What Pegman Saw: When Archie Gregson lived next door

Image: Google Street view

Archie Gregson lived at Sandy Bay, the guesthouse next to ours.

My mother didn’t approve of Mrs Gregson, her home’s faded pink paintwork, the fact she didn’t wash her step every day or her net curtains every week.

“Clean glass means clean guests, Phillip,” said Mum, scrubbing our windows with balled sheets of the Daily Mail.

I don’t know about their guests, but she had a point with Archie. A torque of dirt circled his neck, river valley runnels up his forearms. In summer he smelt more like the sea than the breeze did.

But when you’re 12 you don’t love people because they’re clean. You love them for skipping stones, for teaching you to catch spiky crabs with a line of string and a chicken bone.

You love them for not laughing when you fall over. For keeping your worst secrets the best.

And so I loved Archie.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that takes you across the globe through google Street View. This week, we pop to the UK, to Great Yarmouth. To join in with the prompt, see here.

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Serial publication: Second part

tower, folly, Derbyshire
Image: Pixabay

Just a little reminder that the second part of my People’s Friend serial, The secret of Kingsbarrow Folly is out on the 22nd of this week, continuing the story of Steph and the family secret she’s determined to unravel with the help of archaeologist Jamie.

This week it’s time for the summer fete. Bunting, homemade jam and home truths.

Friday Fictioneers: Slices of love

PHOTO PROMPT © Valerie J. Barrett

Nan didn’t have a fire in the kitchen.

If it was cold, she’d turn on the gas oven, leaning inside with the ticking lighter, me listening for the whoomf of the burner, watching for the sapphire flame.

I’d sit on the step with the musty scent of linoleum and coconut matting, the plastic tang of cyclamen growing in the lean-to, impatient for slices of thick white toast slathered in butter, a cup of Cadbury’s hot chocolate.

She’d peer into the grill, owl eyes made large by pebble glasses, hands on hips as the toast crisped.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

When I saw the old range and kettle, I instantly thought of my Nanny Cuthbert – or Lou as she was called – my dad’s mum. We’d regularly visit her in her terraced house in Uxbridge on the outskirts of London and she showed her love with food: toast cut straight from the loaf; hot chocolate; beef suet pudding cooked in an enamel dish.

Her kitchen had changed very little since the war (bear in mind I was a child in the 1970s and 80s) and to some extent resembled the kitchen below from the Imperial War Museum – though Nan did have the ‘mod-con’ of a water heater above the sink.

What Pegman Saw: Say no to yes.

The wind was blowing hard now, peppering Naga’s face with grit. He took a last drag of his cigarette, dropped it, screwed the stub into the dirt with his sneaker.

The sun was low behind the trees, sky burnt orange at the horizon. Where was Maja?

Robbing the convenience store had been her idea. Said she’d seen the clerk bundle notes into a battered tobacco tin, hide it under the counter. The guy was ashy with age, walked with a frame. One look at Maja’s hunting knife and he’d hand the tin over. Sweet and simple, she said. Reluctantly, Naga had agreed.

He blinked, cuffed his eyes.

But the old man had screamed – a weird, trapped rodent noise. He’d stumbled forward, lashed at Maja with his walker. The knife flashed. Naga ran.

Something his mom used to say pinballed through his head.

Say no to yes, beta.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street view. This week we are in Cape Disappointment, Washington. See here to join in.

And if you want to know where I found the title, just look at that scabby wall …

What Pegman Saw: A pocketful of keys

We dreaded visits to my great-uncle Dilwyn’s.

His house was a gloomy pile overlooking Hampstead Heath, the walls wood panelled, the furniture solid and carved with grotesques. I remember the drawing room with its Greek masks, the watchful eyes and leering faces. There was a plastered ceiling in there – cracks as wide as my finger, sooty acanthus leaves twined with serpents – that I imagined would crumble one windy day, burying all of us alive.

As we shuffled round the old house stirring up dust, disturbing cobwebs, I envied other children their caravan holidays to the coast or camping trips to the Forest of Dean.

Seeing how bored and listless we were one rainy summer afternoon, Uncle Dilwyn handed me a bunch of keys. Some were dull brass, others rusty iron, all were thick and heavy and felt warm on my palm.

He waved a leathery hand. ‘Go. See what they open,’ he said.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview. This week we are in London.

The photograph is not in Hampstead but one of the rooms in the Sir John Soane Museum in Holborn. Soane was a 19th century architect fascinated with art and sculpture, particularly that of the ancient world. His fascination turned into a collecting habit and through his life he gathered thousands of sculptures, architectural fragments, paintings, models … even the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I.

On his death, he left the house and his collection to the nation and entry is free. See here for more details.

What Pegman Saw: Calamity Hollow

Alis stared out across the Monongahela River.

Wherever she looked was billowing smoke, from the steelworks to the tug boats and paddle steamers, to the shanty town with its huddle of shacks and stove pipes.

On laundry days her sheets came in dotted with smuts. Every sip of water and bite of bread was gritted, speckled black.

‘Not so different from Merthyr after all,’ Evan had said, wrapping oily arms about her waist.

In a way he was right. Half of Glamorgan seemed to have followed them across the ocean to Pennsylvania and seeing the men trudge home, black faced and bowed was so familiar, she had to nip her arms to remind herself she wasn’t home.

She was lucky to have a life, to have breath and water and food, no matter how tainted.

To have a husband, not a ragged corpse swinging from the gallows back in Wales.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that gallops across the world using Google Street View. This week we visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

On reading about Pittsburgh, I found an interesting snippet. It seems that in the 1830s many Welsh coal miners and steel workers immigrated to the city after the Merthyr Rising, a protest against working conditions and unemployment. The unrest only lasted a week but during that time several locals and soldiers died. One man was hanged as an example to others.

It’s said that the Merthyr Rising was the first time the red flag was used as a symbol of revolution.

I found Calamity Hollow on the map, on the banks of the Monongahela River.

I imagined Alis being the wife of one of the men who had taken part in the rising. The house pictured is probably too fancy to be that of a coal miner or steel worker, but I imagined Alis standing at that balcony, staring out across the polluted river.

Friday Fictioneers: Through the narrow window of the sky

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

When the house and her parents became too much to bear, when the tide was neither out nor in, Molly would run to the beach and the ruined pier.

She’d counted the perfect distance from the rusted beams, one foot in front of the other, toe to toe – nine feet.

Standing just there, with the beams cutting off the endless sky above, snapping short the sand below, she could pretend.

Pretend barrage balloons weren’t jostling the clouds, that barbed wire didn’t loop back and forth amid the dunes and marram grass.

Pretend Charlie was home, safe.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the lovely pic (this week supplied by the very talented writer Sandra Cook), write a story and join the fun. See here to find out how.

During the Second World War, many of England’s lovely beaches were strewn with barbed wire to combat an invasion from the sea. Fortunately, such an invasion never occurred, but still, that sight in itself must have been disturbing for residents, a sign that we were vulnerable, that only the narrow strip of the Channel stood between us and possible defeat.

For a child’s perspective from the time, see here.