Calming – Old things

I took a couple of prompts from the tea sachet this time, and the story fell into place immediately.


There was once a lad called Aidan and he lived at Maughold with his grandmother Margid, for his parents had both died when he was a little boy.

Now Aidan had a good bit of learning at him, for he’d been to school until he was nearly 14 and his granny thought he should be off to Douglas to work in a big shop or an office or something clean where he wouldn’t be out in the cold and rain all the time, but he was having none of it.

“Me da was a fisherman, and his da before him, and ‘tis a good job for a man so that’s what I’ve a mind to do”, he said, standing there before the fire for all the world as though he was indeed a grown man and not still a scrawny boy.

Margid was afeart for him, going out there on the big wide sea, for she was a sensible woman and knew well that a thing’s not to be conquered just for the wanting of it. But he was a stubborn lad, and so she watched him off in the small boat he’d had from his father, and said nothing against it.

And indeed, the lad took to the sea as though born to it – for hadn’t he been? He had a rare talent for finding the best fish, and soon enough he was bringing in enough for them to sell to the best fishmongers in Ramsey and to make a nice bit to put by. Or that’s what Margid wanted to do, but Aidan insisted that she spend some of the money on doing the house out nice as she’d often spoken of while he was growing up.

“’Dade Granny”, he said, “when I came to live with you I remember you’d paint me pictures with your words of what the house would be like when we’d made our fortune – all flowers in vases and a pianer and all them things you used to have when you were a girl.”

And it was true that Margid had married beneath her when she’d wed Cormac the fisherman, her that was a Miss Cannell from one of the big houses up Bowring Road in Ramsey. She’d had to give up a lot when she moved to the little thatched cottage near the shore in Maughold, and she still thought fondly of those fine things.

So she let him buy her new linen for their home, and a smart new tin to keep their stock of tea in, instead of a rough crock pot. And bright new plates to stand on the dresser in place of the old cracked ones. But when he took down the little box she’d decorated so long ago with pokerwork and looked with distaste at the fragments of knotted rope and worn wood and glass inside, she spoke up.

“That I’ll be keeping”, she said. “For I’m thinking I’ll have a use for it yet.”

“What use could there be in a bit of old rubbish like this?” asked Aidan scornfully. But when he saw she was serious he replaced it back on the shelf as careful as if it was the Crown Jewels, for Aidan was that fond of his old granny.

Well, it came about that he learned the use of that old ‘rubbish’ soon enough, for a few days later he was out at sea when a storm came up out of nowhere – a witch-called storm, sure as anything – a storm fit to topple chimneys and rip the thatch right off your house if it wasn’t tied down right. And Aidan trying to get into the beach with his catch but pushed back and towards the rocks every time.

Margid saw him struggling and turned her back and went indoors. And, sure his time had come, he wished he’d done as she suggested and taken a nice easy job in Ramsey or Douglas instead of fighting the sea.

But Margid hadn’t abandoned him – of course she had not. She’d merely gone inside to get her little box. She opened the lid and took the chain of old twine and bits of wood and glass in her hands, and then she stood there on the beach with the sea spray swirling all around her, and she spoke a few words… And suddenly, just there in that bay, in front of the shingle beach, it was if it was a different day. The storm was still all around, and the sky black as night out to sea and all the way up to North Barrule, but right in front of Margid and all the way out to where Aidan was in his boat there was a bright light like the sunniest of summer days, and the water was flat calm. Well, Aidan didn’t need telling what to do. He dug in his oars and rowed as quick as quick into shore and had the boat up on the beach before you could blink.

And then he gave his granny a big hug and they had two good big herring each for their dinner, and plenty of strong tea. And Aidan vowing over and over how he’d never again suggest they get rid of Margid’s old things.

Handwritten version of the story
Once again the protagonist wasn’t named until after I’d finished.

Potted

I couldn’t resist the one word that really felt out of place on the tea sachet.


If you’ve a few years behind you, you’ll remember the old butcher’s shops around the island. I recall one in Strand Street and one on the Terrace and one down in the row of shops near the cooling tower at Pulrose. They all smelled the same – of meat and the sawdust sprinkled on the floor. They all seemed to be run by large, cheerful red-faced men. And as well as sausages and chops they all sold things like brawn and chitterlings. And sometimes they’d sell potted meat. A prosaic name for a delicacy – at least to a child’s palate – and made even more special by coming in a little pot all of its own. And one of those butchers – and I’ll not tell you which, for I promised I’d never say – had the recipe from a witch, and that’s why it tasted so good.

How it came about was like this. At that time, the great grandfather of that butcher was himself a butcher’s assistant, with no prospect of ever being anything more. And he was walking through a field out Lezayre way one day with his gun, for he’d been after rabbits. He’d been lucky, and he was carrying three fine fat conies over his shoulder as he strode towards home. And as he came up to the foot of the church, where in them days there was a little well to capture the fresh water from the spring, who did he see sitting there on the big stone by the well but Lilee the witch.

For in them days everyone knew who was a witch and who wasn’t. Not like these days when anyone with a bit of book learning can call herself a witch even if she knows nothing about healing or the weather or the ways of animals.

“Jem Costain”, said she as soon as he came within earshot. “I’ve been delayed caring for Peter Killey’s cows all day and I won’t get to the market before closing time. If you give me one of them fine rabbits for me tea, I’ll make you a rich man.”

Now, Jem had nothing against being a rich man, and he had no need of three rabbits, for two was more than plenty for him and his parents to sup on. And it never hurts to be in with a witch. So without further ado he unslung the fattest of those bunnies and presented it to Lilee with a small bow, as if he was giving the Governor’s wife a posy.

And the witch laughed, and said, “You’re a well-mannered lad and you’ll go far by your own efforts, but come and see me in the morning and I’ll give you something to help you along your way.”

Well, Jem could hardly sleep all that night for thinking about what the witch might give him. Surely it would be gold or silver? For everyone knew that witches could find buried treasure just by sniffing it out.

So you can imagine his disappointment the next day when all he got for his trouble was a recipe for potted meat, written up on an old scrap of brown paper. But you can’t complain about a witch’s behaviour – at least not to her face – so he took himself home and gave the recipe to his mother, saying nothing about where it had come from.

And when his mother made the potted meat, it was the tastiest thing any of them had ever eaten. So tasty that they ate the whole lot straight from the pan and she had to make some more that she was going to put into store. And this time the smell of the cooking brought the neighbours around, and they swore it was the most wonderful good thing they’d ever tasted too.

Soon word spread and people were queueing all down the road for a taste of this marvellous paste, and paying whatever Jem asked to get a bit. And so it wasn’t long before Jem had the money to open a butcher’s shop all of his own in Ramsey – where he could carry on making and selling the witch’s potted meat to all the folk of the north of the island – aye, and some from the south too!

Writing (with blank for Jem’s name, which I didn’t pick until after I’d finished!)

Market

A shorter one, this, because I actually did very nearly stick to the 15 minutes for a change!


You’ll have been at the market in Douglas, I’m thinking, the herring and the cockles and all them spuds and cabbages. Aye, and cloth of all types and boots and pots and pans and all the china you could ever need. And the Fair at Tynwald too – there’s not many on the island haven’t been there and eaten toffee apples and drunk lemonade and listened to the speeches. And there’s the markets in the other towns too, and sometimes the villages.

But I’d bet my best Sunday hat that you’ve never been to the fairy market – no nor even heard of it, I warrant. Unless you’re one of the lil’ people yourself, in which case begging your pardon, this is a tale for humans and no disrespect meant.

No, the fairy market isn’t meant for men and women, but only for Them Ones and all the other magical folk of the island. For indeed, if you’re a buggane and you’re after ointment to keep your teeth all shiny, or a phynodderee in need of a comb, or a fairy wanting a new dress, where do you get the best fabric? You can hardly be strolling into Looneys in Ramsey and asking them behind the counter to help you pick it out now, can you?

So the fairy market’s for other folk to sell to other folk. It’s held in the big field at the foot of Cronk Sumark four times a year, the solstices, and a great event it is each time. There’s chestnuts and apples roasted in the autumn and flaming torches lighting the market field in the winter, all fresh flowers in garlands in the spring and delicious rhubarb and gooseberry fizz in the summer. And music and laughter and a great deal of talking, for Them Ones are a solitary lot as a whole and they don’t get to chat with their neighbours like us humans. Indeed, for a buggane up there on the hilltop or a glashtyn down in the riverside reeds, ‘tis an awful lonely life.

And at the market they can buy whatever they want – wonderful things such as you could never imagine, come from the fairy realms and the workshops of magicians and the cauldrons of witches. Cloaks of invisibility, love potions, magic swords and seven-league boots aren’t even the half of it.

But as a mortal, you’ll never see the market, nor hear it, not even if you pass right by on the road under the hill there. For we aren’t all the same and we don’t all have the same talents in life – and if we did it would be a mighty dull world, I’m thinking.

Still writing.

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.

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

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!

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.

Ginger

This is my eighth piece for my tea-inspired December writing challenge. Took rather longer than 15 minutes, but I don’t want to be writing two-part ones all the time. I’ll try to stick to the time limit tomorrow. Or not!


Now the reader who’s been keeping up with my little tales will be thinking there’s no bad ones and never a cross word spoke on the Isle of Man, and that all it takes to turn a man from surly to cheerful is the right woman. And there’s some truth in that right enough. But the island is a place like any other, with joy and sorrow and some that’ll never be happy no matter where they are in life.

And one such was William Jowett, and it wasn’t just that he was an Englishman in Mann that made him cross – though there’s enough about the place that makes them brought up to different ways gnash their teeth and tear their hair.

No, this Jowett was as mean-spirited and miserable a one as ever lived, and he’d have the coat off a starving man’s back sooner than give him a little longer to pay what he owed. For Jowett was a moneylender – that’s to say he worked for the Bank in Castletown, and made it his business to know everyone’s business and find ways to charge them for it.

Well known in the town he was but not well liked, for all that he had a fine big house out by Derbyhaven and a wife and two boys at King William’s College, and plenty of servants to make life easier for him.

And so one day Kirree the witch, fed up of hearing the townsfolk carrying on something awful about this Jowett, decided to do something about him and his penny-pinching ways. She went to the Bank, all neat and tidy dressed as she could, leaving her blue cat and her tall hat and even her witches’ broom at home, so them in the bank didn’t know but that she was just an ordinary old woman.

“Come to pay me respects to Mr Jowett”, she said to the clerk on the desk, “and brought him some of my own home-made gingerbread, the good it is that even a fine gentleman like Mr Jowett has never tasted its equal”.

The clerk wore a very white shirt with a very stiffly starched collar under his jacket, and this was apt to making him cross and unhelpful to all those who asked for his aid – and isn’t that always the way with the sad folk doomed to dirty their hands with the business of the Bank? But the smell of warm ginger coming from Kirree’s basket was so tempting that he thought he’d better tell Mr Jowett in case he heard tell – as he surely would – of this wonderful gingerbread and how it had been refused entry to his office.

So the clerk went and told Mr Jowett and in the shake of a duck’s tail, Kirree found herself in the finest room she’d ever seen.

“Sure and you’ve an office finer than the Governor himself”, she exclaimed, turning around and around to admire it, while the scent of the gingerbread wafted out to fill up even the far high corners of the room.

And Mr Jowett, seated behind his enormous mahogany desk, couldn’t but feel hungry, even though he just eaten the four courses that was all he allowed himself in the way of lunch.

Presently, Kirree stopped her spinning and sat on the mean, narrow chair meant for visitors, placing her basket on the desk and beginning to rummage in its depths.

“Here we are now”, she said, removing the biggest, boldest and above all tastiest-looking gingerbread man Mr Jowett had seen in his life. “This is a gift from me to you”, she said, “to show you my admiration for all you do for all of us poor ordinary folk here in Castletown and all around”.

Mr Jowett smiled his thin smile and nodded his pinched head and he may have even uttered a word or two. But in the next instant he was clutching that gingerbread man in his hands and biting and chewing and swallowing and biting and chewing and swallowing as if he’d never eaten for weeks.

Kirree looked on with a smile as he ate, and soon it was all done and Mr Jowett was using a finger to chase the last of the crumbs around on his shiny black trousers.

“V-very good”, he finally managed to squeak, as the warmth of the ginger spread throughout his body. And not just through his body either, for it seemed as if the warmth of the spices had made their way into his head too, and everything seemed just a little brighter and more pleasant than it had a moment before.

“Well I’ll be leaving you now”, said Kirree briskly, standing up and gathering her basket.

“Oh but must you rush off so soon after giving me this delicious gift? Surely you’d like some tea, or coffee perhaps? We keep some for our very best clients, you know, and you are definitely that, dear lady. Or perhaps I can lend you some money?” He leaned confidentially over the desk and whispered, “We have such a lot of it here, you see, and I often think it must be a lonely and boring life for all the notes and coins stuck down there in the vault all the time with never a glimpse of daylight or the chance to change hands”.

Kirree thought it was just possible she’d overdone the special spices, but it was too late now and anyway he’d been asking for it, so she declined politely and went on her way. And from that day on, William Jowett was the most jovial and charming of men to everyone he met. He lent money to all those who asked for it, and he might have got in trouble with the Bank’s owners excepting that Kirree had a stern word with the townsfolk. “I’ve sorted the bank man for ye”, she said. “But you’d best not be taking advantage of him, for if ye do they’ll be sending another one – and worse – from Douglas to replace him.”

So Mr Jowett’s loans were always repaid on time and his head office was happy with him, and so was his wife seeing him so much more generous and ready to please than before. His servants, too, his horse and his cat and his dog all thought him greatly improved. Only his sons, come back from school for the holidays, thought him altered for the worse, for they were already well on the way to becoming bankers themselves.

Mr Jowett only received his name after I’d finished!

Nettle

This is my seventh piece for my tea-inspired December writing challenge, and part 2 of yesterday’s story.

The idea of the challenge is that you write for 15 minutes, using a word from the day’s tea sachet from my tea advent calendar. Today’s one is just squeezing into “today” (it’s gone 11.30 pm as I’m posting this), but I’m still on track!


So she bade him continue, and with the air of a conjurer – for all merfolk are apt to be showy in their ways, the handsome they are – he pulled from one package a fine purple shawl of softest lambswool and with all lacy edging around it, and spread it out on the bench beside the witch. Then, one by one, he placed the other parcels down.

“Ye can open them ones too”, said Kirree, “and mind you don’t crumple the paper.” For brown paper is very useful to a witch, for poultices and such – or even writing charms on, I’ve heard.

So Patrick set to opening the gifts he’d brought.

One was indeed edible – a handful of vanilla biscuits, all sweet scented and crumbly with sugar, and Kirree was of a mind to grant the merman’s wish straight away, for those were her favourite. But she could tell from his air that there were greater things to come, so she held her tongue, which is a fine skill in anyone and even more rare in a witch.

Next, there was a little bunch of woodruff and ferns, fetched from the woods around Silverdale and as fresh and green-scented as a spring morning. And then there was a fine old book with maps of all the countries in the world, with scenes from each land on the pages between, for Patrick knew that witches are great travellers, even the ones that never leave their homes.

And then there were just two gifts left – a tiny parcel of seaweed tied off with a bit of twine, and a fine large white envelope.

Kirree’s finger hovered over the envelope, but she read in the droop of his shoulders that she was to keep that one to last, so she pointed to the smaller present.

And Patrick placed it on her palm and pulled away the twine. Inside it was a piece of sea glass all worn smooth by the waves and never a hand to shape it, not since it had been part of a bottle many years since. Blue, it was, and you’d have sworn it was made as a likeness of Kirree’s own blue cat, just now sunning himself on the garden wall and waiting until such time as fish or milk might be forthcoming.

“Now them’s mighty fine gifts already”, said Kirree a little suspiciously. “So what is it you’re wanting from me that there’s another one?”

“Your… your pardon, mistress”, stammered Patrick nervously. “I’m not for flattering you without reason. Them’s all gifts right enough, and this last one is something of a gift, and something of a blessing, I’m hoping.”

And seeing that the witch was becoming impatient, he hurried on. “I’m to be wed next Saturday, and I’ve heard you can make it so the weather is fine for my bride. For she means as much to me as all the treasure in the sea.”

Kirree grunted and sat back on the bench, working the knots out of her back.

“Aye, that I can, and you’ve done enough thinking and talking before coming here to ask me, what with me favourite colour and them pretty flowers and me favourite biscuit and a little cat like my own fella there. So you go inside and put the kettle on and we’ll have a nice cup of nettle tea – for its wondrous good for the blood – and maybe a vanilla biscuit. And we’ll talk about your wedding.”

And three days later, Patrick and Cara were wed under the sea, and the water was calm and smooth as a mirror, and it’s said you could hear the singing and music clear up to Peel.

Oh, but you want to know about Patrick’s last gift to Kirree? Well, when he opened the envelope, it contained an invitation to the wedding. A human bridegroom would never think of bidding a witch, nor writing her name, but them under the sea have different ways. So although she’d been to many a wedding before, this was the first one Kirree the witch had ever been invited to. And go she went, wearing her purple shawl, and she danced that long and that hard that even the porpoises were tired trying to keep up with her.

Writing in action