A Strange Small Town – Week 48 of the 52 week short story challenge

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It was a funny little place; lacking the charm of the nearby yachting village or the charismas of the larger and well-know yachting town upstream. As teenagers involved in the sailing scene, we were dismissive of the place. It was ‘touristy’; shops decked out with brightly coloured buckets and spades, inflatable rings and airbeds, rock with a generic county name through the inside and boxes of fudge and toffee bearing pictures of grazing ponies.

It was a place for passing through and rarely stopping. A place inhabited by holidaying grockles and nouveau riche who had bought their holiday homes without realising that the town was quite a way from the sea. Our village, the village where we stayed in the summer, sailed out to the castle and camped in the boat park. Apart from the yacht clubs and the pub, there was nowhere else to spend your money and any other entertainment or supplies good be acquired in the big town – without having to pay over-inflated tourist prices.

I remember one summer in particular. I still have the photographs of us all lounging outside OUR yacht club – there was great rivalry between the two clubs. Hair stiff and bleached from hours sailing, half-worn wet suits (it was easier to leave the bottom half on and wriggle out of the top).  Clutching half pints of rough cider and feasting on freshly made crab sandwiches. Nothing else really mattered that summer.

One of our group had very rich parents who owned a holiday cottage across the road from the pub. We took it in turns to sleep there or in hastily erected two man tents in the boat park once the clubs were closed. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be there but provided the tent was packed away before the morning sailing started, the older members of the club turned a blind eye.

Not that it was peaceful sleeping in the boat park; people ignored the sign ‘Frap your halyards’, and a s a consequence the night was punctuated with the sound of unfrapped halyards tinkling against masts. Hedgehogs and foxes rustled their way round the boats, looking for dropped sandwich crusts and half-empty crisp packets. The sun disturbed our fretful dozing and spurred us on to collapse the tent and stagger across the road to the cottage for coffee and toast.

The summer came to an end – as it always does  – and we departed to our various courses and jobs. That summer could never be repeated anyway. In moving on, we jolly sailors lost touch with each other and other entertainments replaced the joys of sailing.

The village never lost its charm for me; enhanced by discovering that one of my favourite authors had written a trilogy of books loosely based on family life in Little Village and Big Village, with the Island across the sea playing an integral part. I made subsequent visits; with friends, with groups of children I was responsible for, and ultimately with my own husband and family. It became a place of pilgrimage; somewhere to go and lose the troubles or celebrate happiness. There was a stark contrast between the still quiet waters around the harbour and the crashing waves out on the
Spit. Waves that were so ferocious that year in and out, new methods of prevention had to be found to prevent the sea encroaching on the houses nearby.

I found out very early in our relationship that my husband had also sailed from the village – though at a different time from me – and that he loved it as much as I did.

 

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Winding the time clock on, our children became adults and needed less entertaining on holidays, so when the opportunity arose to spend two summer weeks in a cottage in ‘my’ village, we jumped at it. Part of me was worried that the village would have changed, that it would no longer be the magical place I remembered – that we both remembered.

It was like stepping back into a time capsule. The pub was still there – although it had added an extra wing and a conservatory – but the cider was just as good and the sandwiches – made from freshly caught crab – was wonderful. We could see the boat park from our bedroom window; people were still neglecting to frap their halyards, and although we didn’t have the credentials to venture into either of the yacht clubs, we didn’t need to sleep in tents either. I had my favourite author’s books on my Kindle and delighted in spotting thinly disguised landmarks as we walked the dog along the harbour side and around the various beaches.

It was a wonderful fortnight. We caught up with family and friends; the tiny backyard was the ideal venue for a family get together in the sunshine. The dog loved his seaside walks and I achieved a lifelong wish. I had sailed out to the castle on many an occasion – and  came back the same way, but I had never walked the mile and a half along the shingle bank, nor taken a ride on the little ferry boat that tied up at the harbour wall.

The strangest revelation of our holiday was the exploration of Big Village.

It wasn’t full of grockles and holiday shops anymore. Charity shops rubbed shoulders with a wine bar and a delicatessen. The Co-op was stocked with normal food and there was no sign of sticks of rock or boxes of fudge. At the suggestion of friends, we ventured further to the beaches further away from Little Village, and found some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture along the sea view.

Big Village wasn’t such a bad place.

On our last day we met up with our lovely friends for a long and leisurely brunch in the sunshine at a cafe on the beach. A very happy start to the process of packing everything back into the car and heading North for home.

It was good to go back to Little Village and find it just as beautiful and enchanting as I had found it before. Better to still was to roam around Big Village and find that it wasn’t such a strange small town after all.

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Another Place – Week 38 of the 52 week short story challenge

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We are the Iron Men.

Cast in the image of our creator and set in the sand to watch the sea as the tide comes in and out without fail.

My ninety-nine brothers and I see a world passing us by every day.

We do not stand in a line; we are scattered along the beach and some of us spend much of our time under the sea, others are half-buried in the drift of the sand.

Dog visit us and their walkers watch as we are sniffed and anointed; it doesn’t matter because the salt sea water washes everything away. Dogs on leads and dogs running free; large dogs that bark and gambol, small dogs that yap and chase their own tails, dogs in collars and harnesses, dogs wearing pink tutus and sparkling jackets. We do not think that they choose their own outfits.

People come and go; old people arm in arm, or holding hands and walking sticks, families building sandcastles and collecting shells, fishermen in green waterproofs, young lovers, joggers and cyclists, photographers capturing us from every conceivable angle and those who are alone and choose to immerse themselves in the spirit of this place.

We see the changes; wind farms rise out of the sea, ferries and container ships pass us by, irritated young men on jet skis learn to avoid us, the coastguard makes regular passes on a quad bike to ensure that all is well.

We weren’t supposed to stay here.

There were who people wanted us to be taken away; they said that we were a hazard to small craft and to tourists who got stuck in the soft sand at our feet. Some conservationists were concerned about the bird population being affected by our presence but other conservationists were fascinated by the barnacles and other forms of life that grew on our bodies.

They moved some of  my brothers in order to satisfy the critics; away from the bird breeding area and the small boats.

The people wanted us to stay – and the people won.

We stayed.

Because the people wanted us to become a permanent part of their landscape and their lives.

Students dressed us in outrageous garb, rescuing their adornments before the tide came in. Some of my brothers have been given sunglasses, another has had a bikini painted on him.

We stand and we watch.

The seasons pass over us and we are sentinels in the rain, the sun and as the wind whips the sand up into hillocks by our feet or causes the sea to lash against us and bury us under the waves.

This is Another Place.

We are the music-makers,

  And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
  And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
  On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
  Of the world for ever, it seems.

Ode – Arthur O’Shaughnessy – 1844–1881

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Lost and Found – Week 6 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Lost and Found and Lost Again

Rochelle sat on the rocky outcrop at the end of the beach. Her beach. The beach she had known all her life and the place she sought whenever life became too much. Unfortunately life became too much for Rochelle every day until she could push it aside with her current cocktail of choice. She had been told to avoid alcohol because it could have an adverse effect on her medication but ‘could have‘ was not a definite and there were days when avoidance was impossible.

The youngest of four girls, Rochelle was often referred to as ‘the Afterthought’ by her older and married sisters. They were all in their teens when their mother surprised them – and their father – with the birth of a tiny and delicate sister who was duly fussed over and petted by them all.

Perhaps as a consequence of this concentrated attention, Rochelle was a demanding baby; the toddler who invented new levels of tantrums, and the most sulky and erratic of teenagers. Mercifully for her sisters, they had married and set up their own homes by the time she had reached this most petulant and attention-seeking phase of her development.

Her father was bewildered by Rochelle’s behaviour. His other daughters had seemed so easy by comparison. Her mother continued to dote and spoil her pretty little girl, enchanted by the sweetness of her nature – provided things were going her way.

School was a trial for Rochelle. She made few friends but many enemies due to an unfortunate ability to tell tales with a mask of complete innocence that belied her devious nature. Tears and tantrums failed to move her teachers and she left school without any qualifications due to an extensive sickness record and no ability to apply herself to anything but craftwork.

Expressing a hitherto hidden desire to get away from home and family, Rochelle informed her parents that she wanted to go to college. A college on the mainland. A college far away from home. Puzzled by this desertion, Rochelle’s parents applied a few sanctions. She could go to college but only if she agreed to stay with Mr and Mrs Bullingham, elderly family friends who could guarantee to keep her safe from the wicked world.

It was agreed and having been escorted to her new home by her tearful mother, Rochelle settled into her new life. ‘Settled‘ may not have been the best description of how she spent her days. The college was small, more like a finishing school for young people whose parents were not ready for them to tackle the hazards of big city life. Many of her fellow students paired up throughout their time at college but not Rochelle. Some of the boys – and teachers – found her childish behaviour initially enchanting but the magic wore off very quickly and they soon realised that she was a person to be kept at a distance.

Rochelle learned how to flirt and flutter her eyelashes in order to get others to do things for her. She also developed a taste for alcohol; only to be consumed in her room or when she wasn’t due home to the Bullinghams’ genteel and alcohol-free zone for some time.

The college course came to an end and Rochelle returned home to her island, still without qualifications but possessed of a multitude of manipulative skills. She had made a few friends who kept in touch – perhaps because they felt sorry for the girl who didn’t seem able to grow up. To those who cared for her, Rochelle continued to be sweet and charming. Her sisters loved her but grew increasingly intolerant of her demanding behaviour – especially when she had been drinking.

Gentle suggestions regarding Rochelle finding work were rebuffed and met with floods of tears and prolonged sulking. Employment on the island  was limited anyway but for a young woman with little experience, no real skills and an air of naivete that did not transfer to the workplace, it was impossible. Rochelle’s parents came to the conclusion that she was unlikely to ever make a financial contribution to their household.

Being of a sensitive and rather sentimental nature, getting Rochelle involved in voluntary work for animal charities on the island may not have been the wisest of choices but it kept her occupied and her craftwork earned small amounts for the darling animals. She felt that she had found her true calling at last and was quick to tell her friends of her new purpose in life.

Her sisters however, grew increasingly concerned about Rochelle’s mental health, especially when she was at home or attending family events. She screamed and cried; retreated to her room when she couldn’t have her own way and had to be rescued from bars when her cocktail consumption got her into peril with men who were less scrupulous than her college chums.

There was a spell in hospital during her mid-thirties; life had become too much after Rochelle developed a crush on the much-married manager of the seal sanctuary. She stalked him and bombarded him with handmade cards containing coy messages. He succumbed to Rochelle’s childlike charms but panicked when she announced that she was with child herself. His wife found the bag of love tokens when emptying out his recycling and after talking to her repentant husband, contacted one of Rochelle’s sisters who in turn spoke very sternly to her parents.

The problem with living on an island is that the only strangers were tourists; everyone else knew each other and in order for Rochelle to escape the laughter and mocking glances, her parents had her admitted to a small private hospital where she was kept under heavy sedation following her ‘operation‘ and  caused her to retreat further into the safety of her fantasy world.

By the time her doctors felt she was well enough to go home, the manager and his wife had been relocated to the mainland, and another scandal had replaced Rochelle’s assumed shame. She made more friends whilst in the hospital; women who had been damaged and made vulnerable by life, women who saw Rochelle as an entertaining child, a willing drinking-companion, and a person unfazed by their own bizarre behaviours.

As the years passed, Rochelle’s sisters gave up on the idea of ever finding a man patient enough – and wealthy enough – to take their sister away from their aging and increasingly frail parents. They did their best to try and encourage some element of maturity in their baby sister, but she remained that – a child-woman who was incapable of doing more than making chocolate-box cards for animal charities and stamping her foot when life failed her.

Through one of her old college friends, Rochelle became acquainted with Trudi, a woman who had spent some years recruiting people for a demanding religious sect. As a consequence, she was adept at spotting those who life had left open to exploitation. She honed in on Rochelle; showering her with compliments, feeding her ever-hungry ego and grooming her as a useful source of information as well as a potential mouthpiece for Trudi’s opinions.

Trudi had a lucrative business selling email addresses to companies who used them to spam and intimidate people who had no interest in their services – especially the elderly. Several of her friends had become wise to this misuse of their details and Trudi found herself needing a new method of obtaining information.  Rochelle fell for Trudi’s explanation of needing email addresses to raise funds for charities – animal charities of course – and was quick to use her volunteer status to find mailing lists of anyone who had ever made a contribution. Trudi was ecstatic, and clever enough to get Rochelle to use her own email address when sending on the information. She paid Rochelle a token amount and kept the rest of the money  to herself.

Rochelle watched the police car draw up outside her house with some curiosity. At 53 years of age she had never seen a police car at her house before and idly wondered if her parents were alright. She turned back to the sea again and barely registered the crunching of police-issue boots on the shell and gravel beach. Rochelle’s mother had tried to persuade the police that her daughter had mental health problems but some of the people on the lists sold via Trudi’s dubious transatlantic contacts were from old and very influential island families who objected to being inundated with emails peddling Viagra, funeral plans and weight loss products.

One of Rochelle’s sisters met them at the police station and acted as her appropriate adult. Rochelle didn’t really know what to say in response to the questions. Tears and eyelash fluttering failed to move the stony-faced female detective and her equally impassive male colleague. After hours of questioning, Rochelle’s sister requested a break and took the opportunity to give Rochelle the kind of talking to she had badly needed all her life

Eventually Rochelle was persuaded to give up Trudi’s details and tell the version of events as she understood it. The detectives weren’t convinced that anyone could be as gullible as Rochelle but had little choice to let her go with a caution and a very stern warning about getting involved in this kind of scam in the future.

Unable to trust Rochelle, the animal charities she had previously supported made it clear to her parents and sisters that her services were no longer required. Her computer had been taken away by the police and her parents stated that they didn’t want it returned. Those friends she had kept in touch with via social media wondered idly what had become of her but no one cared enough to find out. Trudi was tracked down and despite blaming everything on Rochelle, her past track record gave her away and she was exposed as the force behind many other such scams.

Rochelle spends most of her time on the rocky outcrop; lost again but unlikely to be found this time.