Weather

For the how/why of the writing challenge, see here.

This is part one of (?) two because I’ve been writing it for 20 minutes now, it’s late and I’m tired and I’m some way off finishing it.

Warning: contains one (1) witch and one (1) merman.


There’s some who say you’ve never lived until you’ve witnessed a Manx wedding, from the blowing of the cow’s horn outside the bride’s home the evening before to the procession to the church and the feasting and drinking that follows the service.

Imagine, then, how much grander a spectacle it is when the wedding takes place beneath the sea! Aye, for the finery of the guests and the wedded couple is wondrous to see, and the procession escorted by seals and fishes of all kinds, and the horn is a twisted thing from a gigantic sea monster, with the booming it makes fit to wake Manannan himself if he’s not sleeping sound.

And there’s the rub. Stormy weather when a lass from Sulby weds is bad enough. But when the bride is a mermaid and she’s wedding a lad with a tail as fine as her own…then the sea must needs be flat calm if the garlands aren’t to be washed clear to Ireland.

And so it came about that Patrick the merman from under Bradda Head had a keen desire for fine weather one day in June, and according to the custom of his folk he decided there was nothing for it but to visit Kirree the witch at Castletown.

Now Castletown has a fine harbour, and it was no problem for Patrick to swim in past the castle and into the shallow water beyond, but after that he had to strip off his scales – as all merfolk can when they want. He climbed onto the land and tucked the tail part neatly behind a creel, dressing himself in an old fishing net. Then he walked briskly on his own two feet, first into the town where he made some purchases, for there’s so much treasure lost at the bottom of the sea that a merman is never short of a little gold. And then he carried on until he reached the windmill where Kirree lived, in a cottage kept tidy by the folk all about, who were greatly afeared of her magical powers and short temper.

He found Kirree at home, and no more in charity with the world than usual, sitting on the bench outside her cottage and squinting at the mill sails spinning around and around, and smoking her pipe.

“Good day, mistress”, he said, all fine and handsome as only them from under the sea can be.

“Tis nothing of the sort”, she retorted, knocking her pipe out on the bench. “Tis a nasty chill sort of day that will only bring rain and winds to follow it.” For Kirree was a clever woman as well as a witch, and she could see as soon as looking at Patrick the kind of man he was, and what his errand must be.

Patrick was downcast, for if the weather wasn’t fine he wouldn’t be able to marry Cara, and he did so want her for his own bride and no more waiting to be done. Then he remembered the gift he’d brought, and he smiled at the witch and said, “But it could be a fine sweet bright day today, mistress, no matter the sky”.

The witch frowned at him but she hadn’t lived near on 300 years by interrupting people carrying small packages wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string. Not least because a witch is always curious, and often hungry, and it was market day in Castletown, which meant fresh white bread at least, if not cake too.


…to be continued!

Honey

For the how/why of the writing challenge, see here.

There’s no picture with this one, because I had the plot (nearly) all worked out in my head as soon as I saw the word, so I typed it rather than writing it by hand. It’s taken me a while, because it’s a bit longer than normal!


Once upon a time there was a little mermaid called Cara, and she lived with her mammy and her daddy and her sister Mona in the clear Manx waters off the shore at Port St Mary. Well named was Cara, for the word means someone who loves to sing, and from the moment she was born Cara was always humming one tune or another.

As she grew older, her happy songs of the sea spray and the beautiful pebbles on the seabed changed to wistful airs of love, for Cara was mightily taken with Patrick, a merman who lived amongst the rocks down below Bradda Head. But Patrick was a handsome young chap with flashing dark eyes and gleaming dark hair, and he had many mermaid admirers leaving him pretty seashells and longing glances wherever he swam.

So Cara would sit on her favourite rock, off the shore at Gansey, and sigh and sing and sing and sigh, and all the while she would think of Patrick. Or envy the luck of her sister Mona, who’d been so fortunate as to find a human man to love and who loved her back. Often such matches failed, because the ways of them beneath the sea were strange to humans, and the ways of humans very stiff and unfriendly to them beneath the sea. But it warmed the heart to see Juan and Mona together in their cosy little undersea grotto, his tender glances and her making his tea over the fire that burned so brightly with mermagic. Cara often wondered if she wouldn’t do better to find a human man herself. But the heart can’t be driven with reins and whip, as me old granny used to say, and she’d begun to think she’d never find a way to capture Patrick’s affections when one day she did meet a human man.

For the little cottage near the sea that had once belonged to Juan and his human wife was empty no longer. A man had come to live there – a solitary man, with no wife at him, and his back quite bent with age, but he seemed no less happy for that. Indeed, he sang almost as much as Cara, but always bright and happy tunes, as he toiled at a row of boxes set amongst the potato patch.

His voice was so fine, and his joy so evident, that eventually it roused the sad young mermaid from her sorrows and she joined her voice to his in harmony. The man looked around, startled, for a moment before his eyes alighted on Cara and he returned her smile even as he kept singing.

When they reached the end of the song, he walked carefully to the edge of his garden where it became more water than land, and bowed politely.

“A fine morning to you, Mistress”, he said, “and made even finer by the pleasure of hearing you sing. My name is Eamon. And your voice is as sweet as the honey my bees produce, though I’m sure many have told you this before.”

Cara smiled, then sighed. “Thank you, sir”, she replied, bowing in turn as much as her seated position allowed. “Cara is my name. Though I know not what honey might be, and the one I wish to admire my voice the most seems unmoved by it. But it gave me pleasure to sing with yourself too.”

“Is there no honey beneath the sea, then, Cara?” And when she agreed there was not, he bustled off to his little cottage, which had a fresh coat of limewash and was as spick and span as any home could be, with the bees all buzzing peaceably around the gorse flowers.

Eamon returned with a large jar, and removing the lid he dipped a small spoon inside, bringing out a golden substance that was not quite liquid like water nor yet solid like stone. He stepped cautiously on each of the large boulders that led to Cara’s rock on the edge of the deeper water, and passed her the spoon, twisting it deftly so the honey would not fall onto her iridescent scaled tail.

Even before she brought it to her lips, the scent of the gorse blossom surrounded her and she smiled in delight. And then the taste! For wondrous though it is to be able to live at the bottom of the sea, there’s no sweetness there as we have in our apples and nectar…or our honey.

Cara was charmed by the flavour, and that night when she returned home she could speak of nothing else to her parents. She visited Eamon several times in the next few weeks, and each time they sang while she sat on her rock and he worked on his hives or tending the potatoes. And Eamon said the bees were producing even more and even finer honey than they normally did, and that it was all due to Cara’s sweet voice.

When she next saw Mona, she told her all about her new friend and his beehives and the wonderful stuff they produced. And Juan overheard and looked melancholy for once as he never usually did. “Oh, honey”, he sighed mournfully. “Indeed an’ I do miss honey.”

And Cara was very fond of her brother-in-law and wanted him to be happy, so the very next day she swam back to the rock near Eamon’s garden and waited for him there, singing a song that was a little more cheerful than was her wont.

At last he came around the curve of the track, carrying a chair roped on his back, and looking a little warm, but when he saw Cara waiting for him, he smiled broadly and strode towards her as if unbothered by his burden.

“A fine day to you, Mistress Cara”, he said. “I’ve brought meself a new chair, but ‘tis an outdoor chair so we can sing together, if that would be pleasing to you. For my legs aren’t what they used to be.” And he proceeded to untie the chair from his back and place it down near the water’s edge.

“Oh, how lovely!” exclaimed Cara, clapping her hands together as she admired the fine sturdy woodwork. “An’ I’m wondering if you could give me a little honey to take home to mammy and daddy and to Juan and Mona, for they’ve heard tell of it and they’re awful keen to try it themselves.”

“Indeed and I can”, said Eamon, “I thought of exactly that meself while I was at the market today fetching me chair, and I got a little pot with a lid on it that I’m thinking won’t let the honey out under the sea.”

So Cara swam back that night with some golden honey in the little pot, and Juan’s face was a wonder to behold. And Mona found it just as good – and even better the next day when Cara made honey cakes using a kind of flour cunningly ground from sea anemones.

Cara shared the cakes with her parents and all her friends, and instead of her having to swim after Patrick, he was now often to be found near to where she was, so pleasing did he find the sweet flavour.

But as to whether he learned to appreciate Cara’s sweet voice and temperament as much as Eamon did – well, that’s a story for another day.

Yourself

For the how/why of the writing challenge, see here.

I cheated a little with this one because I had to rush out immediately the original 15 minutes were up, leaving this about half done. So the last half was done some time later, and typed straight onto my computer, seeing as I knew where it was going by then.

I have a nasty feeling I’ve given myself yet another constraint now – because all the pieces seem to involve baking! I’m not sure how long I can keep up a chain story of Manx baking-related tales, but there’s only one way to find out.

Oh, and for non-Manx readers, the man’s name Juan isn’t pronounced the Spanish way, but as it looks – Joo-ann, with a little twist that only a Manx accent can really do justice to (and no, I don’t have one).


Breesha Kinrade was not a fortunate lass. A plain girl, she grew into a plainwoman, and she caught the attention of Juan Cregeen, a plain man with a passion for nothing but the fish he brought up from the depths of the sea. Out on the water on his boat, the Sea Queen, he was as happy a man as ever lived, but on land he was sullen and prone to fits of bad temper, particularly when there was a storm brewing and he couldn’t get away from the shore.

Breesha bore with his surly ways and shouting as well as any woman could – and certainly he never raised a hand to her. But there was no love in their small house near the shore at Gansey, not between man and wife at least. He loved his boat, and she loved her baking.

For Breesha could make dough that you’d swear doubled in size the moment she left it to rise, and her bread was as light and fine as they’d eat in the dining room at Great Meadow, or even at the Governor’s table. But she baked only for herself, her ungrateful husband and the folk around who were too old to knead their own dough. They’d bring her the flour and maybe a little something extra for her trouble and Breesha would make them a fine loaf or a bonnag all gleaming and golden, and everyone would be happy. Even Juan tolerated her baking, because doesn’t even a fisherman need a full belly?

So Breesha was blessed with a talent but unhappy in her man and the poor cottage that was all they had to keep them warm at night.

And then one day on a trip to Douglas to visit her sister Ealish, who worked in a big draper’s shop, Breesha found herself in a bakery that sold the most delicious biscuits she’d ever tasted. Aye, you know the one – the fairy bakery. Because that place chooses them that will eat its wares. But it also chooses those that will serve behind the counter.

Well, the long and short of it was that Breesha soon found herself working there, and it was a terrible long way from Gansey to Douglas, even with the train from Port St Mary. But Breesha was happy. She loved serving the customers – a strange, bewildered lot most of them were, but always so grateful to taste the delicacies she suggested might suit them or theirs. A fine pork pie with glistening jelly might mend a broken heart, while a twist of pastry light as air would do as much for an ailing child as any tincture the apothecary could concoct.

And what was even stranger was that Juan didn’t seem to begrudge her the time spent away from their own hearth. True, she was bringing in wages, and that helped make their mean cottage a little more welcoming, for they could afford coal from time to time to supplement the peat for the fire, and real wax candles too. But he seemed to be more cheerful even than these little additions could warrant, and Breesha was puzzled as to the explanation.

Until one day the Douglas train broke down just outside Colby, and seeing that there was no help for it that day she turned around and walked home. She didn’t mind the walk at all, for it was a fine bright autumn day. And when she thought of it, she wasn’t at all surprised to find her husband sitting on the bench outside their cottage, laughing and singing as only a man deeply in love can do, while a mermaid sat on a nearby rock, combing her long dark tresses and smiling sweetly at him.

Juan jumped up guiltily at the sight of his wife, but the mermaid simply paused for a moment in her brushing and looked boldly at Breesha, then carried on admiring herself in the looking glass.

Breesha folded her arms and glared at the pair of them, but before she could utter a word Juan spoke with fierce determination. “I’m going to the sea”, he said. “I’m going to live beneath the waves with Mona here and never come back on land as long as I live.”

“Indeed, and I’ll not be giving him up”, said the mermaid swiftly. “For it’s plain to see you don’t want him, leaving his house all cold and dark all day and no one to pour the tea or keep the fire burning.” Breesha wondered exactly how the mermaid was going to pour Juan’s tea or stoke the fire under the water, but she’d learned at her mother’s knee that there was no arguing with a Ben Varrey. And, she realised, she felt no inclination to do so.

Instead, she went silently into the little cottage and gathered together her few bits of things – her mother’s Bible, and the little wooden cat she’d won at the Tynwald fair as a child, and the smart hat Ealish had given her last Christmas, and made a bundle of them and her scant other clothes. She’d come back with Simon the carter for her dresser and her fine china another day. Just now she felt nothing but relief at being freed from her marriage. For a husband lost to the Ben Varrey is as good as dead, and no blame at all on the wife who can’t stop him from leaving.

She took one more look around the inside of the cottage, then went out and watched the mermaid, still smoothing her shining black locks, while Juan looked on nervously. And before walking away to her new life she said, “I wish you well of my husband, for he’s been precious little comfort to me. I hope he’ll be more use to yourself”.

Evidence of writing!

Bread

This is my third piece for my tea-inspired December writing challenge.

Another Manx piece, and another constraint – each piece now also has to follow on from the previous one in some way. Where does all this stuff come from?!


Down in the narrow back streets of Douglas, not far from the quayside and the Market Hall, you’ll find a baker’s shop. Or maybe it’ll find you.

Because sometimes it’s on the corner, where St Martin’s Lane meets James Street. And sometimes it’s right along near the Royal Hotel. And other times it creeps all the way down towards the railway station, so the passengers arriving from Peel or Ramsey or Port Erin have their nostrils full of the warm smells of fresh loaves and spices even before they’ve filled their eyes with the sights of the town.

But the scent is one thing, and it’s a rare islander who gets to taste the bakery’s wares more than once in a lifetime. Many’s the man gone mad trying to find his way back to that door – green, it is, some say, while others swear upon all the Saint’s names that it was blue or black or red.

If you’ve once tasted their goods, you never forget. But it’s not that other bread or cakes taste worse for the comparison. Indeed, even the poorest of bonnags baked a week since still has something of the wondrous about it, if once you’ve tried the bonnag from the fairy bakery. For ‘tis run by the lil’ people right enough – or they have a hand in it somewhere, most folk agree, for all that the women behind the counter seem human enough.

And are, to hear them tell it, though they’ll never speak of how they came to work in the bakery, or what kind of folk them that own it are – nor even how they’d go about finding their way to work in the morning.

Breesha Kinrade worked there for many a year, with her sleeves always rolled up and broad forearms strong as a man’s from kneading the dough. And young Jinny Moore, she with her hair as red as the autumn bracken, would decorate the gingerbread figures fine as kings and queens, until she went off to be Jinny Corlett up at the farm on Beinn-y-Phott.

Fine steady women all of them who work at the fairy bakery, and it’s a lucky man who gets one of them to wife, for they bring good fortune with them as a dowry. And once a man’s in right with Them Ones, he’s set for life.

Sparkle

Explanatory intro 1: This is my second piece for my tea-inspired December writing challenge.

Explanatory intro 2: Following yesterday’s story that turned out to be set on the Isle of Man, I had the idea of using that setting for all the pieces in this challenge. And then one of my Twitter connections, @Katinesss, also suggested I do a collection of Manx short stories.

So… I’ll try to make all of these about the Isle of Man. It’s true that the island is always there, somewhere, at the back of my mind, and it’s about time it earned its keep and gave me some inspiration.

Explanatory intro 3: The tone of voice is all over the place in this one. The Old Nance story from yesterday fitted very neatly into a traditional Manx way of storytelling, but Anna kept trying to slip into the present.


Anna Corlett was six years old when she learned that not everyone could make things sparkle.

An only child, and living in a remote farmhouse on the slopes of Beinn-y-Phott with just her mother and father for company, Anna didn’t often get to meet other children. But lonely she wasn’t, for didn’t she have the sheep her da raised, and the chickens her ma kept in the farmyard, and couldn’t she talk to Jess the sheepdog whenever she wanted? Except when her father was out moving the sheep from one place to another, or bringing them in for shearing with Ned Cowell from over at Injebreck.

But when there were no sheep near and the chickens were all busy with their pecking and their worriting, Anna would skip down the path to the stream and sparkle things. She’d look at a twig, or a piece of sheep’s wool caught on a fence post, and she’d do a kind of twist in her head. And in the next instant the twig would be up and marching around with a handful of its fellows, making a rigid little figure like the toy soldier she’d once seen in the window of a shop in Laxey, all fine and shining with a bright red uniform at him and boots as glossy as you could see your face in. Or the wool would be floating around over the short grass like a tiny cloud, with raindrops falling from its downy underside.

When asked about her day, she often told her mother Jinny that she’d made things sparkle, but it wasn’t until one day that she’d sparkled the dough in the mixing bowl and made it leap out onto the floured kitchen table, in a series of little round squishy balls that tumbled over and around each other, that her mother finally took notice of what she was doing.

Jinny shrieked once, briefly, then to Anna’s amazement waved her hand at the dough balls skipping flourily around on the table – and they all stopped. Just went from sparkled to still again, not gradually slowing down like they normally did.

And then Anna’s mother smiled at her and wiped her hands on her pinny and said, “Well, now, I’m thinking we need to have a little talk about this before your father comes home. And next week you and me will pay a visit to your Great Aunt Nancy in Lonaby. It’s been a while and I’m thinking she’ll want to see what a fine big girl you’ve grown into”.

Just writing whatever comes out of my head.

Second writing prompt, 7 December

For the why/how of the writing challenge, see here.

Pick a word, any word… and write for (at least) 15 minutes. You can be flexible with the rules if you like – yesterday I chose two consecutive words and wrote for about 20 minutes.

It’s been suggested after yesterday’s story that I try to produce a series of pieces set on the Isle of Man. I’ll try, but I’m not guaranteeing anything as that feels like one restriction too far, and this is all about loosening up the writing muscles!

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Santa’s Secret – Fruit-Spice Tea Blend – Certified Organic
St. Nicholas was my childhood hero. Nursery rhymes were learnt by heart for him and I couldn’t hide my joy about chocolate ‘Nikolo’. Today too, he still makes children’s eyes sparkle. I am inspired by the legend: sharing unites.”

Baked

Explanatory intro 1: This is my first piece for my tea-inspired December writing challenge.

Explanatory intro 2: I come from the Isle of Man, where many of the folktales include the exploits of little old ladies that readers of Terry Pratchett would recognise instantly. They’re often named Nancy. The whole thing popped straight into my head when I picked my word (actually, I cheated slightly and picked two consecutive words, as you’ll see if you check the tea sachet for today). I’ve tried, not very successfully, to capture the flavour of the narrative style used for these old stories, but for what turned out to be about 20 minutes’ writing I think it’s not bad.


Lonaby was a peaceful village. The cottages were always neat and tidy, with never a straw of the thatch out of place, the young men and women always had a cheerful word for any passer-by, and the children played their games of spinning tops and hopscotch without any of the squabbling you’d see in Douglas, or even in nearby Foxdale.

There were many explanations given for this placidity. A propitious climate – and it was true that, nestled in under the flank of Slieau Whallian as it was, the village was sheltered both from the east wind and the soft rain that fell so plentifully on the rest of the island.

Some said there was a charm on the place, and indeed women would come and pray and weep and leave small gifts of flowers or a bit of cheese or a good herring at the foot of the old grey stone by the smithy, stroking its twined cross design like it was the head of the child they wanted or had lost.

And some said it came from the contented, gentle nature of the Lonaby folk themselves. Fair, they were, and straight and bright eyed and open of face.

But Old Nance knew the truth of it, as she’d learned from Old Peggy before her, and as she’d teach to the one that would come after her.

In early December every year, she got the men to dig a big fire pit near her cottage. And every year she had them lay out a huge iron plate that took four strong men to lift it. And every year she got the women of the village to make a vat of pastry as big as a pig, and to prepare taters and carrots and onions.

There was always grumbling at the work, but it was always good natured, because Old Nance had delivered most of them, and saved many a child from the flux or a broken leg, and she was always there if the cow was sick or a girl was sick in the mornings and no husband at her. So they complained a little but they smiled as they did so, and asked her what would be in the pie this year. And every year, she’d say “Well, you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?”

And every year on the seventh day of December, the whole of Lonaby came together at the end of the day, with bright torches burning and laughter and singing of songs, and they’d sit at the tables in the village hall, all lit by candles and lanterns, and the priest would give a blessing.

The delicious smell that had been wafting through the village all day would get stronger and stronger as the men bore the huge iron plate – resting on beams of wood and still hot from the coals – into the hall from the cooking place, and then everyone would eat their fill of the pie.

And somehow, every year, nobody wondered how Old Nance – whose legs weren’t what they used to be – had managed to get hold of so much goat for the filling of the pie.

How it emerged from my head.

A December writing challenge

Well, OK, not a “whole of December” writing challenge, because:

a) it’s already the 5th, and
b) the prompts are such that there are only 24 of them.

But a most of December writing challenge. Do some/all/none of the days as you feel appropriate.

But first, a little explanation

This year I ordered two advent calendars. The one with the chocolates in hasn’t arrived yet (!), but the tea advent calendar arrived in a timely fashion on 1 December.

“But what’s a tea advent calendar?” I hear you cry.

Well, one of these:

It just looks like an ordinary box of assorted organic tea bags until you open it up…
…then it becomes an advent calendar.

So each day up to Christmas Eve I’ll be drinking a different flavoured tea. I’m all too aware that I haven’t written anything for aaaages, so my first thought when I got this was to do some kind of tea review every day, but to be honest they’re all a bit samey when it comes to flavour, and even if they weren’t it wouldn’t be very interesting to write or read.

And then during one of my frequent insomniac pondering sessions in the middle of the night I suddenly realised that the short descriptions on each tea bag sachet were all different, and would potentially make prompts for short writing exercises.

So that’s how it’s going to work.

Every morning I’ll post a photo of the sachet I opened the evening before. You pick one of the words from the description (or the title) and use that as a prompt for 15 minutes of free writing. You can write freehand or on your computer or on your phone, or even dictate the words to your secretary if such is your wossname. The important thing is to just write and see where you get. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, it doesn’t have to be finished, it doesn’t have to mean anything. Just write. And post the results on your online space, whatever that is (or don’t, if you don’t feel like sharing it).

The tl;dr

For 24 days, I post a picture of a tea bag sachet, you pick a word on it as inspiration and write for 15 minutes.

And for the inquisitive amongst you…

…here are the flavours.

Because I am, as usual, a bit late to this, we’ll be starting tomorrow morning with the one I’m drinking as I write this, no. 5: “Pleasant Leisure Time Herbal Tea” (or, as the sachet has it, Schönen Feierabend). Watch this space for your prompt.