Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Chapter Thirty

These are the story pieces I wrote for the Western Morning News down here. They are just little 300 word pieces for the Countryfile section. I'm quite pleased with them and have enjoyed seeing them in print. Several people have commented favourably about them and that has been nice as well.

The Slipway

Since childhood I have wanted to work at the coast. The sea side was always my safe place, my bolt hole, my refuge. Seven months ago my wife and I walked the South West Coast Path over eight weeks in the Summer and vowed to move down here sooner rather than later.

It was meant to be, as on our return my wife was head hunted for a job in Truro and so we returned.

For me too, my dearest wish came true and I got a job as a postman delivering in Portscatho.

On my second day I arrived in the early light and gazed out to sea; the waves rolled in beneath me on the beach; seagulls called overhead; and a red sky blushed down at me. I was delighted.

While alone, I decided to nip down the slipway to the toilets beyond. I then found out why its called a slipway. I slipped most inelegantly and crashed down onto the concrete.

As regards injury I was unharmed; but as regards discomfort; this was acute. I had slipped and fallen under the gushing spout of the storm drain and cold water was pouring over me.

I scrambled up quickly, and just as quickly slipped back into it again. Desperately I rolled over onto a dry bit and was able to stand up once more. Water dripped from me as I shivered in the January dawn and staggered towards the toilets.

Somehow I dried off as best I could before walking around the road back to the office.

Later as we worked the post lady I work with said nothing about it save for one comment.

Don't use the slipway as a short cut will you? It's slippery and you may fall.”

Straight faced I said I wouldn't.

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Church Bells.

The sound of silence can be a blessing for some; a sadness for others. I come from a town were the sound of silence seemed to be welcomed by a vociferous minority. Eagerly they forced their collective will on the rest of us...and the church bells were silenced during the week.

For me, I love the sound of the church bells. After living close to our church for many years the sounds of the bells ringing out the hours and quarter hours was a comforting background to my day.

Sadly these were stopped by a small group who now; with nothing more constructive to do; have set their collective sights on stopping the 'chinooks' flying over the town.

We live on the Roseland today and I deliver the post in Portscatho and Gerrans.

To my delight I heard their church ring out its bells the other day at noon. It gave me pause as memories flooded back. I stood and counted all twelve rings and felt the same childlike satisfaction that I used to have many years ago.

Thoughts and images tumbled through my mind of my school days; visiting with my grand parents; walking with my dad and clutching his hand tightly in our busy town; and even the images of Ireland and France where the midday Angelus pealed out and called people to stop and think and perhaps pray for a moment.

In our busy world of rushing around there is a lot to be said for having a moment to simply pause and listen to the sound of silence. If only some people realised that to achieve this you need the sound of the bells to remind you.

We certainly live in an enlightened part of the world and I am glad to be part of it.

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Seagulls

I was mugged the other day in broad daylight. Not by a disreputable member of human society, but by a villain with wings. I refer to a large herring gull. Ever the opportunist; it spotted my half a sandwich on the bonnet of my mail van; and made off with it. The sandwich I mean...not the mail van.

I was half in and out of the drivers door, chewing on the other half of my sandwich and using both hands to lift a large heavy parcel out when the thief struck. Ignoring me completely the gull pounced and was gone in a moment with a flurry of wings.

Over the years I have been attacked by gulls on several occasions; as have probably many people. They can be vicious in their dealings with people as they dive and attack in their attempts to steal your fish and chips or your pasty. I remember reading of people being hurt as the gull tears at you in its fight to steal your food.

I even remember reading of another postman who could not deliver his mail to a certain street because a nesting pair of gulls attacked anybody moving near their territory. With a beak resembling a sharp knife it is prudent to keep your distance when they turn on you.

Sky rats; flying vermin; flaming nuisance; messy devils; shoot the lot of them; absolute pest”.

They make us so angry.

And yet... when I arrive at Portscatho with the mail; when all is silent except for the whisper of the wind and the murmuring of the sea; then the cry of the gull is the most evocative sound in the world. Its cry reminds me of why I love to live here. It is timeless, and wild,...and it is wonderful. 

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Wood Smoke

The sun shone the other day...but the wind was cold and the very air bitter with its chill. I walked the quiet pavement and delivered my mail, but my thoughts were far away. It had started with a hint on the wind, from the chimney pots of some of the older houses; a taste of wood smoke in the air; I was transported.

The smoke of countless fires from the houses around me was a major part of my childhood. It spoke of warmth, of safety, of comfort, and of home. Our old house was so cold; and with no central heating at all; the open fires were the only means of warmth.

Mum may have thrown coats on my bed to keep me warm under the blankets, but it was the fire in the bedroom hearth that stopped you from freezing at night.

In the evening, I would sit in front of the fire and look for castles amongst the coals. I would watch the logs shift and settle as the fire consumed them, and if the wind gusted a bit of smoke into the room, then I would smell that delightful smell of wood smoke.

It made me feel safe and secure; made me feel warm and happy; made me feel loved.

For many years coal and wood fires have been a memory of the past. My own children missed out and never saw a fire, welcoming in its hearth; mainly because in my new house there was no hearth. Smokeless areas and the convenience of cheaper, cleaner, fuel sources meant the old fireplace was out of time.

Yet, in these days of central heating with its unseen, almost artificial heat, it is good to know that some people prefer to keep themselves warm with a real fire.

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Honesty

I have been struck by the level of honesty that goes with living down here. As I drive my mail van through country lanes and roads it is good to see signs of a thriving rural economy all about. All through the year I have seen fresh flowers & surplus vegetables for sale outside farm entrances or cottage gates. Whatever is in season at the time is proudly displayed for all to buy.

Throughout the year I can only guess that local chickens are contentedly, yet busily, laying eggs at a prodigious rate. At every turn there seems to be a small, handmade stall containing trays and boxes of new laid goodies to tempt me. Not to be outdone are also the proud and confident jars of home produced jams and marmalades; even pots of golden honey.

There is something very satisfying about living and working amongst people who have enough respect for each other to make this economy work. There is the seller who is confident that people will pay what they owe without stealing; and the passer-by who is scrupulous enough to put the money in the box without thought of just taking.

I am not na├»ve though. A friend put out a whole laundry basket of parsnips with a sign saying ‘Please Help Yourself, Donation in pot for Help for Heroes.’ A smartly suited gent did just that; sixty large parsnips, plus the basket, away in his expensive car; no donation.

There are some in this world who will only ever take and give nothing back. The self-interested and the self-centred; they cannot be identified as they come from across the entire social spectrum of life. In a divided world; whether it is race, creed, colour, or class; in the end it all comes down to honesty.


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The Heron.
There was a heron on the beach the other day. It surprised me a bit as I think of heron’s as an inland bird. Over the years I have grown used to seeing them standing beside rivers and lakes. I have watched them stalk carefully into the water and pause, only a sharp beady eye moving slightly as they wait for the right moment. Then a strike!!! And a luckless fish becomes a meal.

On various post rounds, I have seen whole fishponds in gardens, emptied by a single voracious heron. Folk seemed powerless to stop them.

I only ever saw a heron beaten once. An old gardener told me that a heron will not land in water. It has to land beside it and wade in. He ran a thin wire around the edge of his pond about a foot or so off the ground. This stopped the heron from moving to the edge to fish. It did work.

Then I saw the heron on the beach. Confident and unmoving, it stared rigidly into a large rock pool, waiting to strike. Suddenly, out of the early morning sun, swooped three seagulls. Like three feathered Spitfires, the gallant few hurled themselves, screaming in formation at the heron.

Startled, the now ungainly predator, flapped slowly up into the air. Although dwarfed by their adversary, the gallant few continued to swoop and dive as they harried the great bird. Screaming and crying they slowly forced the great bird off the beach. It repeatedly tried to turn back to the rock pool, but to no avail. Giving up, its powerful wings beat harder as it turned and headed back inland to safety, humiliatingly beaten.

I swear, as the three gulls zoomed back triumphant over the beach, one of them gave a victory roll.

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I'm not quite sure what went wrong with the printing of the words or the format but that is how they came out on the screen. 



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