Wandering/Wondering

I haven’t posted for some time. I’ve been busy with work and other things and sometimes feel I’ve let things slip a little. I’m plagued by guilt whenever I’m not writing.

But I’ve 11 short stories out there in either competitions or submissions so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. There’s also always the doubt I’m focusing my creative efforts in the right area too.

I’d love to complete a bigger project but that’s on the back burner while I develop ideas and rest awhile. Hopefully I get my usual annual desire for a project in autumn.

In the meantime I’m listening to lots of good music and reading a lot (currently loving Craig Brown’s Beatles biog One Two Three Four). And thinking about my next project. Im lucky to have these views while I walk Bruce and think….

Late Turn in Lockdown

It is hoped we are turning a corner with the vaccines, but it’s not so long ago we had little or no understanding what might happen. This is a fictional account of a shift for two police officers in the early days of Covid19…..

Late Turn in Lockdown

First up: A fight in a supermarket. Control were desperate for takers. Pete winked at his partner and radioed in. ‘It’s your lucky day. We just pulled up right outside.’ A security guy in a clingy nylon sweater was frantically gesturing to them from the doorway. ‘By the cornflakes. It’s kicking off big time,’ he said, breathlessly. Pete raised an eyebrow at Tommo. Don’t say it.

            ‘Could be a cereal killer.’

But the kerfuffle was by the detergents, not the bran flakes. Two men pushing and shoving each other. One had a footballer’s haircut and designer jeans, with all those tears and zips at odd angles. The other bloke was out of puff, his tie knot dangling down at his gut. He saw Tommo and stood back, tripping over a shelf. He clutched a four-pack of economy toilet rolls tight to his chest. ‘Put them back,’ Pete said.

            ‘I had them first.’

Pete snatched the toilet rolls, giving them to an old woman who grinned and shoved them in her trolley.

            ‘Both of you need to take a good look at yourselves,’ Tommo said. ‘What’s happening to this country?’

            ‘Search me,’ Pete said.

The second call of the shift was a bloke ratting on his neighbours for sharing a hot tub with half the street. Word was it was the local councillor, but it turned out to be a hoax. They were driving to their next job – a bloke who’d been robbed – when Tommo asked: ‘Did Emma say anything?’

Emma had severe asthma. Pete had tried not to think about it. What if he brought the virus home? When he didn’t answer, Tommo said: ‘Shell wants me to go sick.’

Control interrupted them, asking if anyone could drive by Rossiter Street. A bloke was selling bottles of hand sanitiser, twenty quid a pop, from a table on the pavement. The call was cancelled when the salesman did a runner. ‘Clean getaway,’ Tommo said.

They pulled up at the end of the arcade, a deserted and windswept expanse of crumbling concrete. They were thinking it was their second hoax call of the shift when a man trailing a bandage from his head, staggered down the steps from the old Woolworth’s. ‘This our fella?’ The man rested on a wall. He was barefoot, his soles and heels black with filth. He wore shiny tracksuit bottoms and a tweed jacket, which hung open over a pale, bony chest. He took a can of lager from somewhere, tilted back his head and swigged at it. ‘It’s not getting to him, is it?’

            ‘What isn’t?’

            ‘The stress of lockdown.’

A woman in a grubby pink dressing gown appeared at the top of the steps, shaking her fist. ‘The missus,’ Pete said.

The fella with the can took another swig, turned, and scowled at her, before trudging off.

‘Let’s scoot. Fancy something to eat?’ Tommo said.

Pete was watching her. ‘What’s she got in her hand?’

            ‘How should I know?’

Pete saw a glint and ran from the car. He shouted for her to stop and she turned and clocked his uniform, her face full of hate. She had a kitchen knife in her left hand, all but the last few inches of blade concealed in her sleeve. ‘Drop it’ Pete said. She took a step toward him and hissed like a goose, but the knife slipped from her hand and clattered on the flagstones. Pete told her she was under arrest for carrying a blade. He cuffed her and led her back toward the car. The bloke in the tweed jacket was raging, so Tommo told him to wind his neck in.

‘What’s your name?’ Pete asked. He saw it coming but was too slow to react. She drew it up from her throat with a rattle and gobbed. He felt it smack against his cheek and drip from his nose. It stung his eyes. ‘I got the corona,’ she said, giving him a gap-toothed grin.

Pete didn’t have a spit guard, so he turned her and held her, temple pressed against the car. Fury made him grip hard. Spitting was filthy. Spitting was deadly now, too. That’s what people were saying. He could’ve yanked a fistful of her hair and slammed that leering face into the bonnet, but he’d never been that kind of cop.

            ‘I said I got the virus,’ she hissed. There was an Asda carrier bag on the back seat and yes, he was tempted to pull that over her head. He wondered if she really was infected. If he’d have to isolate from Emma, sleep in the spare bed. He yanked open the car door and shoved her inside. He was straightening up when he saw an old woman waving from across the road. ‘Come inside and wash yourself, luv.’

She’d been tending to a hanging basket. He thought he knew her. She led him into a downstairs toilet and told him to wash. There was a bar of yellow coal tar soap. It nipped at a cut on his knuckles. She handed him a towel, seeing the worry in his face. ‘It’s a virus luv. Nothing a dash of bleach won’t sort out.’

He dabbed at his sopping fringe. She was the woman he’d given the toilet rolls to. She offered him tea, but he said he should wait with his prisoner. She smiled at that word. ‘Nasty piece of work,’ she said. ‘Don’t know how you cope.’ She brought two steaming mugs of tea out, for him and Tommo, and a plate of biscuits, and set them down on the wall. Pete sipped his tea, wondering what he’d say to Emma, what to do for the best. The woman in the filthy dressing gown was mouthing swear words at them through the rear window.

            ‘It won’t last more than a few weeks,’ Tommo said.

            ‘How do you know?’

 Tommo shrugged, dunking a biscuit in his tea. He held up his steaming mug and winked at their tea-maker. ‘We do this for people like her. Anyway, this’ll blow over. We’ll be wondering what the fuss is about in a few months.’

Molly Leigh – a Staffordshire witch?

St John’s, Burslem

There is no inscription on the grave. Other than a small roadside plaque, which perhaps understandably commemorates Wedgwood and has only a footnote for Molly, there is little trace here of Molly Leigh. Only the transport cafe – Molly’s Cafe (the sign is pictured below) – celebrates this famous north Staffordshire story. A week or so ago I travelled to Burslem – the Mother Town of the Potteries – to see Molly’s resting place.

Molly Leigh’s grave

Molly was born in 1685 and back then, long before the industrialisation of north Staffordshire, Burslem would have been an out of the way village surrounded by woodland. It’s hard to imagine as the church of St John’s is surrounded by a neat line of seventies houses, a breaker’s yard, wasteland and a busy cut-through road leading down to the A500 and M6. Just across the road from the church are three magnificent bottle kilns pictured below. It may be difficult to imagine how the landscape was 300 years ago, but there is definitely an atmosphere in the churchyard. When I visited I had to take photos between heavy downpours. The sky was black and a crow sat on a nearby headstone.

I heard a rustling and turned to see a white carrier bag floating and drifting in the breeze.

Perhaps Molly is not celebrated as the local authority is worried about Satanists or rituals being performed. She was an outsider almost from birth, marked for taking solids as a baby and preferring the milk of animals. Poor Molly was said to be ugly and she lived alone in a cottage on the edge of a wood. She sold milk but locals accused her of watering it down. She went about with a blackbird or crow on her shoulder, singing. She might be what we’d now call an eccentric. She was certainly a strong character and, in a God-fearing age, got on the wrong side of the local clergy by refusing to attend church. When she died her spirit was restless and she was seen sitting in people’s houses. She lived to a good age but when buried in St John’s churchyard (her tabletop tomb is above) she continued to haunt folk. Her spirit was forced into the trough beside the grave and her grave was moved to be set down at right angles to all the other graves.

Molly’s snacks

She was been an inspiration to many, including another daughter of Staffordshire Sybil Leek. Sybil went about with a black crow on her shoulder and claimed to be a descendant of Molly. She emigrated to America and published many books on astrology and witchcraft.

Molly’s story has many versions and it’s difficult to separate myth and rumour from fact. What is fascinating is that unlike many other mythical figures in folklore and storytelling Molly was a real person. She had a will and there are other documents bearing her name.

I’ve written a short story involving Molly and can’t understand why more isn’t made of her.

Post industrial Potteries

Shopping for vinyl

Had a few bargains in the town charity shops and record shop.

The Associates

In Oxfam I picked up The Associates’ Sulk album. I’ve always been a huge fan of Billy Mackenzie’s voice.

The Teardrop Explodes’ Kilimanjaro

As it was Staffordshire Day yesterday it was appropriate I picked an album by one of my home county’s famous sons Julian Cope. I love this album and was delighted to find it had just come in to Double Double Good Music Emporium.

TTD

Finally I always enjoyed this album and I’m old enough to have bought it first time round on tape.

What is interesting is to see the vogue for vinyl means CDs are suddenly being thrown out. There are piles of them at 99p each or even 2 or 3 for a pound. I love the sound and feel of vinyl and the space and love given over to the art and photography. But there’s a real opportunity to pick up CD bargains and I will not throw mine out however chipped and scratched Everything Must Go or Who Killed the Zutons? get.