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Looking straight ahead the tombstone seemed to fill all of her vision; she could not see anything beyond its form. She read it from the top to the bottom. It was a memorial to four people. Alice remembered standing by a much smaller headstone when she was just nine years old. Her little sister had passed away just two years, four months old. The stone in front of her had listed to the right and bowed its head. Some kind soul had placed four very pretty glass beads at the foot of the stone. She read the inscription above the beads.  Poor Charlotte, she had married well to Mr. Arminson, but died when Alice would have been… but she could not fathom it out, she read on and became saddened for Alexander had been such a very unfortunate man. He had stood by this stone four times to say goodbye to his girls.

Tonight was the night; she could feel it. Why it was tonight and none of the other nights when she had stood here, she could not say. Tonight was the night. She was convinced. A moment later she felt a very small hand grasp her right hand. She didn't have to look down. She had held this little hand before. She savoured the moment for a full minute and then looked down to observe a small child, pretty as a picture, hair in tresses with pink ribbons, stunning blue eyes, and a smile that said ‘hello, I am so pleased to see you again.’ 

They stood together in the moonlight facing the boundary wall of The Rectory. The moon was full and bright against the Minster Bell Tower. The date seemed very important, it was Christmas Eve.  A voice behind them very tenderly asked ‘How are you both?’ The new comer joined the other two and none of them said another word. They waited in silence to see who else would come.

“Sorry we are a bit late,” said a man's voice. “Mother and I came straight here after visiting Grandma and Grandpapa.”

Mary Anne thought back to an unhappy time before the hurt of loss had finally changed all of them. Once they were stiff, aloof and starchy to one another. Time passed and their little family now were quite openly loving, sharing, kind and possibly a little vulnerable, but what matter, they were closer than ever they had ever been before.

Mary remembered that long past time and saw herself observing a scene to which she herself felt detached and not quite part of. Charlotte was old enough and bold enough to ensure that Alice didn’t dissolve into tears. Little Annie had two mums’, for Alice loved her dearly. Alexander looked odd, steely and unmoved and she noticed he glanced often at Alice, the child he adored. So much hurt inside such frail containers. Alice looked very pure in her white crinoline, and that hair! She had inherited it from her father, darkest, darkest black, being in such sharp contrast to her skin and dress.

Oh dear, Alice had started to quiver when the priest had said the final prayers, oh I wish I could help the precious mite she was only nine years old, … oh she has regained her composure, well done my little darling, you know your society demands you be strong on this hardest of days, no don’t smile dear, that’s wrong today as well.

Well, that’s done. Got through that without any fuss.

Then just as the undertakers left the graveside and bid the mourners follow, Alice let out a wail like the soul of a wounded animal and the white crinoline was muddied by its contact with the piled earth.

“I must go to her Alexander she needs her mother.”

“No please let me help her.”

“Leave it with us Alex, Charlotte come with me and let us clean up Alice.”

Mary’s gloomy thoughts passed and she felt the warmth and glow that true togetherness brings. All five of the family stood in the moonlight enjoying each other’s presence and just wishing for someone to come and tell them what to do next, but nobody came. Suddenly a small black and white dog approached the group, sat obediently, and looked from one member of the group to another until she had gazed at them all. The dog seemed to be checking that everyone that should be here was present. The dog raised its left paw as her master had taught her, and indicated the direction the group should go in. The dog’s tail wagged vigorously. Bright canine eyes surveyed the scene and then all six of them went off together in to the dawn of the new day.

On Christmas Day at about six O’clock a man came and stood to observe the stone. He came here often with his dog. The Christmas lunch had gone very well and he had used the new family dog as an excuse to take some air and escape, for just a little while, from the crowded very festive family room. This was a favourite spot of the dog he had lost and as was his long established custom he said hello to Alice, Annie, Charlotte Alexander & Mary Ann. He hesitated, and then went on to say to them how much he missed his previous little dog and that if they saw her could they look after her for him. Just for a fraction of a second, he saw a vision of an extremely happy family playing with a black and white spaniel in the brightest of sunshiny days, there was a sudden snatch of good-humoured laughter, he felt the sudden warmth and a lightness in his spirits. All was well. “Come on then girl, lead the way…” said a cheerful voice and a dog playfully added a short, excited bark, and dashed off with the family following her.

The vision disappeared and the man stood again in the moon light very much alone. Yet inside him was a warmth that he had not felt for a few weeks now. It developed into a glow and his stomach, that had played a constant gurgling unpleasant and often painful tune, went silent and he felt again at peace in a world that he had thought to be so deeply troubled. He walked away from the stone and coming to the path that went further into the church yard he turned left and headed down the slight gradient until he turned right and headed down a pathway toward Parsons Lane. A grave on his right caused him to stop and in the light of his torch he caught sight of the legend ‘Methodist Clergy Man’ 1844-. Ah! He thought to himself, so here is where the churches finally all reunite, and he wondered what this man would tell him of his life in Howden. He was almost sure that he heard someone speak these words

“You know true way, life leads us to many different places, but the end destination is the same for all.” 

Paul Hickman 2016 for Howden Show

Sometimes it seems that most important events in the 13th and 14th century took place in the southern half of England but in fact several either occurred (or began) in this area. This could be one of them!

THE ORDINANCE OF COWICK

Queen Isabella was cold; her ladies were wet and cold; while the guards tramping alongside on the river bank were wet, cold and exhausted.  Summer 1322 showed no sign of warming up but seemed determined to be a continual winter and, sadly, the weeping weather reflected everyone’s mood. The queen sat under a canopy which was intended to give her shelter from the rain, while everyone else on the royal barge was rapidly soaked.  To each side of the river serfs could be seen labouring in the fields or trying to shelter under trees.  Some lifted their heads from their work to watch the procession of barges but most just continued sullenly with their given tasks.

Although the queen gave the impression of a statue as she sat rigidly on her throne-like chair, in fact her mind was working furiously, trying to make sense of her situation.  It shouldn’t have come to this.  She had been married in 1308 when she was 12, and her bridegroom 23 years of age. Isabella, daughter of the King of France, had been sanguine about marrying a man she had never met and to leaving her family to live in a foreign land.  After all - she would be a queen as soon as she married Edward II, making her status higher than if she had married one of the many Dukes and Counts who had entered into negotiations with her father.  Although the first few years of marriage had been difficult (mainly because his close friendship with men such as Piers Gaveston) they had by now reached an accommodation with each other and she had borne him four children.  

In 1314 the king had been determined to emulate his father’s success in crushing England’s troublesome neighbour, Scotland. He had ridden out so proudly, leading his knights, as they headed for the north. However, it had ended in an ignominious defeat in Bannockburn at the hands of Robert the Bruce, and Edward had returned to London a sadder, though not wiser, man. His young wife Isabella had been there to offer him comfort although he seemed to prefer the company of his male friends.  As time went on he had seemed to forget his humiliation but then in 1318 the Scots had dared to invade Berwick on Tweed, claiming it as their own.

Again Edward had gone riding in battle, this time taking both his queen and his latest close friend Hugh Despenser with him.  And again he had failed.  He and his army had run desperately to gain the safety of York where they planned to rally the troops and fight again. From there they had sallied out to Myton, where they had been decimated.  Isabella, waiting in Tynemouth, had been forced to flee for her life.

Now, this summer of 1322 Edward had again raised taxes and demanded his nobles fight with him and raise troops. Again she’d had to follow him to be seen as his loyal supportive wife, waiting for him in York Castle. Then yesterday disaster had struck again.  The sound of galloping horses and running feet was heard, so the ladies all rushed to the ramparts to see what was happening. To their horror all they saw was a desperate horde of runners and riders heading back to the city.  The gate was opened to let them in and a messenger, Sir Roger Mortimer, had gone straight to the queen. He was swaying with shock and fear as he neared her, but was able to control himself enough to go down on one knee before her, and to wait for her order to him to speak.

            “Well, what news?” was all she said, and he began to stammer as he told her.

            “Madame, the Scots are victorious. The Mayor of York and other leading knights have been killed. The King sent me from the field to warn you to be prepared to leave York immediately.”

            “Is the King safe? Where is he?” she demanded.

            “He has gone south trying to reach your manor in Cowick, Madame, together with Sir Hugh Despenser and his bodyguards.”

The Queen was white with fury. “Are you telling me that he has run – run and left me here defenceless?”  There was no need for Sir Roger to reply. “Very well,” she said in a tight voice, “I too will go south. I will leave immediately by river and will join him in Cowick. But I will never forgive him for this cowardice.”  Before long the Queen, her ladies and the lower servants were hustled onto barges and moving slowly along the Ouse and here they were: wet, miserable, disheartened and ashamed.

Within a day they had arrived at the quay in Cowick where they disembarked then rode on to the royal manor. There they found King Edward and Hugh Despenser, both looking haggard and strained.  The Queen’s eyes were cold as she greeted her husband. “When are we leaving for London, my lord?” she demanded as soon as the official greetings were over.  His eyes did not meet hers as he replied, the words sounding rehearsed.

            “My dear, I have been considering that, together with other matters.     I fear that after this latest loss the people of London will not be as accommodating as we would wish. Also this battle has drained the Exchequer and I have a feeling they will not be willing to replenish it quickly.  So Hugh and I have decided that we will stay here for a while.  I don’t think any Scots will come any further into England, they will be content to take Berwick and all the cattle they can drive back home.  This building is well guarded and I have ordered the army to fall back from York and join us here.  For the moment I shall rule from here, and my first task will be to raise more money.  My officials have already begun to trace any misappropriation of money and to claw it back. I am certain I will eventually win my lands back from the marauders.”

            “Indeed?” was her only comment.  Then she turned to her saviour, “My thanks for your kindness and bravery, Sir Roger. I promise that I shall never forget, and that you will receive the reward you deserve.”  She graciously inclined her head, while adding to herself, “As will my craven husband, be assured,” as she led her ladies into the safety of Cowick.

Historical note:

Edward 11 did in fact move his government to Cowick for a short while and extant records show that £300 was spent to make the manor fit to be a royal residence.  In 1323 the King and his council issued The Ordinance of Cowick which was intended to make the keeping of royal accounts more efficient and transparent.  Some of the people who devised and signed this document were the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Exeter, the King’s brother the Earl of Kent and many other leading nobles.

Before 1326 Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer had become lovers.  That year they invaded England from France, deposed Edward 11 and ruled as regents in the name of her son Edward 111.  In 1330 the young king turned against Mortimer, having him arrested and rapidly executed.       

Queen Isabella lived another 28 years; her life was spent in various locations and was very luxurious.  However, she was stripped of all power and never allowed to return to court. There is no record of her ever again visiting Cowick.

1300 words

Sue Chapman

                 PAST Memories’                                                             

It was a bitterly cold, crisp morning in December when Sarah stepped down from the bus in Howden. The sky was a bright blue with vapour trails crossing it in different directions. She shivered as she fastened up her coat and pulled her hat well down in an effort to cover her ears and protect them from the biting wind. This was her first visit back to Howden in many years, and it held a lot of very fond memories of her early years.                          

She and her husband, Bill, had ce1ebrated their golden wedding 3 months ago and as they danced around the village halt where their party was being held she felt extremely happy to have shared her 1ife with Bill. All their family had travelled to join them and help them celebrate this happy occasion and she had wanted this day to last for ever because it was so rare now for the family to all spend time together and who knew when it would next be.      

The following day they would all be leaving to get back to their own homes and jobs, so she was cherishing every moment of this time spent together.                                   

However, she did come to regret having this thought because 6 weeks later Bill had died suddenly from a heart attack and they had all returned again for the funeral. This was not the way that she had wanted her family to come together again. Now they had all left and she was feeling such an unbearable loneliness and emptiness. When she went to bed each night she kept hoping that it was all a bad dream and when she woke up the following morning she would see Bill in the kitchen making the tea as he had always done. Since his death, Sarah had spent much of her time looking through all their old photograph albums and had come across the oldest one containing photos of where they had first met and started seeing each other which was whilst both working on a farm in Howden. This album had prompted her to make this return visit to Howden where her first memories of Bill were and to recall this happy and carefree time of her life.                                    

 She had vivid memories of a bright, sunny day in May, 52 years ago, when she had first seen him; she had been working on the farm helping with the milking of the cows and generate jobs in the house and kitchen since leaving school 2 years ago. The farmers' wife was very kind to Sarah, who enjoyed working there, and often sent her home with some of the excess produce. Bill had just been employed as a farm hand and it was on his first day of work that he passed by the cowshed and called out good morning to her. She looked up and returned his greeting. He looked a little older than her but he was very good looking and she felt a warm glow inside her. They saw each other most mornings after that and gradually their greetings became a longer exchange of words and she looked forward to seeing him and hearing his voice. She liked him immediately and couldn't wait for their next meeting and spent extra time in the morning with her appearance.                                      

The year was etched into her mind, it was 1929, and in July Bill invited her to join him to witness the opening of the new Boothferry Bridge.  It was a great feat of mechanical engineering and she remembered that it looked very large and imposing. It was a major event because up to this date the only way to cross the river was by ferry, and depending on the river conditions it could take quite a time to get across the river. There was no shelter on the ferry, so if the weather conditions were bad then you would get very wet and cold.     

There had been a couple of ferry boats with a landing area at either side of the river; passengers were able to take their cycles across then proceed to work or school. The ferrymen had to judge the tides and decide where they could row or punt across safely.       

There were no set crossing times. If you were going from Howden to Goole, you could knock on the door of the boatman, but if you were returning to cross from Goole to Howden, then you had to shout across the river and hope that your voice was heard or wave frantically and hope that you were seen. The larger of the boats had a flat-bottom and was used for horses and carts, livestock and sometimes for cars, which could prove quite awkward getting them on to the boat and securing them safely.                                                       

 On l8 July 1929 the farmer and his wife had made the necessary arrangements for the farm workers to have some time off, and they had provided a hay wagon for them all to get a ride so that they could witness the opening of the new bridge. Everyone had dressed up for the occasion and there was such a large amount of excitement and anticipation but no-one really appreciated just how much this would improve things by enabling them to get from Howden to Goole and Airmyn so quickly and easily. This did however have a detrimental effect on the Howden trade because many people would now travel into Goole for their shopping and more of the focal workers had the choice of being able to look for work in the Goole area.

After the grand opening, it soon became a very popular route for the weekend bus trips Going to the seaside during the summer months.                                                

  Sarah had taken particular care with her appearance. The previous evening, she had washed her hair and put it in rags to make it curly, and when the following morning she had removed the rags she was very pleased with the results. She put on her best dress which she only wore on special occasions and some second-hand shoes she had bought in the market. She felt excited as she saw Bill and noted the admiration in his eyes and felt her heartbeat quicken and her face flush. He helped her up onto the wagon and squeezed her arm, that day they had eyes only for each other and their friendship soon blossomed into love.                                                                                       

 On this hot, sunny day in July as the hay wagon approached the bridge they were met by crowds of people on both sides all trying to get as near to the middle of the bridge as possible. they could see that there was a bright red ribbon tied across the centre of the bridge and several officious looking men were there, one of them being the Mayor. They were too far away to hear what was being said but they stood up on the wagon and managed to see the Mayor cut the ribbon and declare the bridge open. This was met with cheers and a round of applause from the bystanders. The river banks on either side became full of peop1e enjoying a drink from a wagon provided by the landlord of the Percy Arms, and it was on this day that Sarah enjoyed her first alcoholic drink, a glass of stout, together with Bill who had a pint of beer. Some of the men in the crowd had got together with an accordion and violin and soon there was music and singing which went on throughout the day. Other people joined in playing on their pennywhistles or just drumming along on anything that made a noise. There was a real party atmosphere. After they had finished their drinks Sarah and Bili began to walk towards Boothferry Bridge which was now open to traffic and pedestrians. The cars were being driven across by men wearing smart blazers and straw boaters sounding their horns as they made the crossing. Most were accompanied by a beautiful woman smartly dressed wearing matching hats and silk gloves. lt was quite an event and they wanted to be able to say that they had been one of the first to make the crossing. There were also many cyclists crossing who were ringing their bells or sounding their hooters. Crowds of people were walking across to the other side and marvelling at how easy and quick it was to now cross the river. Bill took hold of Sarah's hand and they joined in and walked across. When they reached the other side, they could hear the sound of an approaching boat siren and they were able to watch as the bridge closed to the traffic whilst it opened to allow the boat to pass through. When the boat was through it tooted its thanks, and continued on its way. Everybody watched and cheered and clapped again when the boat had passed through and the bridge closed to become a road again. As they walked back across Sarah remembered Bill telling her how much he liked her and asked her if she would go out with him again, but this time on a proper date to the cinema. This led to them seeing a significant amount of each other after that memorab1e day, spending all their free time together. They became engaged in December and married the following September.            

  They moved away from Howden 2 years later when Sarah was expecting their first child, and Bill accepted a farm managers' job nearer to Manchester which came with a cottage. They had spent many years there where the rest of their children had been born and they had been a very happy and contented family. When Bill retired they had moved into a bungalow on a new housing estate where Sarah still lived.                                          

  As Sarah walked around Howden there were lots of memories flooding back to her of her time spent there with Bill. The weekly dances at the Shire Hall which they attended whenever they could and which they always enjoyed. The Ashes playing fields, where Bill had played for the cricket team, and then later on the walk around it which always ended behind the pavilion where they would share a kiss. She reached the Minster where they had married 50 years ago and as she approached the door she recalled how nervous she had been on her wedding day. She reached out her hand and took hold of the handle which she turned and was pleasantly surprised to find opened. Once inside she took several steps forward and admired the beautifully decorated church, there were a few ladies arranging Christmas decorations and putting the finishing touches to a huge Christmas tree. She moved towards one of them and spoke explaining her presence in the church. They were happy for her to be there and continued with their tasks. At the front of the altar she remembered being knelt there beside Bill and panicking when she tried to stand up and realised she was stood on her dress. Bill had squeezed her arm reassuringly, and she quickly managed to sort out her dress and stand up next to him. She sat quietly for a while and reflected on that day and wondered why they had not returned before, they had often spoken of coming back but it was one of those things that hadn't happened. They had made their lives together in the Manchester area where their family had been born and raised, and there were always other things to do and so they had never made the journey back here.         

But at this tough time in her life, she fe1t that she needed to be here where she had first met Bill, to remember and cherish their time together and the love that had grown.      

  As she left the Minster, she continued to walk towards the farm where they had both worked. She stood looking towards the now dilapidated cowshed where he had called out "good morning" to her, she felt tears pricking her eyes, and she had the sensation that Bill's arms were wrapping around her and giving her a gentle squeeze. She felt comfort from this but knew that this was just an illusion, but a very welcome one. How she would continue her life without Bill, she didn't know. People tried to be kind and said things like "time is a great healer," "you'll always have your memories," "it comes to us all eventually," and many more, too many to contemplate. Yes, all of these platitudes were faithful to some extent but it didn't change anything or help the pain to go away. She was glad that she had decided to make this trip back to Howden and realised that some part of Bill would always be with her but from now on she was on her own.                                               

 Sarah turned around and retraced her steps to get the bus back, she had already made the decision that she would get off at Boothferry Bridge and remember that wonderful day in July 1929. She saw the bridge approach, it didn't look much different from her memory of it; she made her way to the front of the bus and got off at the stop. She proceeded onto the river bank and tried to imagine the exact spot where she had drunk her first drink with Bill.

She still enjoyed a glass of stout which was quite an old-fashioned drink now. She closed her eyes and was transported back there, imagining she could hear the music and singing and feel the warmth of the sun on her face. As she opened her eyes she turned and walked towards the bridge, noticing that there was a great deal more traffic crossing now.           

Everyone always in such a hurry to get to their destinations and no-one sounding their horns   because it is so normal to get into their cars and travel around. As she walked across the bridge she looked to her left where she could see the Ouse Bridge which had opened in 1976, it was towering high in the sky and thankfully it did not need to open to allow any river traffic to pass by. The M62 motorway went across it which connected the east to the west side of the country. She continued to the other side where she stopped and let the memories flood back to her once more before she took a final look back then proceeded to the bus stop. Her memories of Howden and the opening of Boothferry Bridge would always hold a special place in her heart, for this was where her love for Bill had begun and was still with her, and nothing could change that even if he had left her earlier than they had expected.                                                                                    

Total words: 2482                                                                             

Jean Leake                                                                                   

 

                                             Horses come to town

 

            Sam was awoken by sounds of pain coming from the room across.  Half-dazed, he tried to make sense of it.  Then his senses told him what must be happening.  Remembering similar commotion when Annie was born, he concluded 'there's another babby coming!  Do they allus come at night?'   For months he'd watched as his mother grew thicker round her middle, and was unwell yesterday, requesting him to make her a cup of weak tea.  Now, another loud scream compelled Sam to cover his ears, willing it to stop.  Moments later, a weak but shrill cry broke through the house heralding the arrival of Thomas, as his brother was later named. 

            At breakfast, young Emily sat quietly at the table.  She was slow and spoke little, while older sister Dolly tried to get little Annie to eat something.  Annie was refusing, crying for her mother. 

            'She won't like it now she's not the babby any more,' Sam thought, as he grabbed a slice of bread.  Ruby, the local self-acclaimed nurse-midwife was upstairs assisting Violet with the baby.  Sam's father, Job, should have gone out earning but now was busy at home.  Sam knew it was all down to him today.  There were lots of merchants in Howden who paid for errands to be run, a package to be delivered, and with the horse fair approaching there would be loads of opportunities.

            Chomping on his bread he picked out a pair of boots from the shabby pile near the door. In the narrow alley behind the Minster, he overstepped the stream of effluent running down the middle.  Old Meg, next door's lodger, approached.

            'It's a reight crowd out there, lad.  They're 'ere for t'hoss fair, and there's some rich gents if you've a mind to pick a pocket. Some are med o'money.'

              'No, Meg.  I don't thieve.  It'd upset ma if I did, 'specially if I got caught!  Looking for honest work, I am.'

              'Aye, lad.  Tha's a good 'un.  Tek care now!'  and she went inside to her shared room in the already crowded house.  Loud voices were heard from indoors as she opened the door. 

               In the market place, it was obvious Meg was right.   The chill autumn morning caused townsfolk to hurry about, too cold to stand talking.  Well-dressed strangers were thronging in small groups.  'Good business for the inns,' Sam surmised.  A grocer's barrow had tipped, sending vegetables rolling along the cobbles.  Sam assisted by righting the barrow securely before retrieving the scattered goods.  Rewarded with a battered cabbage, he was thrilled, and hurried towards home with his bounty, but lots of horses and riders now crowded Bridgegate, arriving in good time for the sales.  Locals crowded the street to watch the equine visitors and their entourage.  These early arrivals hoped to get best stabling at the large inns where they'd be rested and groomed, owners hoping to command the best prices in the sales.  These were no farm horses.  Well-bred and strutting with an arrogant air, they were destined for gentry. 

              A grey mare caught Sam's attention.  When she turned towards him, they looked eye to eye at each other.  She seemed to have picked him out from the crowd, and as he held out his hand, she leaned to reach it with her muzzle.  Her rider noticed this, and watched the way, Sam, despite his insignificant build, stood his ground as the horse pushed into his shoulder. 

            'She's tekken to thee, boy' he remarked, and Sam rubbed her nose which she clearly enjoyed.  Then, she looked up and gazed over Sam's right side, neighing, and he turned to that direction, surprised to see his mother and her baby standing next to him. 

            'Mother, why have you come out on such a chilly day?  You should be keeping warm.  Look, I have a cabbage to make soup.  Go on home now!'  She smiled and kissed his head.

            Suddenly, the horse he had admired threw her head, her eyes wide, and tried to rear.  A groom standing by kept her in check, but it proved difficult.  'Come on girl, easy now!  Whatever has spooked you, eh?'  Sam stepped forward and stroking her chest, calmed her.

            'Thanks, lad' said her rider to Sam, then, to the mare, 'You seem to have made a friend here, Misty.'

            Looking round for his mother Sam realised she had left, presumably to return home.  He followed on, hoping to catch up with her, but she must have hurried because although he ran some of the way, she was nowhere to be seen.  In the alley near his doorway a small group of neighbours had gathered. 

            'What the heck do they want?'  he wondered and pushed his way into them. 

            'Hang on Sam' said one, grabbing his arm.  'Wait for your dad.  You don't want to go in there just yet.'

            Sam shook off her grasp and noticing their expressions, slowly realised that something terrible had happened.  Meg stepped forward and put her arms around him.  'Dun't fret, lad.  It might not be that bad.  Oh, 'ere's your dad now, look.'

            He wanted to ask what it was that might not be that bad, but Job came to him, pale-faced, beckoning him over to a quiet spot.  He spoke softly to Sam, breaking the news that Thomas was born too feeble to survive more than an hour, then his mother took a turn for the worse, and died soon afterwards.

            'But Dad, she came along the road to me.  I saw her!  She watched the horses arrive, and I told her to come home 'cos it were too cold for her.  She must be alright; why do you say she died when I just saw her?'

            'It's one of those things you hear about, son.  Your mother knew she wasn't long for this world, and wanted to see all her babes.  We didn't know which way you'd gone, son, and couldn't get you in time.  Perhaps she came looking for you herself.  I'm sorry, lad!

            Sam cried in his father's arms. 'I just don't understand,'  was all he could say.

            They stood together in mutual comfort for a while until Sam, still clutching his cabbage, noticed his three sisters being ushered out by Evelyn Waller from two doors down.  The girls had been crying and wiped tears from their faces.  Even Emily, who rarely showed emotion, looked disturbed.  They saw Sam and gave little waves towards him as they were led down the street.

            'The girls, dad, where are they going?'

            'Eve's taking them for a few days son, just till we get sorted.'

            There was more activity near the door.  Ruby came out carrying a bundle of bedding in her arms.  Sam couldn't help but see the sheets were badly marked with blood. 

            A few days later, Violet and Thomas were laid to rest in the churchyard.  The girls cried, but Sam choked back his tears.  He remembered how his mother had appeared to him that day, and felt her kiss on his head, and, believing that she'd always be watching over him, intended being strong today.

            During the week, more horses came to town, and the sales started.  Strings of ponies were bought by local businesses and gentlemen to pull their carts and traps around town, while Shetlands and similar small breeds were sold to mine-owners who had travelled from the coalfields of Yorkshire and Durham to use as pit ponies.  Top quality horses were bought up quickly, fetching high prices.  Two black draught horses were bought by the brewery across the river.  A hundred and fifty troop horses were destined for the Light Dragoons, and several dozen sold for pulling gun carriages for Artillery regiments.  Sam wondered how they would accept their new role in the noise and turmoil of battle.  Twelve hand-picked chestnut carriage horses were sent to a country house in Derbyshire. 

            Mingling in the crowds, he heard which horses were to be sent overseas to places with strange-sounding names.  Snippets of information were overheard as Sam took advantage of this busy period by running errands, holding horse reins outside the inns, or washing pots in various eating houses, as this was a busy time for them all. 

            One day, while dashing past The Half Moon, a voice hailed him from a row of stables. 

            'Hey, boy!  Stop!  I'd like a word!' 

            Sam stopped and looked in that direction.  Although the hailer seemed familiar, Sam couldn't place him.  Being beckoned over, Sam apprehensibly did as he was bid, but relaxed when he saw the man's four-legged companion.  Immediately he recognised Misty, who seemed drawn to him again, nuzzling into his arm as he looked questioningly at the person who had called him.

            'I've been looking for you, young man.  Where've you been hiding?'

            Sam explained that far from hiding, he'd been busy earning money to help out at home, and without mention of the spiritual visitation the day they met, told him briefly of recent events.

            'How would you like something to eat while I talk to you, lad?  And what's your name, by the way?  I can't keep calling you 'lad.''

            The promise of something to eat sat well with Sam, as he now only ate when really desperate, making sure the girls didn't go hungry.  He followed his new acquaintance into a room nearby, leaving Misty to nibble hay from a straw bag.

            'Look, Sam, I'll come straight to the point.  I'm Henry Fairburn. I work for Lord Danforth at Mickle Hall......you'll know that, do you?'

            Sam acknowledged he knew of it, while gratefully accepting a plate of pork pie, cheese and bread.

            Henry continued... 'Apart from coming here to buy horses for the house, I'm also on the look-out for a stable hand.  I saw how you were with Misty there, and she's fair taken to you, I can tell.  The pay won't help much with the family finance, but you'll get your keep.  I can vouch for Mrs. Hancock's cooking.  She'd soon put some meat on those bones I see,' he said, pointing to Sam's scrawny body.  'Of course, you'd be able to visit home occasionally, bring your family your earnings and whatever else you might acquire.'  Then, whispering aside, as if someone might overhear, he added 'Mrs. H. usually makes up a basket of goods for taking home.'

            Not knowing what to think or say, Sam asked if he could talk to his father first.

            'Of course, lad.... I mean Sam.  Look, I'm in town for two more days.  Return tomorrow with your answer, and if you don't want the job, I'll have time to find someone else.  But, the way you were with Misty, you'll fit the bill.  Come back, and tell me if I'll be taking you with me.'

            Sam left, turning over the idea in his head.  He liked horses well enough, though he didn't know much about them yet, but would learn.  Would his dad manage without him? In his grief, he hadn't worked much, but there'd be one less to keep.  Pondering these things, he picked up his feet and ran home, suddenly excited at this opportunity and prospects. 

            Job was amazed at the proposition and thought on it for a while, asking various questions, but Sam could only answer what he'd been told.  In the end, Job announced his decision. 

            Next morning Sam accepted the offer of a new life.

            Eve continued caring for the girls, filling lonely hours since becoming widowed. Job resumed his carting around town, and the following Easter he and Eve were married, with Violet and Thomas forever in their hearts, never forgotten.

           

(1955 words)

            w

2050 words

           

                                     Sweet Colleen

         The waters of the river Ouse had now turned towards the sea, having recently reached high tide.  Here and there rocks broke up the steady flow, causing small breakers to show white against the dark shadows of deeper, foreboding water.

         Mary Jackson was born in the village, in the front bedroom of her Nan's cottage.  She loved living by the river and over the years had watched with great interest this busy waterway and the variety of craft passing by: keels and sloops passing gracefully by in full sail, ferry boats carrying passengers to the other side, and barges trading up and down the local ports.  These announced their arrival by the put-put-put of the motor and puffs of smoke escaping from the tin 'chimney’ poking through the roof. 

         She walked along the shore a little way before sitting on a grassy knoll and gazed around.  She heard the distant sound of hammering in the boatyard and voices close by as men stacked lengths of wood which arrived recently from Europe.  The river bank gave up its fragrance of wild flora, and she laid back to relax in the weakening afternoon sun.

            She was in a dreamy mood, for Bren was coming today.  Brendan, her Bren, belonged to a family of barges whose livelihood was gained plying their trade along the network of rivers and canals.  He worked as mate to his father, Sean.  They usually stopped off at the Dyke to exchange cargo.  Mary and Bren had taken a shine to each other and his pending arrival was the highlight of her current existence.  Her adolescent presence on the river front had been noticed by many young men, and though some tried to be more than friendly to this bonny girl, she hadn't taken to any like Bren.  Over the past months their friendship had developed into something stronger, more urgent, and they had spoken of love and a future together. 

            The familiar barge now approached, it's sound a welcome greeting.  Mary recognised the 'Sweet Colleen' and stood up on the bank to wave to the master and his handsome mate as they steered towards the staith.

            'Hello-o-o there, Mary!'  Sean called to her.  She waved excitedly, Bren waving back.

            Pulling alongside they quickly roped up, then the two barges and local labour wasted no time in offloading boxes whose contents would be traded in the town, exchanging this cargo for other goods to be delivered downriver.  A group of youths carried the boxes onto waiting carts, where horses lazily munched the wayside verges.

            Mary stood a short distance away, waiting, watching Bren attentively but trying to exercise caution so as to not seem too obvious.  He looked up, smiling, his hair tied back and wearing his familiar green waist-coat.  As their eyes met an invisible thread quivered between them.  He nodded his head to her; she blushed.  Having completed transactions, Sean was usually keen to get a move-on for he'd say 'lost time is lost money,' but recently he gave the youngsters an hour together while he joined the local lads for a pint. 

            'Here y'are Mary! I got you something' said Bren, proffering a paper bag in Mary's direction. 'It's liquorice, all the way from Ponte.  Good stuff that!'

            'Thank you, Bren, I love liquorice.  Are you going on far after this stop?'

            'Just dropping off ropes and stuff here and picking up fertiliser, then we're off for Hull.  It's a busy time just now, and we'll need to be going with the tide.'

            Mary opened her bag of liquorice lumps and popped one into her mouth.  The flavour was warm and comforting.  She loved this treat from Pontefract, where the plant was cultivated.  They walked hand in hand, gulls crying out overhead and now and then a wading bird scuttled among the rocks.  Bren told her about a lock repair that had held them up near Rotherham last week, causing them to lose a day's trade.

            'Dad was furious 'cos it took too long.  We managed to clean out the hold anyway, while it was  empty, so it waren't all wasted time.  I telled him to calm down, but he do get into a twist when it don't go smooth.'  Mary listened to all his stories, trying to piece together what his life was like when he wasn't here with her.

             Bren stopped walking and pulled Mary to him in an embrace.  'We should make plans, Mary.  Proper plans, I mean, if we're to be wed.  Where will you live, for instance, when I'm on the boat?  P'raps it'd be best for you to live in the narrowboat with my ma, and she can learn you all you need to know so you'll be ready when we get our own, my love.'

            Mary wasn't so sure, but then she was unsure about so much in life.  She just wanted Bren to teach her.  She rested her head against his chest, enjoying the moment, but it was short-lived. 

            'Hoi, Bren! Come on lad!'

            It was time to be away, for the day was passing quickly.  Already, they were losing light and the breeze was gathering strength.  They needed to make headway to reach Hull safely for the night.  Bren kissed Mary and she watched him run back to the 'Sweet Colleen' which was already steamed up and released from the bollards.  Bren leapt on board and the hooter was sounded as they pulled away into the main river passage, waving until they could no longer see each other.  Mary's heart sunk again and tears welled in her eyes.  These meetings were far too short, and they spoke of marriage without having spent time together, but they were so much in love.

            Mary's father, William, returned as darkness fell, declaring it to be getting rough outside. They all ate then passed the time in a regular routine.  William recalled events of the day, sometimes telling a comical tale of passing characters, who supplied him with a host of stories.  The wind whistled down the chimney and rain lashed against the windows.  Soon it was bedtime.

            The next morning Mary's mind was full of  the plans Bren had suggested.  She was excited one minute then full of doubts the next, as she prepared the tubs to do the laundry.  She hadn't met his mother, but hoped she would before long.  It never occurred to her in what circumstances this would be.              Around mid-day William unexpectedly returned home, his face showing anguish with the news he brought, which had caused dismay and grief first to the quayside gang, and now to Mary.  She felt her world crash down around her as he quietly took her in his arms and let her cry until she was spent.  

The 'Sweet Colleen' had been caught in an turbulent swell.  The lower river was notoriously dangerous and sandbanks came and went with the power of the tides and winds.  Waves had washed over the boat, throwing her beloved Bren and his father to a watery grave.  It was all over by the time anyone could reach them.  Such events created heavy hearts in riverside communities, and it devastated Mary.  

             Although time softened the loss, for the rest of her life the flavour of liquorice brought to Mary's mind the smiling face of her earlier love, her sweet Bren, and the future they might have had.

           

1244 words (inc. title)

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The new web site has been here for a couple of weeks now BUT as always the old host doesn't want you to 'leave the fold' and the new host is running everything on a shoestring so is not overflowing with support staff. So for a while there the domain email [anything ending in @albus.org] wasn't working, DNS was bust, but apart from that all being todged, everything was just Jim Dandy. Teething problems. All sorted now but I go through the same problems every hosting company move. Now I am on 'God's web' perhaps I should just stay put and earnestly PRAY nothing more goes wrong :-)  Typical tech support response 'its all your own fault, you didnt know what your tags were or your authority numbers, yeah right, they know how to fix everything [?] but get some sorta twisted kick out of my knowledge not matching theirs... but then what do they know about putting together a Church Sunday Worship Service or about Safeguarding or Counselling proceedures? Exactly. Dey is arrogant and silly. <rant over> after all they know where the fuses are and how to remove DNS entries :-)  oh the power! 

Anyway its all settling down nicely now. The joomla course is [WAS] going okay I suppose. I did some reading on upgading 2.5 to 3.anything and decided perhaps I will not bother :-[   I would break everything and it would be my fault :-)

off now for some kip before I tinker with the landing lights and stop them staying on even when there is no one on the treads... yawn more bloody ladder work!  

UPDATE: - I didn't find the cause of the lights being constantly on so am having to request we get an electrician in to fix this. Oh dear. I did learn however that the electric meter to my flat charges 12p a kwatt/hour but the meter to the common services [landing lights, fire alarm, hoover sockets etc.] charges a massive 43p per kwatt/hour. Why? The landlord does all the administration services for getting us dwellers to corporately pay the bill, so where is the electric companies extra costs at providing comunal services?? What a con. What a legal fraud? Yuk!

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TO ALL NEW BEGINNINGS

So off Pat and I went. Back to Essex after 12 months (for me anyway) to our previous homeland. I almost did not recognise the town of Laindon because so much building of new houses had taken place. I gazed at places I had previously walked the dog in lush green silence and saw row upon row of totally unaffordable houses. Even if I could afford it, would I really pay £480k to live in sunny Laindon? This place that I moved to in 1980 to avoid the spiralling cost of housing in my native Eastender town of Newham. Cheap it no longer is, in fact there is no price differential with E6. I mourn for all those lovely open green fields, alas now gone forever. Archers Fields, Dry Street, Nicholas Lane, Ballards Walk. a list that is forever growing. One of the reasons I settled there in the first place was it was so rural. I lived on Steepleview, the site previously occupied by a pig farm and Wilffe & Slowper (local milk producer), next to Jayne's cafe and The Fortune of War PH. My previous world has gone. Development has taken it all away and replaced it with something wonderful, but so very different in every possible way.

Change is that thing that happens to us. We cannot control it. It is the natural order of things. Some changes are welcome and refresh us greatly. There is also a very different form of change that devastates us and after its passing we are never the same people again. With the former we rejoice and the latter we mourn.

There is a third kind of change. An insidious one. The un-noticed one. A change that takes place and we do not realise that it has happened. Often by the time we do notice it is too late. These are often the ones you pray that you could reverse but alas you cannot. The change has been made. The die is cast and wheels very definitely set in motion. Events take on 'a life of their own' and you now recognise them, but are unable to resist. Life is out of your control. I have learned to desist in my struggle to oppose these things. Learned that big word ACCEPT. Learned that some things are meant to be, whether you like them or not. I have grown up at last, and love my village fate. I now revisit my past, but very quickly return to NOW (and the future) for the past grows ever murkier and dimmer. Now (& what lies ahead) is my way, my truth and my life. A wonderful life that is not mine but shared with the people who love each other now, sometimes despite an endured spiteful past because they grew to know that nothing lasts forever, and the sun gets to shine again tomorrow.

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