Writing prompt #15 – 22 December

Here’s today’s sachet (as I mentioned on Sunday, I was a bit woolly-minded over the weekend, and I was in the kitchen about to take the photo of this when I got distracted and opened it instead. Feel free to use “Torn” as a prompt instead of one of the words in the text!

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Have you planned your Christmas dinner yet? I have just started thinking about it. It should be something special. Often the best things are right at our door step. I find inspiration at the farmer’s market or the organic grocer.

Fortune – Listen

It occurred to me just as I came to the very end of this tale that I’ve completely forgotten to include baking in the last couple of stories. I did start writing a second part to Saturday’s piece, which included a bakery, but I wasn’t enjoying it, and this one contains nothing edible at all! Still, it’s my challenge and I’ll not include pie if I want to.


If you’ve ever visited the fortune teller at Tynwald Fair, you’ll know how it goes. You pay your money and the fortune teller brings out a green glass fishing float and tells you you’ll meet a tall dark stranger – or maybe a short fair one – and before you know it you’re back out on the fair field in the bright sunshine quick as if Them Ones had magicked you there.

Well, when Molly Joughin went to the fair with her Maddrell cousins from Greeba it was no different. Her and Tom Maddrell saw the fortune teller one after another, and they both had the same fortune – they were each going to meet a stranger very soon. Only when Molly was leaving the tent, the fortune teller took hold of her wrist and hissed, “Listen! You must listen!” But when Molly asked what she must listen to, no answer did she receive. The cousins could make neither head nor tail of this, but there were so many wonderful things to see at the fair that it was soon forgotten.

They were sat on the grass, taking turns at drinking lemonade from a bottle with a marble in the neck, when Molly saw her friend Aalish in the crowd. Childhood friends, they’d been, but Aalish’s parents had moved to Peel and they’d not seen each other for a year or more. Aalish was a pretty girl with red hair and blue eyes and white teeth, and Molly soon realised that Tom was talking only to Aalish, and she to him in turn.

And when Molly set off to leave with the rest of her cousins, Tom was nowhere to be found. “Gone to walk some pretty maid home to Peel”, said his mother indulgently. For Tom was her favourite. He was back home late that evening, blushing and smiling and keen only to discover from Molly all that she knew of Aalish. And she shared her knowledge willingly, for Aalish was an amiable girl and just the type to make a good wife for Tom.

In the morning Molly set off for her own home, ignoring the road and setting off up over the hill, past the mill and up onto the moors. For ’twasonly a couple of mile to her own home on the banks of the Colden stream. Born and raised on them hills, Molly was, and she’d been running wild up there from the moment she could walk. But on the Isle of Man the weather is apt to play tricks on you in the blink of an eye, and she soon found herself in a thick mist, barely able to see two paces ahead of herself.

She’d known where she was when the mist came down, but if you’ve ever been in that kind of weather yourself you’ll know well how every step can take you off your line, and how before long you can no longer say if you’re going uphill or down.

And so it came about that Molly was soon as lost as she’d ever been in all her 19 years. She wasn’t afraid, for she knew it would lift before many hours had passed. But she still had her best boots on, and could no longer see well enough to stick to the dry areas. For it can be boggy and damp up on the hills even in summer. So she took her boots off and knotted the laces and strung them around her neck, and tucked her skirts up into her waistband to keep them out of the mud, and then she stood and thought for a minute.

If she could find a slope, one way or the other, she’d soon know where she was, as she’d just have to keep going downhill a way until she recognised some wall or fence. But there seemed to be only flat ground with bilberry bushes and scratchy heather, and between them muddy puddles.

In the end she set off towards a patch of the mist that was maybe a bit lighter than the rest. And she’d not gone far when she saw a dark figure some way ahead of her. She was that pleased to see someone she almost called out, but as she drew breath to do so she suddenly remembered the fortune teller’s words. It was a tall dark stranger, right enough. But now she could see that the head appearing through the mist was that of a horse. She knew all the wild ponies on these hills and this beast was far too big to be one of them. But perhaps she could ask the rider which way she was headed.

Only… there was no rider, nor even a back for a rider to sit astride. And when she listened, as the fortune teller had told her to, she realised she could hear only one set of feet splashing across the boggy ground.

Her blood ran cold, and for a moment she thought she’d drop in a dead faint, but then she turned and ran, just ran away. Away from the glashtyn – the half-horse, half-man creature she’d heard of since she was small but never thought to meet.

She didn’t stop, she didn’t look back, and she managed somehow not to fall over in her flight. And soon enough she recognised a wall and then a tree and then another and before long she was in her mother’s kitchen, telling the story between great heaving breaths.

Now, later that day the mist cleared, and Molly and her father went back up on the hills to see what they could see. Plenty of footprints there were, of both man and horse – and possibly of glashtyn too. For who knows what Molly saw? There are certainly many more things up there in them hills than you might think, sitting in your nice warm home in the town.

And having writ, moved on.

Writing prompt #14 – 21 December

Well, it’s the shortest day, and even in the far south of Sweden that means it’s a very bloody short day, especially as we still haven’t had even a tiny bit of sunshine yet this month. But hey ho, writing waits for no one, and certainly not for sunshine. And it’s all uphill from here! At least in terms of daylight anyway.

Here’s today’s prompt:

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Advent time is the time of reading. We have made it a tradition to share a book or a story that we particularly like. We cuddle up on the sofa, read, listen and talk.

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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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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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!