What Pegman Saw : Spangles and sparkles and rainbow shells

‘Roll up, my babber!

‘Wanna forget that pox-scarred mug of yours for a time? The face that scares the pretty maids and leaves you thrashing alone in your truckle bed, sweating and wracked with a guilty glow at your own sinning?

‘Wanna leave that slum you call home, choked with jaspers and river stink in the summer, crumbling into the Avon with the black damp in winter?

‘You wanna see a mermaid, my dove, her tail flash with sparkles, head acrowned with abalone shells bright as a rainbow?

‘Wanna see a prince, all ‘andsome, bedecked with spangles, limbs straight at a plumb line, not like mine that’s bent as a sail in full blow.

‘Forget the dog eggs and horse shit, forget the rent’s past due and you’ll soon be toshing to make ends meet. Inside’s love and loss and happy endings ever after.

‘And who don’t want that?’

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Streetview.

Well, how could I resist this one? I know this fair city rather well, having lived here for the last thirteen years. There are many rundown, twisting alleys to inspire dark tales, there’s the harbour with its seafaring history, local pubs like the Llandoger Trow (supposedly the inspiration for the Admiral Benbow Inn in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island), or the Hatchett Inn on Frogmore Street, where the door is reputedly covered in human skin.

But I chose the historic Bristol Old Vic Theatre. Built in 1766, it’s Britain’s oldest continually working theatre and during recent refurbishments a gutter was discovered down which cannon balls could be rolled to mimic the sound of thunder.

And for those of you not from the southwest of England …

Brizzle Dictionary

Avon – main river running the centre of the city, separating North Bristol from South Bristol.

Babber – mate, pal.

Brizzle – Bristol

Jaspers – wasps

 

General and historical notes

Dog eggs – canine faeces

Toshing – searching the sewer for lost valuables.

Truckle bed – low wooden bed, often on casters, that can slide under another bed when not in use. Often used by servants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday Fictioneers : Ariadne leaves the maze

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot


 

Ariadne wove along the tangled path, through nodding rosebay willowherb and scabious, nettles snatching at her skirts.

Her mind wandered ahead to the hive, the warm, sweet buzz of the comb then back to him, his warmth. He was often sweet but always tinged sour with beer or sweat, hard words, hard hands.

The sound reached her first, a thousand singular insect voices weaving to form a low hum. The brown cloud enveloped her as she drew close, furry bodies bouncing against her hands, her cheeks, welcoming her.

‘He’s dead,’ she whispered.

She turned and followed the path back home.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Join in, read and share here.

At first glance there may seem no connection between my story and the prompt photograph, but the shapes in the net reminded me of a honeycomb, which led my mind to bees and the tradition of telling them when someone in the family dies. To read more about this tradition take a look here.

Friday Fictioneers : The fate of the flower seller

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook


 

Ninny, they called her.

Sold flowers under the gas lamp, corner of Great Earl Street and Queen Street, Seven Dials. Old enough to be your Nana, though not yet old enough to be mine. Hair dyed black as a coal hole, always a pheasant feather or a silk rose tucked in her crumbling straw hat. Face like a patch of dried chamois leather. Shared a room with some other biddies – a boot lace seller, a sheet music peddlar and one who peddled herself, if you know what I mean.

Nah, don’t know where she went. People just vanish, lad.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the pic and write a tale and visit the site here to read the other stories.

Notes

Seven Dials is part of the St Giles area of London, not far from Covent Garden. It long had a reputation for being disreputable and was part of the St Giles ‘rookery’ or slum. To read more about the area’s history, see here.

The Captive River

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Image: Pixabay

 

Released from the house, from fairy lights and the pressure to eat more sugar, I wander up the hill, supposedly to buy bread and milk, but really to escape and breathe air that doesn’t smell of pine and cinnamon and the vinegary tang of last night’s red wine.

I’m disappointed.

There’s no ice out here, no sparkling clarity and breath-fogged air – a midge cloud batters my face, warmth collects uncomfortably under my coat and the Christmas gifts of hat and gloves have to be stowed in my shopping bag before I’ve taken twenty paces.

The supermarket is a five minute walk from our front door ‒ down the winding slope of the burial ground, past the last two remaining gravestones, commemorating an engaged couple who slipped beneath the choppy waters of the Severn on a pleasure cruise over a hundred and fifty years ago.

But I need to be in the world for longer than the graveyard will give me, so I turn up Dunkerry Road, towards the council flats and the playground painted with purple galaxies and flaking stars. In a couple of days’ time, the pavements will teeter with recycling boxes, dreary with crumpled wrapping paper, shedding spruce trees with ribbons of tinsel still clinging to balding twigs. But not today. Today, let’s pretend Christmas is still with us, before midnight on the 31st murders the season for good.

Back down another hill, past that mysterious heap of blackened banana skins that’s grown every time I see it, a fresh yellow caste added to its peak every day.

Crossing the road by the station, I zigzag through the steel bars that keep out bikes and joyriders and I’m in Cotswold Green. It’s not ancient, never a medieval focus for May poles and summer fetes, but an absence, a hole created when wartime bombs levelled a terrace of houses that no one had the energy or focus to rebuild once the skies went quiet.

I keep clear of the grass, cautious of what dog walkers haven’t bothered to clear, though we clambered the slopes in August to pick blackberries for a crumble and there’s a sloe bush somewhere, though it’s hard to remember exactly where in the tangle of thorns.

On the tarmacked footbridge I stop to look at the Malago River running beneath. Barely a river, more a brook, sliding over a bed of concrete slabs and energy drink cans. It’s tamed, this stream, culverted in parts, encased on one side by a Victorian sandstone wall, girders spanning the water to stop the blocks slipping down the bank.

I’ve read a plaque, a website ‒ something ‒ that says the Malago was once a danger to those terraced houses, before they were turned to brick outlines in the grass. There was a flood, people stranded – drownings. Hard to imagine the river had such power – now an irrelevance, caged and subdued to allow first the railway, then the road to dominate it.

A train clanks close by, halts and clanks again, a crocodile of coal carts bumping behind. A blackbird flies low above the water, chip-chip-chip and back up into the trees.

There’s graffiti on the bridge – sprayed by whoever created the muddy path that disappears beneath. SECRET HQ it reads in garish tangerine and I hope it was written with irony. I imagine the hidden space under the tarmac, under my feet, and think of dripping water and trolls and the excitement of being able to watch passers-by without being seen, avoiding thoughts of nitrous oxide canisters and cigarette butts and I don’t want to think what else is really there.

The rain plops loudly on the drum of my umbrella and I know I’ve been too long, that I’ll be missed, that strip lights and packaging and canned music wait for me in the supermarket and I that can’t avoid them.

But for a little while, the green corridor of the river belonged to me and the sparrows and that was enough.

 

 

What Pegman Saw : Ghost Smiles

 

‘… here we go round the mulberry bush on a cold and frosty morning …’

Francis watched his cousins: Ivy’s primrose hair tumbled from its ribbon; Johnny’s  socks were wrinkled, scuffed white from the gravel path. As the oldest, Francis would be in trouble for the grass stains, for the smudges of dirt on rosy cheeks.

‘It’s a box hedge,’ he muttered. ‘And it’s June. No frost in June.’ They didn’t hear, just kept on laughing and skipping.

He could write his name in perfect copperplate scrolls by the time he was four; had known his times tables by six. At each fresh achievement his parents had shown ghost smiles, eyes soon drawn back to the morning paper. No ghost smiles for the twins. Everyone adored them.

Almost everyone.

‘Let’s go into the maze,’ called Francis.

His pocket felt heavy and he smiled.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, a writing prompt using Google Street View. This week, we visit the Palace of Versailles. Pop along here to join in and to read the other stories.

What Pegman Saw : An incorruptible crown

The morning is bitter, hard as only January can be.

Even here in London, far from the fens, the forests, the mist-heavy marshes of my varied Kingdom, ice forms on every sill, beards the wherries as they pull and pause on the troubled waters of the Thames. The lamps burn brighter when the morning is frost-hard.

I must make ready, but the day is bone cold … What if I shiver on that cursed step that waits for me? What if the people believe I quake from terror at my own fall?

For in truth, I am unafraid. I give up a tarnished crown for one incorruptible.

And yet, there is the cold … I shall wear two shirts. They will preserve my body until … Until there is nothing of this body left to save.

I hear another wherry – it is time.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview as its starting point. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

Historical notes.

For those unaware of the fact, England has not had an uninterrupted monarchy.

During the 17th century there was a rebellion, a war largely caused by religion (the threat of Catholicism returning to what was by then a Protestant nation) but also by a poverty stricken king (Charles I) who wanted free access to the nation’s wealth without the inconvenience of asking for it. So he abolished government and raided the coffers.

After some prevarication, the English Civil Wars began and continued on and off for nine years. The rebels won, the king was eventually seized and executed at Westminster, London in January 1649. The country was a republic for eleven years until the restoration of the monarchy in the form of Charles’s son, Charles II in 1660.

On his long journey to the scaffold, Charles I was held at Carisbrooke Castle – from where he tried to escape at least twice. And come the January day of his execution he famously wore two shirts to stave off the cold so he wouldn’t be seen to shiver.

 

 

What Pegman Saw : They’ll come


 

Shona drifts past another blank-eyed goddess.

She checks her watch. An hour until the coach collects them from the museum. Only mid-morning and her stomach’s rumbling.

Another gallery. The walls Pompeian red. In the centre of the room, a horse statue, on its back a child. The room is deserted, the air thick, steamy. Her pulse beats loud in her ears, breath coming fast –

Muscle moving beneath her, a jolt as the ground leaps up, falls away, rises again. Her arms scream, fingers white on the reins. She steals a look behind – no one. Tempted to slow, to ease the pain and the gasping, retching, but they’ll come, they’ll come, they’ll never stop and there’s only the horse between her and them and as long as she rides she’s safe. As long –

‘Miss?’

A concerned face swims into view, but she’s already running. She’ll always be running.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, a writing prompt using Google Streetview. See here to read the other stories and share one of your own.

Strangely, considering a location chock-a-block with history, I found inspiration hard to come by today. Until I ventured into the the Archaelogical Museum and discovered this amazing statue. The Jockey of Artemision is so dynamic, so different from those stiff, cool-eyed goddesses – so modern in a way – I was captivated.