driving (he was an advanced driver… but that again is another story) The following week Alf asked him about the car and its MPG… great news! Turpitz’ careful driving, not accelerating too quickly, keeping the windows shut at all time, checking the tyre pressure regularly, had all given him another extra 8mpg!

The following week, by combining journeys so he made fewer trips, by coming to work earlier so he avoided the rush hour he had added another 3mpg!!!

I cannot tell you the end of the tale, I don’t know how the story finished… but I will tell you that Tirpitz did not have a lockable cap on his fuel tank, and I will also tell you that when they had a spare moment, Alf and Neville would nip out, take out the gallon can of petrol Alf had in his car and pour some into Tirpitz’ car. You have heard of syphoning out petrol, this was syphoning it in!

Snow leopards and the Severn Bridge

I’ve been challenging myself to tackle a list of seventy-three different subjects on which a blog could be written… I’ve done this for the past couple of days, but this doesn’t mean I’m going to do it every day for the next two and a bit months! The suggestions are very wide-ranging and aimed at people from every area of life who might want to write a blog, not just writers. There are some amazing blogs in unexpected sites… this is one of my favourites from a plumbers’ suppliers:

http://www.plumbworld.co.uk/blog/

Back to the seventy-three… today I’m challenging myself to write about…  Current Events… I do occasionally comment on the world around us, but rarely if ever on political issues, and rarely on controversial issues. I have plenty of thoughts and ideas, but for me, my blog here, is not the place where I choose to air my opinions and views. So … current events…

Current events

I read a newspaper everyday, listen to the news on the radio, watch the evening news on TV, follow certain news websites from around the world, and I think in general keep myself up to date with what is happening.

Having relatively young children, it is very hard not to be anxious, depressed or worried about the world today… for example, looking on the BBC website in four different areas of news, local (Somerset) national (England and UK) and international (the world) the gloomy frightening, awful stories seem to outweigh by a long streak the positive optimistic news:

Somerset:

  • Severn Bridge tolls to be reduced
  • Criminal’s movie memorabilia to be sold
  • Vigilante trapped girl’s online groomer
  • Risks to brain-injury baby were missed
  • Health bosses press on with A&E closure
  • Jude Law sparks cinema security alert
  • Flying Scotsman stuck on slippery slope
  • Go-ahead for badger cull in 11 new areas
  • Leaders outline new transport plans
  • Royal Navy helicopter joins Irma effort
  • Yeovil Town 0-0 Cheltenham Town
  • Girl’s organs donated to record 8 people
  • Next generation of wild cranes fledge

England:

  • Tube blast is terror incident, say police
  • Harrow Fire
  • Timber yard blaze brings rail chaos
  • Ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle ‘missing’
  • Emergency landing after plane loses wheel
  • Boy detained for killing love rival
  • Briton dies in Sri Lanka crocodile attack
  • NHS workers demand 3.9% pay rise
  • Gang sentenced for ‘territorial’ killing
  • Church ‘did not anticipate’ bishop row
  • ‘Annoyed’ customer failed in blackmail bid
  • HS2 ‘may disrupt city travel for years’
  • Suspended sentence for Redmayne stalker

UK:

  • Tube blast is terror incident, say police
  • Pound hits highest since Brexit vote
  • Bank hints at interest rate rise
  • Briton dies in Sri Lanka crocodile attack
  • Timber yard blaze brings rail chaos
  • Wealthier areas asked to build more homes
  • Ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle ‘missing’
  • New guidance targets type 2 diabetes risk
  • Man admits killing toddler in crash
  • ‘I was abused by nuns for a decade’
  • Bombardier announces Belfast job cuts
  • Boy, 14, slashed in face at school
  • Lancashire loss confirms Essex as champions

World:

  • North Korean test splits world powers
  • Swedish politician ‘raped for his beliefs’
  • Swedish festival cancelled after rape claim
  • Saturn probe Cassini is incinerated
  • Full article Saturn probe Cassini is incinerated
  • Ex-CIA head quits Harvard over Manning
  • Manilla police removed after teen deaths
  • Paedophile furore wrecks Iceland coalition
  • Trump repeats ‘both sides’ controversy
  • Tunisian women free to marry non-Muslims
  • Irma-hit nursing home loses funding
  • Google sued over ‘sex discrimination’
  • Mayweather criticised over Trump defence
  • Lady Gaga in hospital with ‘severe pain’
  • George Harrison’s sitar to be auctioned
  • Snow leopard no longer ‘endangered’

So much to fear, so much to be angry and appalled about, so much sadness and tragedy…

There is good news in among it all though…  let me find a good news story in among each of these section of current events…

  • The death of thirteen year old Jemima Layzell in 2012, from a brain aneurysm must have broken the hearts of her parents and family and all her friends. However, from her untimely death, she transformed the lives of eight different people, including five children. She donated her heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, small bowel and liver and gave life and a decent quality of life to eight strangers. Great good came from her tragedy – and maybe this will make more people think about becoming organ doners after their deaths. I rally believe there should be presumed consent unless someone actually opts out.
  • it’s harder to find a good news story among the UK news items, I guess we could ‘borrow’ from Somerset news that cranes have successfully bred on the levels and marshes of our county… I guess the fact that a plane made a successful emergency landing after losing a wheel is very good news
  • for Essex who beat Lancashire at cricket, it’s probably the best news that they won – they weren’t actually playing Lancashire, but Lancs lost against Somerset so Essex won the County Championship Division 1
  • … and what good news from the world can we find? It is a triumph for Tunisian women that they are now allowed to marry who they choose. The best news  for the snow leopards is that they are no longer endangered, but merely vulnerable

A true story of a strange fellow

This is a true story, but I have disguised everything which might identify the people involved.

Rachel was seventeen when she met Jimmy; they met at a disco, many, many years before. She and her gang of friends used to go to different clubs and places around town, and Jimmi was one of the guys who was always there. He was two years older than her and a guitar teacher, which seemed glamorous to Rachel and her friends! They went out a couple of times but it wasn’t destined to be anything more than casual.

Rachel moved away the following year, and didn’t return to live in the town except to visit her brothers and parents. Her brother Rick used to bump into Jimmi from time to time; Jimmi went through a bit of a bad patch, not professionally, his guitar teaching was as busy as ever, but he had a few personal difficulties.

Rick always thought Jimmy was a bit of a strange guy ‘an odd-bod’ as his parents described him. Rick realised that Jimmi was actually a couple of years older than what he’d originally said, but that was ok… he was pleasant enough, but they drifted out of each other’s circles – Rick was involved with the rugby club and socialised there. Rick married and he and his wife had lots of different interests which kept them busy. Jimmi, as far as Rick knew, still went to the same clubs and discos, and still wore the latest fashions, even though he was by now quite a bit older than the other ‘clubbers’.

Rick and his wife had children and became involved in their children’s activities – rugby, like their dad, swimming, scouts and guides… all the regular stuff kids do. Rick and his wife had their own social life, they went to a dance class to learn the tango, she joined a book club, he learned the ukulele and joined a little band, they had a wide social circle and went on holiday with friends as their children became older and wanted to do their own thing.

Phil was waiting at the station for his wife to come back from a trip to London when he was greeted by a weird-looking guy wearing a wig – it took Rick a few moments to realise it was Jimmi! Jimmi was a couple of years older than Rick, but he was wearing the sort of clothes Rick’s twenty-year-old son wore! They had an awkward conversation and Jimmi asked after Rachel and then he had to go, he had a ‘gig’, he said.

Rick mentioned this to his parents, who said they’d always thought Jimmi wore a wig, and they’d always thought he was very strange…  Years passed and Rick’s children left home, married settled down. Rick and his wife retired and were very busy and active – they had a camper van and travelled far and wide round the UK, Ireland and Europe. They were always busy and active, Rick still very involved in the rugby club and was on the committee, his wife now teaching the tango, and both of them members of the village society and involved in the planning of the annual fruit and produce show, the autumn carnival, Christmas activities, and the spring duck race.

It was the town’s food festival and Rick and his wife drifted along to meet up with their children and grandchildren. Rick had wandered off and was looking at a stall selling Greek olive oil when he noticed a little impromptu coffee bar nearby. He couldn’t help but stare at the odd-looking person sitting there. Espadrilles, ripped jeans, long shirt, leather jacket, bracelets, plaited leather wrist-bands, tattered bands from festivals, beads, rubber charity bands – the usual random collection of things a kid might have. There was a mass of gingery hair and a reggae Rasta beanie, which Rick only knew as a slouch because his grandson had told him. Rick caught a glimpse of an artificially tanned face hidden behind massive blue-lensed glasses; he looked away, took the change from the Greek olive oil man, and hurried back to his family.

A couple of days later, Rick was taking a short cut to avoid traffic but met another queue along a narrow country lane. The reason for the little tail-back was a car parked in a gateway but protruding into the lane. As Rick squeezed past, giving a thank-you wave to the car coming in the opposite direction who’d waited for him, Rick saw the owner of the parked car, shutting the boot. The man, hitched a guitar onto one shoulder, a low slung canvas bag hanging off the other. He adjusted his Rasta beanie, locked the car and went through the gate.

Rick glanced after Jimmi… the man might want to look like a twenty-year old but in reality – and his parents’ word ‘odd-bod’ came back… After seeing Jimmi at the food festival, Rick had done a little research; Jimmi was actually ten years older than he’d said when he went out with Rachel… so now Jimmi was actually seventy-one… A strange fellow and sad, very sad…