Exploring, prose, simple poetry, spending time outdoors, on the beach, in woodlands, wherever, even sat in a car, using life's experiences to inspire writing of any kind... combining imagery and words.
The Cliff Edge. A short story. George climbed up on to the tractor, holding onto the steering wheel and the cold blue wheel arch, he offered a short sharp whistle and in one fluid movement Ben was up and stood behind him. Somehow, he always managed to perch on the rear end of the tractor, despite there not being a place designed for sheepdogs, nor the roughness of the open farm track helping him stay on there, but they are a hardy lot these Border Collies, and Ben was no exception. George started the tractor, pumping the choke with his left hand as he did so, the old Fordson Major had seen better days and he was unsure how much longer he could make it last. Other farmers in the area were busy buying up new-fangled ones with cabs and CB radios, ‘humph’ he thought, more money than sense, if he bought a tractor like that, he wouldn’t be able to feed his sheep. Might as well give up. The tractor engine responded and jolted into life, and the two passengers along with it. Ben appeared to become more tense as if he was in his dog mind finding a way to grip on to the metal, George sat back firmly, wriggling into the improvised straw filled hessian cushion, covering the cold metal buttock shaped seat. He was wearing his usual old tatty jacket and thick woollen trousers, tied around his waist by baler band with the bottoms tucked into his socks above his hobnail boots. A top his head was his well-worn flat cap, the colour no longer clear, maybe green, maybe brown, maybe both. His hair grown longer in the winter months, covered his ears and the back of his neck, onto his thread bare shirt collar. Black smoke erupted out of the tractors vertical rusty exhaust pipe to the front of George, as he revved the engine using his fingerless mitted hands on the cold handle under the steering wheel. And off they went. The track they travelled ran between two fields, shifting around on his straw filled cushion, George noticed with a degree of satisfaction that some of the hedge looked tidier than it had this morning. As he turned Ben looked up at him expectantly. ‘Now then lad, no we’re on our way now, no more stops, settle down’. He patted his head roughly with his broad, thickened hands. And turned to face the front. The grey cloudy sky sat heavily on the horizon. He had travelled this track for nigh on sixty five years now, seen different skies and weather, on foot moving his sheep, with oxen and cart, or as now on his Fordson, his only tractor. He still had the cart in the barn, no longer drawn by oxen, but often laden with precious straw or feed kept away from the damp mud floors and to some degree the mice who ran along it, it still had a use. If he could have, he would have used it on the back of this tractor, but he had a trailer from a neighbouring shepherd who had let his farm go, no longer able to make a living, what with the cliff edge eating up his pasture land. A sad day that was. George sighed and somehow Ben could sense his shifting mood. The dog nudged his back with his pointed nose. ‘A’right lad, a’right’. George said. He didn’t turn this time. George pulled his worn pipe out of his jacket pocket, unlit he placed it in his mouth, clenching the pipe between his teeth and drawing on it through pursed lips, without the baccie. As he approached the familiar group of leafless and twisted trees, he had passed on many a day, a cloud of starlings erupted from within the branches, noisily they flew as one black mass up into the grey sky, up high as he passed by, turning in his seat he could see them preparing to return to roost in a black winged, flickering cloud. He wondered if they would perform their dusk dance, he often liked to watch that, if he was there at the right time. ‘A mystery it is lad, how do they know how to move together, I’ll never know’. He wasn’t sure if he had said this out loud or if it was just in his thoughts. They motored on and he began to think of Annie, he tried not to, but sometimes when he was between jobs his mind would wander. ‘My Annie’, he thought. ‘Where are ye now lass’. Not exactly a rhetorical question as he knew where she was. In the local graveyard. One day he would be there with her. In the meantime, he was here just getting on with things, looking after the farm as best as he could as he felt he had to promise her all those years ago. Her eyes held sadness as they looked into his, she wasn’t sure this was right for him, but she knew he would need something to live for. “Just make sure you are alright” she said, “make sure you eat, make sure you wash, don’t cut yourself off, I know what you're like” George blinked and took in a big breath, his chest filling up, 'aye well lass’. ‘I still miss ye, ye know that’. He said this out loud. The tractor rolled on down the bumpy track. George drove around the bad bits as he had done for years in between fixing them. He would need to come down with some rubble. Every year always in the same places. The end of the track was up ahead, he grabbed the accelerator to slow the engine, swerving to make sure he avoided the worst of the potholes and didn’t tip out the load of prickly hedge off cuts. They slowly rolled over the bumps, and he increased his speed again. The farm gate was up ahead. He pulled in to the gateway, with its tatty CLIFF FARM, NO ENTRY, VISITORS BY APPOINTMENT ONLY sign hand painted in red nailed to the gate post, then climbed down on to the ground, his hobnail boots clicking on the uneven cobbles. The farm gateway was closed with an old heavy chain looped around the gatepost and gate, he unravelled it. It clunked and swung into the post and barbwire. He pushed the gate open lifting it onto the grass verge. Turning around he saw Ben starting to wag his tail. His ears going up and down in turn, his eyes warming to the thought of food in front of a fire. ‘Aye lad, you’re ready for home, aren't ye?’ George pulled the tractor through the gate, jumped off again, his sturdy boots loudly clicking on the cobbles once more. He closed the gate, wrapped the heavy chain around the posts and climbed back on to the tractor. Into gear, they slowly chugged on. Ahead he looked to the familiar cliff edge coming ever closer to the farm buildings. He steered away from the edge around the corner, pulling up in front of the old house. George turned off the engine using the pull to stop lever, the engine spluttered to a standstill. ‘Aye it's good to be home isn't it lad’ he said, as if expecting a reply, which he received as Ben jumped off the tractor and stood looking up expectantly. George patted his head again roughly. ‘Come on then lad, we can sort that lot out in the morning can’t we, we’ve enough for tonight inside. Time for somat te eat’. He unlatched the old wooden door, his pipe back in his mouth, Ben trotting closely at his side, wagging his tail again, his head lifted expectantly. George closed the door once they were both inside, the latch rattling and landing on its catch, confirming its closure. His hobnails clicking on the hard concrete floor. The next thing to be heard was the soft noise of his shuffling feet and the expectant skittering of Ben’s paws as he watched his food being prepared, George always fed him first. ©Fiona Caley
Working the land. A memory. It could be March or April, spring anyway, and it's time to go out and prepare and plant for the harvest. Reluctantly I wake, its early morning and the weather looks good. Always last minute, so breakfast is on the run; coffee, toast, and through the back door I step out in to the stillness of the forming morning. “See ya later” I say. Sleepily I cross the paddock, into the silence of the yard. Yawning, I check the oil and water in the tractor, top up and start up; hydraulics are working, everything seems ok. I head for the fields. Birds’ scatter, leaving the hedges as I drive by, a quick flash of morning sun on the sea, glimpsed through the corner of my left eye. Down the lane to ‘Greenlands’, the potholes shake me up. Through the gateway to the empty field and in my mind I mark out the field, engage the hydraulics, fire up the engine and off I go. Over and over, up and down, hedge to hedge, dyke to dyke. The morning moves towards the middle of the day. Seabirds arrive, in their tens, then more. Before long hundreds are following me, their forceful wings circle the cab, crashing cries as they plunge to the ground behind the tractor; sharp black eyes, greedily and accurately the birds compete for food. Studying this through the glass windows of the tractor cab it seems a cruel ending. The worms are found, stretched and tugged form the warm earth, then eaten. My eyes are drawn away from this feeding frenzy towards the horizon, by a gathering cloud of dust. I see four wheels rolling and rocking through the potholes coming my way. Lunch is arriving and a flask of coffee, that’s great. The tractor engine idles; I jump out onto the soil, and wander over to the van; pleased to see another person, its dad this time. I take the lunch that’s handed to me through the window. A quick exchange of words, some heard, some unheard, as the breeze plays with the warming air. Above the noise of the idling engine, I can hear the cries of the birds as they move away, their sharp-eyed attention now on us, no longer on worms from the warm soil. “Everything OK?” dad asks, ‘yes’ I nod, “alright then see you later…” That’s the gist of it. The van leaves, and the birds are now gone. I am on my own in the middle of the field. I cut the engine. The silence rings in my ears. Looking out from my inner world of thoughts my mind stretches out, aided by the aromatic insistent wind, which pulls at my senses, and I feel alive. After some thought I choose to eat outside, and sit, leaning against the tractor wheel, on the straw stubbled earth. As I eat my lunch, the tractor engine pings, creaks, and cracks as it cools, I enjoy my isolation. No breakdowns so far, let’s hope there are none this afternoon. Slightly dozily I go back to work. The engine roars into the silence and I continue on into the afternoon. The seabirds return and remain with me going up and down the field, until about four o’clock and then on mass mysteriously begin to disappear. “Where do they go? I always wonder”. Now I am really on my own, and looking forward to the day ending, no breakdowns but the solitude is no longer fun. Thoughts, strange and repetitive circle in my head, I feel trapped. I would like not to be alone now. But there's no choice I have to keep going. Tea arrives and with it my hope that someone else is coming to take over. Hmmm no such luck, “see you later” is offered, and so I settle in to the remainder of the day. Darkness is with me now; the headlights of the tractor beam into the black; flecks of dust, hedges and fleeting glimpses of birds all seem ghostly. Weariness has set in, it’s late. Fantastic, I can see headlights on the horizon, and the welcome sight of the four wheels rolling and rocking towards me. Relieved? Yes. Is every day the same? More or less, yet cutting the engine, creakily stepping out into the spring evening air and shutting the tractor door behind me, I breathe in the spring evening air and I know that by tomorrow the madness of my thoughts will be forgotten. It’s been a good day and tomorrow if we are lucky, it will be the same. ©Fiona Caley
The things she carried. Often felt overwhelming. The last time she had been overwhelmed by carrying things was when she moved into a new house. A place she can now call home. She carried them, the boxes, the bags, the bags for life, laundry bags, the black bags, with the fragments of her life and her parents’ life inside, placed in different rooms before then being sorted. She looks back at this time with some satisfaction, as most are now stacked in cupboards, the bags for life having been emptied and the contents either packed away or packed off to charity. The boxes still exist, they are varied shapes and sizes, some are old fashioned trunks, with battered corners, rusty hinges, and heavy lids. These have pride of place in the corner of the spare room, simply because they have character, and they somehow hide the chaos of what is inside, at least to her they do. Others are the kind she can see through, those sturdy plastic ones, their reason for being? To be able to identify the contents of course. Invariably though, the lids must come off, handfuls of papers removed to recall what rests at the bottom. When this happens and when a lid is removed, it is usually accompanied by the smell of old books, papers and photographs, the smell surrounding her in the spare room. Some of these boxes are heavy, lifting them requires effort, arms and back braced, hands firmly gripped on to the blue plastic handles, whilst the thought ‘here we go again’ crosses her mind. A single movement, often accompanied by holding her breath, to get the box on to the bed so she can sit there and explore. A sense of trepidation is often present when the contents are handled, and the lid may go back on almost immediately. Emotion sweeping over her, threatening to overwhelm. The box then returned to the cupboard or left on the bed for a couple of days, in the hope that she will return and try again. Then there are those times when she can look at the photographs of her parents, her family, brothers, aunties, and uncles without feeling that emotional turmoil. This is usually when she has woken with the thought ‘ok today I will have a go’ and she will look, but only up to a point. One day she will order them into the different strands of the family and in doing so, she will help create order in her own life and feel less like a hoarder, a keeper of things. As well as sometimes feeling overwhelmed by all this history, she does feel privileged, she knows she holds a century and more of history within the four walls of her home. She is the one with the responsibility of caretaking. And when she is in the right emotional space, she marvels at the photographs, the style of clothing, the dog-eared letters, so well read, and the smiles of the people she loves in their much younger days. She might sit on the bed, one leg tucked under another, carefully studying a photograph, one of her favourite things to do. Her mind occasionally travelling to places far away, trying to imagine what it was to be present in that time and what the person, whose face she was studying, could have been thinking... On occasion when the sun streams through the window, the escaping dust from an opened box will swirl in front of her eyes and she can become distracted, entranced by its movement. And she may then pause and look around, thinking about what needs doing in the room so that friends can stay. She may sigh at this point and say to herself, ‘forget about that, concentrate on one thing at a time.’ And her thoughts would return to the memories in front of her. However, the moment would very likely now be lost. With the dust pulling her back to the present and the list of things to sort in the house. The lid will go back on the box, and she will move only after stretching her cramped leg with an accompanying groan, the box will be returned to the cupboard, and the door to the spare room closed once more. There are other things that she carries, not physical things but the things that weigh on her. Such as how to earn a living, how to survive, how to make the most of her life now. These are often present when she takes herself off to the beach, though they feel less like a burden there, with the wind blowing, the wide horizon in view, and the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. ©Fiona Caley