The Stories Stones Tell

When out walking the countryside and coming through a village, I like to visit both the pub and the church, if there are ones. Sadly, public houses are closing down and being converted into private houses leaving a village “dry”, but there’s always a church.

Outside of Sundays, I find the church is usually deserted. Inside, there is something serene and timeless about the experience of having a church to myself. I’m not a believer so whatever it is I feel must be beyond belief. Of course, I’m open to an idea that it may be the legacy of some cultural meme.


I remembered I had this photo, taken on my mobile on a walk last Summer to the village of Withington. As you can see, it’s the gravestone of Richard Gegg who lived for 79 years and died in 1908. It doesn’t say when he was born but as he died fairly early in the year, let’s assume it was before his birthday that year when he should have seen his 80th year. Therefore, he was likely born in 1828.

In the year master Richard came into view, King George IV was on the throne, the Duke of Wellington – of Waterloo and rubber gardening boot fame – became the UK’s Prime Minister, the World’s first science zoo opened in London, Catholics were finally permitted in law to hold public office, and two Williams, Burke and Hare, were doing steady business illicitly providing the physician, Robert Knox, with human bodies for his anatomy lectures. But, of course, towards the end of the year, they’d both be tried and hung for multiple murders.

However, what took my interest was the story within the stone’s inscription. Not only did our Richard survive two wives but they both were named Elizabeth and they both died on a 9th December, just eight years apart. I’d be curious to know what he thought about that, whether he believed there was something significant in the name and the date. They were also nearly the same age, within twelve months. They might have been acquainted for all I know. Maybe the second one had her eye on Richard whilst he was married. You can make your own story up if you wish.

Though the stone looks pristine, the grassy plot is indiscrete and I can only assume it’s a grave marker where the three remains are buried. The inscription doesn’t give any other clues to who these people were.

I did a little googling and I think I found our man. At age 22, a man with the same name, but born 1829 (okay, I was wrong), is recorded in Withington as a journeyman. This is a worker who plies his trade or skill from place to place. Ten years later, in a subsequent census, he is recorded as a grocer and ten years on, a grocer and baker, and again, ten years after this, a grocer and baker.

There is also a record for an Elizabeth Gegg, born 1828, recorded as a baker and grocer’s wife. As his second wife died between censuses, there’s no indication of a woman with an occupation matching the surname yet there is a certified death of an Elizabeth Gegg for both years 1886 and 1894.

I could try further and pay for the genealogy service and get full documents from the national census archive but I won’t: the reality might be mundane or unsatisfactory. I’m letting this go in favour of a little fictional imagining.

If you wish to write your own short story, please do. It would be fun to read.

click on either image to enlarge.

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We Grow Accustomed To The Darkness

a writing prompt challenge

In the school where I go to learn yoga, the men’s changing room is just off the entrance hall. It’s a small room, not much more than six feet by eight. There is a low bench along the wall on which to put your clothes and the arrangement of its sparse furniture has been the same for more than fifteen years.

I arrive early: to bag a good spot and get into the right frame of mind for the session. I’m usually the first in and, entering the changing room, there is enough light spilling in from the bright hall to see by so I won’t turn on the light. How much do you need to see to remove one’s trousers and top, fold them and place them on the bench which has always been there? An act most could do with their eyes closed, and besides, it all takes no more than ten seconds.

If another student comes in while I’m changing, usually his hand goes automatically to the light switch; he may give me an odd look and may question me about getting changed in the dark. But the question surely is; why do something habitually, without any thought?


When I was a boy scout, one of my favourite exercises was the night hike. There were six patrols in our group, about five to six boys in each, and we’d be driven in a minibus and several volunteers’ cars to six different places in the countryside. Having been deposited in the strange gloom, the patrol leader was handed a map and compass, shown where we were on the map and a destination to arrive at before dawn.

I don’t remember it ever being frightening. When you’re the youngest, you look up to the older members, even though the oldest is only sixteen, four years older than yourself. When you are the oldest, you are their patrol leader. If you’re the mindful sort, you feel the responsibility for the others, especially the new boy, but you’ve been there before, and several times. Not the same place, exactly, nor the same destination sought but the nighttime, in very unfamiliar surroundings, can appear as a homogeneity: the habit we form of seeing it instinctively. It’s not a place you want to give in to.

When the grownups leave, it’s better we face our situation squarely and piece together the clues that eventually reveal themselves, as we grow accustomed to the darkness.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge writing prompt #81 – “as we grow accustomed to the darkness”

Reena’s prompt this week is also provided by the poem, “We Grow Accustomed To The Dark” by Emily Dickinson, in this animation by Hannah Jacobs

image: “Full moon over Greece” by Jason Blackeye via Unsplash.com

Threshold #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

“It’s a bit big.”

“What is, woman?”, said Mr. Neanderthal regarding Mrs. Neanderthal with despair.

“The door”, she replied. Mr. Neanderthal turned to take in the enormity of the threshold to the world outside as if for the first time. It was a bit big, he thought.

“Give over, missus!”, he said at length, “This is what you’ve said you’ve always wanted.”

He turned imploringly towards the woman, gesturing with his arms outstretched.

“Look at all this space; you wanted new open plan living, a nice sea view, cold running water, five minutes walk to the gathering bushes… and now you’ve got it. So stop your whining.”

“Neighbourhood’s not all that though, is it?”

The wife’s mother had an annoying habit of saying the wrong thing at the worst times. She sat in a dark corner of the cave, sucking on a tusk. He felt the blood rise to his cheeks at the same time his heart seemed to fall into his aurochs-skin boots. It was something he might have considered ironic had he any notion of human physiology, but he hadn’t. He had only raw gut instinct and a few things his father taught him about flints and never to approach any wild animal downwind.

“What are you saying, mother?”, he said after a lengthy sigh.

She took the tusk from her mouth and spat something onto the floor before jabbing the tusk’s sharp end vaguely towards the scene outside.

“Place is full of them bloody Homo Sapiens, isn’t it? Coming over here, diluting the gene pool…”, she began. He’d heard it all before and he wasn’t having any more.

“Look, mum, there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re good people. I’ve hunted with them and they’re okay, very cooperative, very generous too, with their skills, give you their last…”

“Bah!”, the woman interrupted, “Well, the Great Elder has called us to have a vote and we say an end to it. We want tighter control on who comes in, and we don’t want them telling us what to do: the size and shape of the berries we should be picking and how many fish…”

“Don’t talk daft, woman!” Mr. Neanderthal’s dander was up. “You’ve been reading the wrong cave paintings again. You don’t want to believe what Boris drew on the side of the cliff – Many More Mammoths = Neanderthal Health Service. What is a Neanderthal Health Service anyway? Look, it’s our kids future; you’ll be dead soon, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Charming, I’m sure”, the old woman said quietly. He regretted mentioning the D word to her now. After a while, she spoke more,

“So you reckon our kids will have a future then?”, she said.

If he was honest, he’d say he wasn’t sure. The world seemed to be forever shrinking and the last ice age seemed generations ago. He’d like to trust there’d be Neanderthals while there were still flints to knap and elephants roaming the south downs, but who knows really?

“How about I fetch some skins and you and mum can make some curtains?”, he said, “Might give us a little privacy, at night, when we light a fire.”

He got no answer. The older woman was breaking the tusk open with a lump of granite while Mrs. Neanderthal busied herself with some ironing. He shrugged his shoulders and turning to the mouth of the cave, walked out into the evening light.

(567 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Threshold”.

apologies to one of my favourite authors, William Golding, who wrote “The Inheritors”. This is more a reflection on Brexit, its probable causes and the aftermath, the sorriest mess I hope ever to see in this country of mine.

If Our Books Disappear

As a Kindle shopper, I hadn’t been aware of the fate of Microsoft’s ebook store. Apparently, the company have decided to pull the plug on it due to its lack of profitability. If and when this happens, any books purchased through this shop will disappear. It’ll be like a virtual book burning session and there’s nothing those customers can do.

It’s worth some consideration, if you’re an ebook buyer, or whether you buy any virtual product, that what you are actually buying is not an object to own, in perpetuity, but a licence or permit to use that thing, maybe for an unspecified period. As long as you know this, I can’t see much wrong with it; you pay your money and you take your choice.

In the UK, at least, ownership of anything and everything is a relatively new social concept. I remember as a small boy, almost everyone rented their TV and music systems, a lot of household stuff was on hire-purchase (colloquially referred to as the never never because you paid but never owned it). My parents were the first in our extended family to own their home – through a 25 year mortgage deal, mind – and everyone thought they were odd, or even mad. Renting and hiring was the norm.

Getting back to books – and thinking about music, too – there is this idea of owning a collection, something which I had mindlessly fallen into as well. I think the craziness of it first surfaced when a colleague explained how he had fallen out with his partner after commandeering the second bedroom of their small, two-bed apartment and had installed wall to wall, floor to ceiling shelving to house his record collection. He had amassed many thousands, apparently. I asked if he actually listened to them all regularly and he said, of course! I doubted that: knowing my own habits and then doing the maths, there hardly seemed enough hours left in a lifetime to indulge in that level of listening, and that supposes that we won’t be seduced by any later offerings by artists and the industry.

It’s exactly so with books but worse. Reading a book is a lot more demanding, intensive and time consuming than listening to a record. While a favourite album might be on repeat playlist for a year, how many books do we return to that often? Of all the books I have reread, probably fewer than six had retained the impression of the first read. Quite a number had felt diminished, knowing the plot, the characters and the ideas within.

Not wishing to decorate my home with expansive shelves of records and books – I much prefer paintings and other images; and space! Let’s hear it for a clutter free existence – we found most of our unread books and unheard music had been confined to packing boxes under the beds or in closets, out of sight, out of mind. We took the step to cull most of it, offering them to charity shops and other collectors, keeping back a small number which we considered having special qualities, but even these rarely get looked at or listened to.

With music, it’s more convenient to pick something from an online platform, I never feel I have to own it to enjoy it. With books, I often find good literature on offer for less than a couple of quid each. There seems to be no end to these offers and I am in danger of collecting a virtual library of more books than I have time left to read. I’m not expecting it to disappear before I do but if it does, I think I’ve had my money’s worth. Owning stuff is not so important to me now, as long as I have access to books, music and art some other way, that’s fine. I understand the deal.


When this ebook store closes, your books disappear too (BBC News)

50 Word Thursday #13 – Descending

a flash-fiction piece.

There was something wrong with performing The Lark Ascending in the smoke. The bird took on a melancholy attitude not in keeping with Vaughan-Williams’ intent. Not the joyful, high-flyer, chirruping in the early light, over remote fields of tall grass. Then here’s me, stuck amongst the second violins.

“How could anyone be tired of London?”, asked a principal cornetist. The majority of the brass section seemed to concur. You’d think they’d prefer their air fresher, wouldn’t you, what with all that puffing? I mean, the percussionist I could understand, what with the clatter and thump in the streets.

I am a country girl. I had the opportunity to play fiddle in a small folk group; the mandolin player, I recall, had a beautiful voice and looked like an Adonis; we could have played sweet music together, beneath the starlit skies. Instead of the obscuring haze of city lights.

A tutor convinced my parents that my talent was too good to fritter away in rural pubs and village halls, to literally scrape a living on a secondhand, mass-produced instrument. So I was packed off to an exclusive conservatoire in Paris and, five years later, here I am.

I live in London, though mostly it’s living from a suitcase. If I’m not performing, I teach kids of aspirational parents in Kensington. Sometimes I’m asked to play behind some famous pop artist, but don’t ask, who? One is like any other to me. Like every day, living in this city.

(5 x 50 words)


written for 50 Word Thursday #13 – a weekly challenge.

This week’s prompt phrase from “Bizarre London”, by David Long,

“How could anyone be tired of London?”

This week’s photo prompt,

The rules (copied from the host)

  1. The completed piece must be in multiples of 50 words – a maximum of 250 words. Anything is acceptable – poetry, story, anecdote.
  2. There will be a photo and a random phrase that I will take from the current book I am reading – you can use either or both.
  3. Please pingback and tag 50WordThurs so I can do a summary.

The Road Gang

We are settling into village life more and more and I received a nice email thanking me for my participation in the village tidy up. There were about a dozen of us meeting up last Saturday morning. We each had a pair of gloves, a hi-vis tabard, a plastic sack and one of those extended picker devices operated by a trigger so we didn’t have to keep bending down. Then we scattered to different points of the compass to pick litter.

The last time I went on litter patrol was at school. Then, it was seen as a punishment for some trivial felony, like refusing to wear a school cap or picking one’s nose in religious education. Although there was the ecological and aesthetic benefit to school, the purpose behind it was more humiliation.

But on this occasion it felt good and worthy. It helped that the morning’s weather was mild and sunny, and my stretch of road offered high views across the fields where there were sheep and lambs and cattle.

It was a big sack and I was worried I’d not fill it and look like a worthless newbie on my debut. So I busied myself with every speck of paper and dog end I could spot while my companions strode forth and were soon almost out of sight. I needn’t have worried; a little past the village welcome sign, I found all sorts of discarded detritus. Mostly, it was the expected soda pop cans, coffee cups and drink cartons, occasionally a takeaway container and a burger meal bag. I did find the broken remains of a car accident which filled up the sack to breaking point – I knew then I wasn’t to fail.

The oddest things I picked up in the space of an hour were, a large medicine bottle with a prescription label, an empty economy bottle for hair conditioner, a plastic box for small tools – the places for pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches etc. were clearly indented – a race competitor’s number label, 106 – I hope she or he wasn’t disqualified for losing this – and a pair of cut down denim jeans.

I got the hand of the extended litter picker eventually but I will say a thank you to all those considerate individuals who crush their cans before throwing them out the car window. Crushed cans are a lot easier to pick up with an extended litter picker than uncrushed ones – these tend to slip away as soon as they’re clamped. So, thank you crushers! A little thoughtfulness in a world of mindlessness makes life a little better.

Yeah, right.

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Color, Chroma, Pigment, Hue, Stain, & Tinge (& Shade)

a flash-fiction story

Snow White wished she hadn’t eaten the pink mushrooms. Even when you’re lost in the Green Forest and famished, circumspection is always advisable. Now she found herself in an extraordinarily quaint house, in its bed chamber to be exact, contemplating a row of seven small single beds. Each was dressed with an intensely cheerful counterpane, and on each headboard a different name had been painted: Color, Chroma, Pigment, Hue, Stain, Tinge and Shade. She had stumbled upon, and into, the home of the seven psychedelic dwarfs.

She felt a trifle faint then with the intensity of it and laid herself down across all of the little beds, width-wise, making sure her head was in Shade. Of course, this caused her feet to be in Color, which could have been worse (she didn’t want to think about which part of her was in Stain). She shortly fell asleep.

Whilst she dreamt, in soothing purple monochrome, she was oblivious to the return of the dwarfs from the mines. With a cheerful Hi-ho, they sang their way home, sacks laden with Orpiment and Azure and Vermillion and Viridian. Upon arriving, they were quite alarmed to find this long, pale thing stretched out on their beds. They volunteered Hue to give the thing a prod. Which he did. Reluctantly.

Snow White awoke with a start. The seven psychedelic dwarfs she had expected to see were nowhere around. Not even their colourful little beds; she was in her own perfectly ordinary one, under cream Egyptian cotton sheets. Boy, would she think twice about eating strange pink forest mushrooms again! Mushrooms? Forest?

It was all a blur. The last thing she could be certain of in reality was taking a gorgeous bite out of a rosy red apple her stepmother had insisted on giving her for tea. She wondered whether she had any more.

(310 words)


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #79 – “Color, chroma, pigment, hue, stain and tinge”

Whenever I read a horizontal list of around about seven related words, I cannot help imaging an alternative story to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I must have eaten a bad apple as a kid.

The Abstract Truth

I had watched a clip featuring the late British art critic, Brian Sewell, in a discussion about abstract paintings. I got the impression he wasn’t overly impressed by abstract art but, after a pause in the conversation, he said something like,

“Well, any painting is an abstract, really.”

I can’t explain what he meant not having had, as he had, an education in the fine arts. While I can have a good guess at identifying an abstract work for what it is, I can’t tell you what makes any other work not an abstract, especially if the clues aren’t obvious.

But I was thinking, after writing a piece of flash fiction, whether, in a similar observation to abstract painting, all writing is fiction.

Or at least a version of it.


image: “Composition VIII” by Wassily Kandinsky

Rift #writephoto

a flash-fiction story.

There were once rivers of rock, oozing, bubbling, living, white hot streams, rumbling rivulets flowing under dense, murderous skies. Then, during the cooling, they’d set, contract and fracture. The fractures would often tear along the site of an anomaly, something in the mixture of stone which ought not to be there, a weakness.

In this rent, the anomaly was an empty scotch bottle, a large, plaid neckerchief, and a child’s shoe: size 3, blue leather, with a buckle strap. This anomaly, it goes without saying, is not the cause of the geological fracture but it might be the reason for its presence. For what use is a thing without a purpose? The bottle held the liquor, the neckerchief held something we have yet to determine, and the shoe held the left foot of a boy, identity unknown.

He placed the items in a row along the rent’s edge. Then he opened a tape measure to about thirty centimetres, locked it and placed it in front of the row before sitting down on the opposite side. He took photos with his mobile phone but, to be safe, he opened his notebook and with a pencil began sketching the items in turn, along with some dimensions and relevant notes. He spent a little more time on the shoe, not because it was difficult but he felt somehow it was the most important. He wondered what had happened to its other; he hoped there was a good explanation; he didn’t want to imagine anything sinister.

Just then, he heard his name called. He was some way off from the rest and Miss James was crouching low and doing something with Tim’s leg. Tim was crying. Tim always found something to wail about on school field trips. Miss James called his name again. Don’t wander too far, or something like that, caught on the wind. He’d just about done anyway. Picking himself up, he closed the book, put the tape in his pocket and then he nudged the objects back into the cleft. He wondered again about the shoe, whether it belonged to Tim, and whether it was why he was crying.

He looked across at the class and saw they were heading back to the bus. Only Miss James stood still, waiting, and looking very stern. Next year, he would drop geography and concentrate on art.

(393 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Rift”