What Pegman Saw: The scent of nutmeg

Adhiarja was my guide up the mountain. The man reaches no higher than my shoulder but is lithe as a tumbler, an adequate shot with a bow and the best man with a knife I’ve seen.

I felt some trepidation as we left behind the circle of huts, the village fire pit, even the deer-pigs that furrow the sand with their ferocious curved tusks. All have become familiar over these weeks, while the forest remains as much of a mystery to me as it was the day I left Plymouth.

Still, my guide is a good man – patient with my clumsy footing, alert to danger when I blundered on oblivious. He saved my life more than once.

And on reaching the top – what wonders! The scent of the nutmeg trees was intoxicating, catching in my throat, clouding my eyes.

With God’s grace, my fortune lies here.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we are in Indonesia.

When I saw our location, it reminded me of a book I read some while ago – Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton. It gives an insight into the European fight over the Indonesian island of Run (at that time the only place the priceless spice nutmeg grew) and England’s subsequent deal to relinquish the island to Holland in exchange for another island – Manhattan.

Notes

Adhiarja was well named – the Indonesian man’s name means ‘safety’.

Deer-pigs are also known as Babirusa and cave paintings show they have been native to the islands since at least the last Ice Age.

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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.

What Pegman Saw: The house of Dajjal

Dajjal’s house was an eyesore.

Corrugated iron sheets rusted over the front door, the balcony was crumbling, buttressed by wormy wooden posts. People would retell the story of the day the railing gave way, when metal poles and curlicues pocked the street and concussed Ori the grocer.

Food rotted in the kitchen, the floors rippled with rats and the drains flooded in the annual rains, turning the street into an impassable sewer for weeks.

Still, no town inspector visited. Dajjal was never reported by his neighbours for the stench, the ticks or the occasional outbreak of Weil’s disease.

Instead, they nodded courteously if he was sitting on his front step smoking his evil smelling cigarettes, though each house kept planks by the door to lay over the filth when the street was in flood.

When your neighbour is the Antichrist, you show respect.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt with Google Street View as its inspiration. This week, we visit the Israeli city of Lod.

Whilst reading a little of the history of this city, I discovered a couple of interesting snippets.

Firstly, the UK’s patron saint, George, is reported to be buried there.

Secondly – and the snippet that inspired my story – is the fact that according to Islamic tradition, the Antichrist – Dajjal – will be killed on a battlefield in the city before The Day of Judgement. I just imagined what Dajjal might do while he was waiting for that day.

What Pegman Saw: Cisco’s mission

Image : Google Street View

Every day Cisco sat in the Plaza De Armas, overlooked by the Cathedral and the Jesuit Iglesia.

When drizzle speckled his lashes he pulled up his hood. When the sun blazed he did the same, ignoring the children selling day trips to the mountains or alpaca wool hats. The young hawkers would stare with their deep, curious eyes before scurrying after tourists with deep pockets.

All the while, he’d try to keep the same scene running through his mind and when his rumbling stomach or stiff limbs distracted him, guilt would descend like a cloud. Because how else would God know what he wanted – what his family needed – if he couldn’t keep the image clear in his head?

The kitchen at home. Mama at the stove. The scent of chilli chicken.

Papa walking in through the back door, face wide with a smile.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its jumping off point. See here to join in and to read other tales.

Friday Fictioneers: The simplest act


PHOTO PROMPT© Sandra Crook

There lies Fournier the weaver.

His head is bare, curled wig lost to the Thames. The coral pink silk stockings of which he was so proud are torn and muddied, rucked at the ankle.

The constable will seek answers, question the Spitalfields’ innkeepers and lightermen, turn beady eyes on fellow weavers, those resentful of this recent miasma of incomers.

But murder is often the simplest act.

There lies a bloated panderer who plucked a goose too close to home, turned those clever fingers to a guild man’s daughter.

A sharp knife and the river remedy all.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Write a tale and join in here.

Notes

Spitalfields is part of the East End in London, once well known for its silk weavers and a refuge for French Huguenots fleeing religious intolerance in their own country.

Fournier is one of these Huguenot weavers, Calvinist Protestants who made their home in the East End during the eighteenth century. They were not always welcomed by the English, especially by native weavers who saw them as a threat to their trade.

Lightermen where boatmen who ferried goods in flat bottomed barges along the Thames.

Friday Fictioneers: Magda’s Triumph


PHOTO PROMPT © CEAyr

We’d hear the phut-phut of the old Triumph motor bike minutes before seeing it. As it drew nearer, other sounds – the twin rattles of the sidecar’s loose wheel and the cage strapped to the pillion with cable ties.

The din snaked along cobbled lanes, in through open windows, drowned out the excited yabber of playing kids, of old time tunes on the radio.

Then Magda would appear in scratched goggles and a flying helmet, squint-eyed cat pressed to the floor of the cage, claws locked round the wires.

Magda chose to be alone, mum said, but I never learned why.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the pic and write a tale and don’t forget to read and comment on others, found here.

Short story publication set in Cottonopolis

Cotton mill, Yorkshire, Hebden Water, Gibsons Mill
Image : Pixabay

I grew up in Derbyshire, just a short, uphill train ride from Manchester.

Living in a small town there was little excitement – scouting for bargains at the local Kwik Save supermarket, a tatty nightclub on the market place called the Gaslight, Saturday nights watching drunks evicted from the Gaslight fighting outside Kwik Save …

In comparison, Manchester was impossibly exciting, kind of glamorous in a dirty, dishevelled way and not a little unnerving.

Yes, it was grubby back then, all tumbleweed chip papers and drunks begging for a light, and the valleys of old mill buildings channelled the wind so your face was constantly sandblasted by good Northern grit, but even before its financial and cultural renaissance over recent decades, the city held its head high.

All those towering brick edifices spoke of the great wealth that had poured into 19th century Manchester as the cotton spun in its many mills poured out (The city had 108 cotton mills at its peak in 1853, hence the sobriquet Cottonopolis) and that impressive architectural legacy left an impression on me.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve set my People’s Friend short story

A Straw Hat for Hetty’

in nineteenth century Manchester. The young heroine has grown up in the shadow of the mills, in the choking city slums of the Industrial Revolution.

Writing Hetty’s story has given me a grand excuse to use a smattering of the dialect words I grew up with – ‘summat’, ‘owt’, ‘nowt’ – and to explore the slums of Angel Meadow and the mills of Ancoats.

If you’d like to learn what happens to Hetty, The People’s Friend Special number 171 is due out tomorrow.

So, stop mitherin’, pour yersen a brew and let me spin you a tale, lad.