Not a writing prompt at all – 20 December

I’m getting horribly confused here – I don’t seem to have posted a prompt yesterday at all, and my writing’s getting all tangled up. Why are dates, even? What is weekend? Who am December? And, of course, what the actual feck is 2020?

So I think on the whole I’ll just skip today and start again tomorrow and refrain from drinking any more of my tea sachets until I’ve got my head around what’s going on.

Musical

I started writing one thing, ended up with another, and this isn’t the “I’ll write a double-length one that uses two days’ prompts to catch up” I’d intended, so I think I’ll maybe just cheat again and say this is today’s story (rather than yesterday’s). Then again, it is the start of a two-part (or more?) story, so… It’s a tough life, being a self-imposed tea sachet challenge writer (but not as tough as living with a total imbecile as your Prime Minister*, obvs, a position I’m thankfully not in).

*this will make no sense at all in a few months, but you can Google the date if you’re curious.


In the town of Ramsey, up there on the flat northern plain of the island, there are all kinds of shops. One of them is an antique shop. And as you’d expect, it’s full of quaint, interesting things. Cuckoo clocks and jewellery, dim dark paintings where you can hardly make out the subject, old walking sticks with carved heads, jugs and vases of all types – and all objects with a story to tell if only you had the ears to hear them.

Unfortunately, in those days the shop was run by a Mr Crellin, and although he liked to see old curios, he preferred to keep them on the shelves of his shop rather than to sell them. He wasn’t so hard up that he needed the money, and he owned the whole building and lived in rooms over the shop, so he had no rent to pay.

That meant he was very reluctant to sell any of the antiques, no matter how much money the prospective buyer offered him. The prices marked for each object were already extortionate, but if ever a customer agreed to pay such an enormous amount he’d look at the vase or necklace or painting or whatever it was and shake his head regretfully and say, “Now that it comes to it, I’m afraid I simply cannot part with it. No, it’s much too dear to me to let it go”.

As you might expect, many people were very cross about this because they thought he was just trying to get them to pay even more. But some believed him and offered him a still greater sum, if it was an object they particularly admired. Always in vain. Mr Crellin thought it was a very poor month if he sold anything at all, and on the day our story begins he hadn’t sold anything at all for a whole year! Every day he opened the shop, and every day he sat there all day behind his desk, admiring the beautiful objects around him, and every day he turned away all the customers who came in. This made him very happy, but it didn’t stop him accepting more stock for the shop – no, indeed it didn’t. Sometimes it was difficult to find space for it all, but Mr Crellin had come to be skilled at stacking it all up and squeezing in an object of just the right shape for a particular gap, just as if he was building a drystone wall.

Well, now, just like a wall, it so happened that there was a bit of a collapse one night, and a few small things slid from the top of one pile and down onto the floor – or what passed for it, because it was several layers deep in Persian rugs, which didn’t add to the stability of the furniture. Fortunately the rugs also prevented breakages, but a musical box that had been in the shop for at least 10 years and probably a lot longer landed on its side with its lid open, playing a plaintive tune.

The tune wound down after a couple of minutes, after which there was a brief burst of high pitched oaths from the box, and then a small figure climbed out of it and stood on the rug, stretching her back to get the knots out.

“Well”, she squeaked, looked around at her surroundings. “I’m glad to be out of there and no mistake.” This was, of course, the clockwork dancer from inside the musical box. She’d been shaken loose in the fall, but seemed to be none the worse for her ordeal.

Slender she was, blonde haired and blue eyed and with a long green dress the colour of the spring grass, with a golden tiara and a pair of white dancing slippers on her tiny feet.

Yet she stamped around on the Persian carpet as though she was a soldier on parade. An angry soldier. For she was most unhappy at having been kept imprisoned in the box for so long.

Because Fenella – a good Manx name given her many years before by a good Manx lass – loved to dance. She loved to see people smile as she twirled around in her box to the beautiful music. She loved to make people happy. What she didn’t love was spending year upon year folded double in the darkness of her box, with only dust filtering in and never a mote of light nor a note of a tune.

She quickly assessed the antiques around her and, seeing a lighter patch that she correctly surmised was the front window, hitched up her gossamer skirts and started the long trek to the front of the shop – and freedom.

Writing in progress

Writing prompt #13 – 18 December

I think I actually will go for the obvious word here, particularly given how yesterday’s piece turned out.

I’ve just had a thought about the fact that one of the words on this sachet is “children’s”. Because there haven’t been many children (just one, I think) in my fairy tales so far. But then there aren’t, IIRC, in the traditional Manx fairy tales. And yet as a child I still loved those stories. Must mean something, but I’m not sure what.

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Bloomy Turmeric Tea – Spice Herbal Tea Blend – Certified Organic
Today we made music together. No, we are not musical geniuses, more category children’s songs. It made us so happy and what fun! At the end, we even sang a canon.

Tree

This is yesterday’s story for the tea sachet challenge, but for reasons* I didn’t get time to write yesterday. That’s the first day I haven’t, though, so I’ll let me off.

*Reasons being: lots of work to get delivered for today and a three-hour online dance party with a load of fellow IDLES fans. It was fantastic (but would have been even better IRL…maybe next year. KFG.)


There are many trees on the Isle of Man, and as many stories associated with them. But the one most Manx people know is no kind of plant at all – ’tis a number. For in the language they speak on the island, the number three is spelled “tree”.

‘Tis said to come from the Vikings who once lived here, and who brought their language with them when they decided to settle and stay here all year round rather than just raiding the place in the summer. But whatever the reason, it’s a fine number, and not just because of the famous three legs of Mann either. For it wasn’t so long ago that the best known three wasn’t the symbol at all, but the Three Sisters of Sartfell.

Nowadays Sartfell is a bit of a bleak place, away up there in the hills and either drizzling and damp or blinding sun or howling wind. And in truth when the Three Sisters lived there it wasn’t much better. But they liked their own company, and they loved the hills and the big skies above them, and the sweet mountain air with just the sound of the sheep and the skylarks for neighbours.

They had a neat white cottage in a hollow about where the plantation is now, and a vegetable garden that they grew in the old way with long rows of raised soil, and bladderwrack added to the one fallow bed every three years.

But they didn’t just live on the produce of their own little bit of garden, for the Sisters had come from a good family in the south of the island once, before they made their home at Sartfell, and they still had a bit of money at them for all they’d set their faces against their kin. Some said it was because they’d been found husbands they didn’t love. Others said they just didn’t want to live a life of duty and manners, for such was the lot of a genteel lady in those days.

Whatever it was, here they were, renting a cottage from James Corlett, one he’d been sure he’d never find a tenant for. And a repairing lease too, so when they took possession the place was not much better than a ruin, but in just a few weeks it had a new coat of limewash and a fine new stove inside on new laid flagstones and the chimney all repaired and cleaned, and the thatch as neat as a corn dolly. And then came the removals carts – for they had a fair few belongings too, and ye’d have thought they’d never fit all of it in the house, but ’twas all judged to a nicety and in it all went. Vases for flowers and dainty little tables and curtains of sprigged muslin and even a piano – only a small one, to be sure, but all the same, ’twas magical to be walking on the Beinn-y-Phott road over to Ballaugh or Kirk Michael and to hear Miss Alice tinkling away on it.

For all three of the Sisters had their own talents. Miss Alice was the musical one, who could lay her hand to any instrument and had a voice that could charm the birds from the trees. And she was greatly in demand for weddings and the like down in the lowlands.

Miss Moira was the artist, often to be seen sitting amongst the heather and stone walls of the high hills with her easel weighted down with a stone and her hat tied on against the wind with a bit of old string.

And Miss Eleanor could have been a pastry chef to the King of England himself, if only she’d have agreed to come down from Sartfell and compete with the other bakers in the kingdom, for there wasn’t a one who could make lighter puff pastry nor do a more beautiful bit of icing.

They had suitors, over the years, for even up there in the hills there are others around, and word of their beauty wasn’t long in spreading from the artisans who repaired their cottage. Many’s the man who’d call with a posy, all dressed up in his Sunday best no matter the day. And some of them were received kindly, and treated to Miss Eleanor’s delicious biscuits and kind enquiries as to his family. But just as often the would-be suitor would have his hand raised to knock on the door only to see the three of them flee in different directions from the back of the house, their long wild hair that never saw a comb floating behind them like banners, and their queer white dresses and overjackets they always wore concealing their forms like Mannanan’s Cloak does the island against invading foes.

It could never be said whether they had something against a given suitor or whether he’d just come at a wrong time, for there was many a good man never got closer to the sisters than hearing their laughter as they slammed the garden gate and ran out onto the moors. And there was certainly no catching them once they’d decided they were away.

Some say the Three Sisters were witches, but I’m thinking they were just happier in their own company than pandering to a husband – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Writing

Writing prompt #12 – 17 December

Eek! Seems like every day the choices offered by the writing prompt tea sachet are getting fewer and fewer. Given that in my not-quite-realistic Isle of Man of sometime around the late 1800s it’s summer, I don’t think I can squeeze Christmas into a story except as a tiny reference. So what does that leave me?

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Fortune Tea – Herbal Tea Blend – Certified Organic
What scent comes to mind when you think of Christmas? I will cut oranges into slices and dry them. They will look great on my Christmas tree.

Butter

Ha! Despite the paucity of interesting words in the prompt today I managed not to make it about apples or an oven (though both things make an appearance in this little story).


There was once a man called Ewan Kerruish, and he lived up near the top of the Sulby Valley, not far from where the Tholt-y-Will is now, if you know the place.

Ewan wasn’t old, nor yet was he in the first flush of youth, but he was still as strong and limber as he’d ever been. He’d had a wife, but she’d died some years before, and he didn’t much miss her for she’d a tongue at her as sharp as the thorns of a sloe.

So Ewan lived very peacefully there in the shelter of the valley with his goats and his spuds and his apple trees. But one summer he found he’d got visitors, and not the welcome kind either.

No, he was being favoured by the lil’ people, and a particularly playful bunch too, for it seemed like every time he turned his back while the butter dish was out on the table, when he looked again there were tiny footprints all along the length of the butter.

Ewan was a tidy man and this vexed him sorely. So he got in the habit of putting the lid back on the butter dish the instant he’d taken some on his knife. And that put a stop to the footprints for a few days, but then one day he came in from milking the goat to find the lid of the butter dish smashed on the flagstones and that many footprints in the butter it looked like someone had been having a ceilidh.

So he thought for a bit, as he scraped off the top of the butter and fed it to the dog, then he spread what was left on the good fresh bread he’d made that morning, and ate it, still thinking. And then he put on his cap and his best coat and called the dog and took his stick and set off down the valley to Quayle’s Store.

Once there, he bought himself some more butter – which surprised Mrs Quayle greatly, as she’d only sold him a whole new pat the day previous – and a fine new butter dish with a pattern of primroses on, for he’d always liked their cheerful faces. He also purchased another item, all wrapped in a damp cloth to keep it moist.

And after smoking a pipe and exchanging a bit of skeet with them sat on the bench outside the shop, he set off back up the valley.

In his cottage, he laid out the butter dish and placed the new butter carefully in it. Then he unwrapped the big damp lump of clay he’d carried back from Quayle’s and broke a bit off, kneading it between his hands until it was soft and smooth. And he laid it out in the old butter dish, for all the world like a grey slab of butter next to the white one.

Then he cleared his throat and said, “Indeed, yer welcome to skip about on this bit of clay, for it mus’ feel good on yer feet, but I’d rather you didn’t step in me butter any more, thank you kindly”. And just in case this wasn’t enough, he added, “And there’ll be a dish of bread and goats milk on the step every evening for ye to sup on”.

He listened for a reply but heard nothing, not even a whisper.

But from that day to this Ewan Kerruish has had no more problems with his butter, and every week he takes the trampled bits of clay down the valley to Quayle’s Store, and they’re taken to Douglas on a cart and fired in an oven and painted bright colours and sold to the tourists as authentic souvenirs of the Manx fairy folk.

Writing by hand is still the easiest way!

Writing prompt #11 – 16 December

Late again, but I’ve got excuses (as always). Anyway, pick a word, any word… then write something about/not about/around that word, for 15 minutes. By hand, on a device, dictate it, spell it out in seashells in your garden…. Whatever takes your fancy.

Pratchett fans will appreciate one of the tags for this post, which is also a fair indication of where I think my choice will fall.

Also, is it just me or does cinnamon not really go with jam? Just me…? I’ll get me coat.

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Baked Apples Tea – Fruit Spice Tea Blend – Certified Organic
When did you last have baked apples? I really fancy some. I will get apples: core out, nuts, cinnamon and jam in, butter on top and into the hot oven. The anticipation is the best part!

Little

I’m a bit late with this one (it’s now after midnight), but it was written on the right day, so that still counts.

This one went off in a completely different direction than I’d expected, but that still counts too.


Did you ever see Tommy Corlett, him they always called “Little”? No? Well he wasn’t one of the lil’ people, for all that he was short of stature. No, Tommy was just a very short man, half the size of his brothers and not even up to the shoulder of his shortest sister. But he was brave as a lion, was Tommy, and nobody ever got the better of him.

Well, maybe the once, aye, that’s true enough. For Tommy was a mighty close man in some ways. He’d give you his own dinner if you let on that you was hungry, but if he thought you were trying to cheat him or take advantage he could be tough as nails. And that made him a hard employer to please.

And so it came about that Tommy was looking for an assistant to help out at the mill he ran down there in Ballahowin, at the foot of the hill they call Stony Mountain. But he couldn’t get anyone he liked the look of, for they was all too skinny or too fat or too handsome or something. And all the fellas who’d been mill hands before had all gone off to Laxey to work in the big new mill there so he couldn’t get anyone with experience and the ones he tried without it was worse than useless.

And Tommy was close to giving up when one day this fella came up to him as he was walking home, and he said, “Tommy Corlett, I’ll be your mill hand and the best one you’ve ever had, and I won’t take any wages for a whole month nor will I”.

“Work for a month with no wages”, says Tommy. “You must be mad. Or a fool.”

“No, I’m not mad and I’m no fool”, says the stranger. “All I’ll take at the end of that month is the flour I can grind for you in an hour.”

At this, Tommy looked hard at the man, suspecting a trick. But the stranger had an honest, open face for all that he was black haired and blue-eyed and a bit too handsome for Tommy’s liking.

“One hour’s worth of flour for a whole month’s worth of work?” he said.

“Aye”, said the other.

Tommy turned the proposition over and over in his mind, but he had little choice for he needed a mill hand something terrible and he’d already tried all the likely candidates nearby – aye, and many of the unlikely ones too. So he agreed and they shook hands on it.

The stranger’s name was Adam, and he certainly was a good worker. No sooner did he set foot in the mill than the sacks of flour were fairly flying out, and finely ground it was, so fine that you could make a loaf of it that would almost float out of the oven it was so light.

Early every morning, Adam arrived at first light and set to work, and every evening as the sun was setting he’d tidy everything away, bid Tommy goodnight and stride off into the darkness.

It got so that Tommy was buying in grain from the north of the island to keep up with Adam’s toiling. But he could sell this fine quality flour for a ha’penny more per pound, so he was well pleased overall.

Soon enough the end of the month came around and Adam came to Tommy and said, “’Tis time for my wages, and then I’ll be on my way for I’m of no mind to stop at one job the rest of my time”.

Tommy was very surprised at this and tried to get Adam to stay by offering him a proper wage, and even to put him up in his own house, but Adam wouldn’t change his mind – and just as well, too.

For when he began to run the mill for his own wages, Tommy realised the stranger had only been working at a fraction of the speed he could. He shovelled the grain and flour like a madman, filling up hoppers and sacks in the blink of an eye. And the mill stream seem to pick up on this urgency, rushing down through its channel at ten times the rate it normally would until Tommy was fearing it’d take the big mill wheel away with it. Aye, and it was a close run thing – and the mill gearing was near enough to setting alight it was spinning around that quickly, and the bitter smell of charring wood came rolling out from the machinery.

Tommy could only wring his cap between his hands and watch the mill heaving and groaning and wheezing like an overworked horse. For it was obvious enough that Adam was no ordinary man, and watching the speed he was working at Tommy began to suspect he might even be dealing with Old Nick himself.

Then suddenly it was all done, the hour was up and the old mill stood there steaming faintly in the sunshine and all creaking and clanking as it slowed down and stopped.

And the one who said his name was Adam winked at Tommy Corlett and picked up all the many many sacks of flour he’d ground, all at once somehow, and tossed them up onto his back and said, “Thanks to ye, Tommy Corlett”, and walked out of the door of the mill. But when Tommy bethought himself to run after him, there was no one there in the mill yard at all but the cat creeping back with his fur and ears all flat.

Well, from that day on Tommy Corlett was a much more suspicious man, but a much fairer employer and he never had any problem getting a mill hand again.

And what would the Devil do with all that fine white flour? Well, nobody knows for certain, but it’s true that the lights were often seen on the fairy mound at the Braaid that year, and always accompanied by a delicious smell of baking bread.

#amwriting, havewritten

Candles

Another piece for the writing challenge. Given that most of my readers on Facebook and Twitter aren’t Manx, I’m enjoying bringing in Manx personal and place names, and Manx creatures. Today we meet the Buggane.


Now it so happened that in those days there was a Buggane living on top of South Barrule. And this Buggane wasn’t a bad feller, for all his size and his huge teeth like gravestones and his eyes as big as the roundabout at Tynwald Fair and spinning twice as fast. He kept to himself, by and large, and only took the odd sheep when he was really hungry, which wasn’t often for he was getting on in years as even Bugganes do in the end.

But he had a terrible thirst at him for the drink, and he was no more careful than you’d expect once he’d drunk a barrel or two of whisky.

And this mightily displeased his nearest neighbour, an old widow woman who lived in the hollow just there where the Ronague Road runs over the Round Table and across down to Dalby. Widow Mylchreest she was called – for though she must have had another name once she’d long since forgot it. She’d been married to Ned Mylchreest who for many years was a fisherman out of Port Erin. But when the sea took him one stormy January night, she vowed never to live within hearing of the water again, and so she moved herself and all her possessions right up there on the hills where the only things she could hear, she’d say to anyone who’d listen, were “the sheep, the wind and the Lord himself”.

But for all that she was a praying woman she tolerated the old Buggane most of the time. Two old folks together, they were, and many’s the time you’d pass before her front gate and see the pair of them sat up against the wall of her cottage, sunning themselves or having a chat or enjoying a good thick slab of bonnag with white Manx butter on it.

As well as her baking, the Widow Mylchreest devoted her time to her little garden. All hedged about with neat stone walls, it was, and as full of flowers and pleasant smelling herbs as any apothecary could wish.

So you can imagine her dismay when one night there was a terrible crashing and shrieking all around the house, and when she emerged from under the bed where she’d taken refuge in fright she found her little garden all smashed up with giant footprints everywhere.

It was pretty clear what had happened. Two days before there’d been a wedding down under the sea off Bradda, and the music and singing had carried on all the while since. The Buggane must have been invited – or at least invited himself, for there’s not many brave enough to tell a Buggane that he may not do something. And on his way back he’d got himself all tangled up with her garden wall and thrashed about until he’d found his way out again.

“Indeed and me garden’ll never be the same again”, she said sadly, beginning to clear up the wreckage and see which of the plants could be saved and which there was no hope for. She wasn’t angry, for she knew that anger at what you can’t help just eats away at you from the inside like a worm in an apple. But she did regret not picking her raspberries the day before when she could have enjoyed them with cream instead of them being squashed flat by the Buggane’s huge hairy feet.

While she was working, she heard a familiar thumping noise coming down the hill behind, and soon the Buggane himself was looking over the garden wall with a very woebegone expression.

“Did I do all that?” he asked, and his whirling saucer eyes span even faster than normal in his shame.

“Aye, me dear, you did, and I’m thinking you must have had a fair party to have been in such a state.”

“I’m terribly sorry Mistress Mylchreest, indeed I am. And your poor flowers trampled and everything.” And he looked about to weep.

“Nothing that won’t grow again”, she said briskly, even though many of her plants had taken a long time to raise.

“I’ll put it to rights”, said the Buggane. “You see if I don’t.”

“I’m sure you will”, said the Widow Mylchreest, though she didn’t really believe it, for a Buggane’s hands are not made for repairing a flower garden, any more than they are for knitting a shawl.

But the old woman had forgot how a Buggane lives a good long time and makes many acquaintances – both friends and enemies – during those long years. And this Buggane had been an amiable sort, on the whole, and had a good many favours owed.

And sure enough, the Buggane let it be known that he needed a hand – or rather many small hands. And the next day when the Widow Mylchreest got up and opened her front door she saw such a scurrying and rushing and a flurriting that she had to rub her eyes to make sure she hadn’t imagined it.

There was new plants everywhere, fine flowering beauties and the biggest vegetables with the glossiest leaves you ever did see, and herbs of all types too and even a rosebush of the special type called “Governor’s Lady” which she knew for a fact only grew in the Bishop’s garden.

And all about them were crowds of lil’ people, pushing and pulling and digging and directing with such boundless energy that it made her feel tired just to watch it.

So she went back into her cottage and shut the door and sat by the fire quietly singing sea shanties to herself until the rustling and bustling outside had stopped. She’d have rather sing psalms, but Them Ones tend not to be too keen on that, and she did want her garden back.

Finally, there was a big sigh, then a ripple of fairy applause, and then a rushing noise as of hundreds of tiny feet skipping away. Then silence.

And then the sound of the Buggane’s heavy tread and his careful knock on the door.

“’Tis all done, Mistress Mylchrees’”, he said, when she opened the door. And indeed it was, as pretty as a picture with hollyhocks and peonies and delphiniums and all the things you’d want in a cottage garden, and even some you’d never think of, like a young palm tree and a walnut and a fig.

“Well they’ll never take”, she said looking at these intruders with her hands on her hips. “And if they do I’ll be long gone before they fruit. And what’s this?” And she pointed to a candle standing in a little lantern, fixed atop the wall. As she turned she could see there were others of the candles, all around her garden wall.

“They’re to light me way”, said the Buggane proudly. “When I’m off out I’ll light them for ye, and then I shan’t be crashing through your garden again.”

“Hmm”, said the Widow Mylchreest, though secretly she thought it a good idea, and like to make her garden a magical place after dark.

And indeed it was – and not just after dark, either, for those three trees all grew tall and bore fruit the very next year. And the Widow Mylchreest’s coconut, fig and walnut loaf was eaten and talked of in those parts for many a year to come.

Just because you’re free writing doesn’t mean you can’t cross bits out.