Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Book

The book sat in a glass display cabinet in the middle of the upper floor of an octagonal tower. The eight walls alternated between windows and benches that people could sit on while they absorbed the golden glow the room seemed to have, as the sun always shone through one of the windows. The room had a sense of peace that you only find in truly spiritual spaces. The entrance to the room was via a spiral staircase that came up through the floor under the east facing window.

The book itself was an ancient manuscript which told of the story of the how the local monks had travelled through England, France and Spain under great hardships to return the ashes of Saint Maria Castelano to her home town of Cadiz.

Maria Castelano had been the daughter of one of the Spanish King's closest advisers who had lost his faith in the Catholic Church and along with the rest of his family had converted to Protestantism. Maria had been smuggled out of Spain at the start of the Spanish Inquisition, the rest of her family had not been so lucky. Maria had been sent to the monastery as a place of sanctuary and over the next few years she had tended to a large number of Spanish refugees who had also managed to escape to the religious safety of England. Over the years the stories of Maria's kindness spread and the monastery was soon acting as a hospital for all the local villages.

Unfortunately she contracted tuberculosis and died before she could reach her fortieth birthday. The monks continued to tend for the poor in her memory and on the hundredth anniversary of her death, as requested by Marie on her death bed the monks set off to scatter her ashes on her father's grave in Cadiz.

The book begins its story as forty five monks set out from the monastery and finishes as only five had made it to the cemetery in Cadiz. The journey was arduous and dangerous and many acts of bravery and personal sacrifice were endured by the monks to ensure that their pilgrimage was a success.

The octagonal tower was all that was left of the original monastery and the book had been displayed there since it had been written over three hundred years ago. Each morning one of the few remaining monks of the order would unlock the cabinet and turn the page. As there were seven hundred and thirty pages it took exactly one year to read the book.


'Jamie, where is you final creative writing piece?' bellowed Professor Jones.

'I am working on it sir. I'll have to ready by next Friday.' smiled Jamie.

'Well make sure you do and it better be good. Your borderline on whether you're going to pass this course.'

'Don't worry sir; you're going to love it.'

As Jamie left Professor Jones' class Michelle caught up with him.

'Jamie you need to work on that story. Your parents aren't going to fund you as a struggling author if you fail this course.'

'I'm not going to fail.'

'How can you be so confident? You've been at my place every night. There's no way you've been working on your story.'

'It's all in hand,' smiled Jamie. 'Now lets get to the pub.'

Jamie knew everything was going to okay as last year he had stumbled upon the monastery and the story of the monks and their pilgrimage to Cadiz. He had carefully checked, through leading questions, that the Professor didn't know of the story or the existence of the manuscript. Every morning since the beginning of January 2011 Jamie had gone to the tower and copied down that day's pages. The only problem had been that he had missed May 11th due to a virus which had meant he couldn't get out of bed. This Friday, the deadline for his last creative writing piece, and the difference between passing and failing his course, was May 11th. Jamie knew that the page was turned over by the monk at 6am each day. This gave him enough time to copy the pages and get them to Professor Jones before the noon deadline.

The missing pages told the story of how the monks had been ambushed in North France and had lost the urn containing Maria's ashes. By the time the story continued they were back on the road with the urn. Without those two pages the story made no sense.

On Friday morning Jamie rose bright and early and set off to the tower. As he arrived the monk was just descending the spiral staircase having turned the page. Jamie rushed up to the tower room grabbed his pad and his pen and threw his rucksack into the corner. Leaning on the display he began to write. After a few minutes he stopped and flicked back through his notes.

'No, no, no, no. This can't be happening.'

Leaving everything where it was he chased down the stairs just in time to see the monk enter a building across the atrium. Jamie ran over and started hammering on the door. The monk gently opened the door and smiled at Jamie.

'Quick you must come with me.' yelled Jamie.

'Why senor? Is there a problem?'

'Yes you have turned over too many pages. Today's pages were shown on 12th May last year.'

'Of course senor, 2012 is a leap year so the date to show the pages moves by one day. There is no mistake.' 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Pastoral bequest

I couldn't believe it Uncle Fred had left me a house. I had to read the letter three or four times to check it wasn't some kind of joke. I couldn't even remember which one uncle Fred was. It popped onto and true enough Dad had had a brother called Fred. It was difficult to remember all my Aunts and Uncles. Dad had been one of seven and Mum had been one of only two but her Dad had been one of six and her Mum one of five. It made it all quite difficult to remember who was who. Then you had all the family friends that were always called Aunt such-and-such or Uncle whats-it even though they were no direct relation. Any way Uncle Fred had been dad's older brother and he had died three weeks ago in India whilst watching the cricket. I wasn't sure why he had left the house to me as there were cousins closer to Fred than I. But hey I wasn't complaining. Inside the solicitors letter was an estate agents blurb on the house. It was amazing. An old 19th century toll house for the local landowners estate. It was a huge two story turret with a ground floor of four rooms which included two reception rooms and bathroom and a kitchen. All the rooms were hexagonal and had doors linking onto other rooms in many directions. Situated on the side of what had been the main road into the estate the property only had windows on the road side but had plenty of parking and an acre of land to the back. Looking at the photos the gardens were well looked after and consisted or a few apple trees some cherry trees and what looked like a row of grape vines. This was a fantastic opportunity to finally do something with my life. I had been in a dead end job for the last three years and due to my general apathy recently I knew I was in line for one of the many redundancies. The house was in the middle of nowhere and the first floor turret room sounded like the ideal place to set up a study and to start my writing career.  I could turn one of the ground floor rooms into a bedroom, after all the bathroom was down there anyway. I could just imagine myself being photographed in the turret room for the dust jacket of my first novel. I rang the solicitors and they confirmed it was all for real and that I needed to attend their offices in London to sign some documents and then the property would be mine.

Three weeks later I had received my redundancy pay from work, given notice in my rented flat and taken possession of the keys of my new house. New life here I come.

My flat mate had helped me load up the campervan I had bought a few years ago as part of my dream of becoming a published author. I was going to drive off into the sunset and write my great novel whilst wild camping in the far north of Scotland. Well that had never happened by the camper still came in handy now and then. I was going to have to unload everything at the other end but that was not a problem as I only had a futon that acted as a sofa and a bed, a few book cases, and my laptop. My laptop was all I ever needed, acting as my stereo, my TV and my word processor. The rest of the van was taken up with the usual detritus of modern living, kitchen appliances and a couple of suitcases containing all my clothes. I was hoping to find an able farmer to help me unload but if not there was nothing I couldn't manage by myself.

I left the motorway and started to head cross country to find the house. The further I got into the country side the darker the skies got. I final rounded the last corner and could see the house in front of me as lightening suddenly split the sky and the heavens opened. I barely managed to be able to see out of the windscreen to park the van outside the house. I sat in the van for the next five minutes trying to see out of the windows and get a look at the property that had led me to the start of this new life. It definitely didn't look as idyllic as the pictures I had seen before. Eventually I decided I could sit in the van no longer so I grabbed my bag and routed around until I found the keys.  Hitching the collar of my coat up, I darted from the van and ran the 20 yards to the front door. I struggled with the keys feeling the rain starting to run down the back of my coat and the bottom of my jeans acting as a wick to the puddles around the door. Finally I realised that the door wasn't locked it was just stuck. I gave it a hefty shove with my shoulder and it moved very slightly, the next shove did my shoulder more harm that the door but the third attempt finally gave me access.

I quickly shut the door behind me to try and keep the cold and the rain out but it didn't seem to make any difference to the chill inside the house. I shook off the rain put my bag down and started to look around. I guess I was in the kitchen as there were some work tops and what looked like a space for a cooker as there were gas pipes sticking out of the wall. The walls had that bobbled damp look about them and it looked like the house hadn't been lived in for years. The next room was the bathroom. Well I say bathroom, there was a tub in it which looked like it had just been pulled from the village lake, and there was possibly some frog spawn in the bottom of it. The two other reception rooms were empty, with the same level of damp as the kitchen and the larger of the two had water running down the walls where the guttering seemed to have given into the rain. Finally I ventured upstairs to my writing room. The first thing was to work out how to get upstairs as every other step seemed to be missing. I carefully ascended to my turret room and couldn't believe my eyes as I walked it. Half of the roof was missing and the rain was pouring in. Nestled in the corner was a very angry looking barn owl and what looked like three chicks. As I moved into the room suddenly the owl saw me, ruffled her feathers, gave an ear piercing screech and flew straight at me. Working purely on instinct I rushed for the door and down the stairs. Unfortunately in my panic I forgot the missing steps and my second pace was into thin air. I launched into the air and came to rest in an undignified heap at the bottom of the stairs.

'Hello, hello.' I suddenly heard a voice coming from the hallway.

The voice got nearer and nearer and I shook my head trying to clear the grogginess.

'Oh my goodness, are you okay?' I was still in a heap on the floor as a sturdy looking woman stuck her head round the corner.

'I think so but I've not tried to move yet.'

'Let me try and help you up.'

She helped me to my feet and checked me over before introducing herself.

'Hi there. I'm Penny Jones. My Husband runs the stud next door. Well when I say next door it's about half a mile away. I saw you van outside and I thought I'd come a say hello. Just as well I did.'

'Yes it is. There is an owl nesting upstairs and she went for me. Unfortunately those stairs aren't all there and in the rush I missed my footing. Thanks for coming to my rescue. I'm Jeanette and my Uncle Fred left this house to me.'

Fred Scrimshaw? We haven't seen him round here for five years now.'

'Yes he went overseas and died from legionaries disease. He left me this house and the estate agents details had made me think I could move straight in.'

'So you've had a bit of a shock.'

'You could say that.'

'Well allow me to take you to the pub for some lunch and a chance to meet the local characters.'

We entered the pub and immediately Penny was called across to a group of labourers sat by the real fire. The smell of wood burning and the heat generated really started to make me feel welcome.

'Whos this beauty then Penny.' called the elder of the four men sat around.

'This is Jeanette and she's just moved in to Fred's old place on the main road.'

'Why on earth would you want to move into there.' he looked at me shocked.

'Fred was my uncle and he left the house to me in his will.'

'Oh no poor Fred's passed on. That is a shame.'

'Yes he died whilst abroad. I have seen the way the house used to look and it seems such a shame it has been allowed to get into the state it is.'

'Yes it used to be a beautiful house.' nodded the older member of the group.

'It's just a shame I gave up everything to come down here and I am not sure I have the funds to do its justice.'

'Well then it's lucky that Penny bought to see us all. Let me introduce you to everyone. I am Terry and I do all the plumbing around these parts, Simon is a chippy, John is a bricklayer and Pete is a jack of all trades. I am sure we can help out if it means we can get Fred's house back to the way it once was.'

The feeling of dread I had had as I had wandered round the house had vanished and I was starting to think that everything could work out for the best. At that moment the rain stopped and the sun broke through.

'Let's get you a drink and then if this rain holds off we can all head down to the house and give it the once over.

 I spent the weekend with Terry and his boys and by the end of it, it was obvious I couldn't afford everything that we needed to do but with the Owls in the turret room nothing could be done up there until they had flown. Terry boarded up the stair to the turret room to try and keep the cold out and we set to work on the downstairs. As the work was being done on the cheaper it took at lot longer than expected as the boys only came to me once they had finished their other jobs. Luckily I had the campervan which had been parked up at the side of the house since the first day I arrived. Penny had organised some work for me at the stud and I can honestly say I was really enjoying the work. It was very tiring but the exhaustion meant I didn't struggle to get to sleep each night.

Finally the owls left and the work on the roof could begin. The most I could afford was to have the roof secured and waterproofed and my dreams of my writers room would have to be left for a later date.

I couldn't believe how much we had achieved in the six months since I had moved into the house and to thank everyone for their hard work I organised a barbecue. The garden hadn't really been touched with all the work that the house needed so I clear a small area near to the house and set everything up there. Everyone was there, all the boys who had helped me, Penny and her husband and the other stable maids from the stud. The weather was fantastic for a change and the roses were just starting to bud in the trellis I had set around the front door.

'Excuse me. Can I just say a few words?' I called just as everyone was starting to get their food and drinks. 'I just want to thank you all for making me so welcome and helping me bringing Uncle Fred's house back to its former glory.'

'And we want to thank you for helping to improve the view in our village.' called Terry.

'Cheers' we all called and raised our glasses.

Just as I took a sip of my wine a wasp flew straight at me. With the usual panic that ensues when a woman and a wasp collided, I started to flap my arms about and run in circles. Whilst panicking I caught my foot in a stray root and went flying.

'Jeanette, Jeanette. Are you okay?' called Penny.

'Yes thank you, I called from the bottom of a hole I had fallen into. The hole was about 6 feet deep so I was going to need some help to get out.

As Pete leant down into the hole I couldn't quite reach him.

'Hold on I'll just stand on this box and then I should be able to reach you.' I called

Wait a minute what box.

I couldn't see the box clearly but it felt rusty. As I picked it up it felt heavy.

'Hold on down there. Simon has gone to fetch the ladder.'

As the ladder was lowered down to me I passed the box up to Pete.

Once back on level ground we all crowded round the box and Pete fetched his tools from the van. As he jemmied open the box we all held our breath. Inside were a black velvet bag and some stones. I took the velvet bag and carefully looked inside. Inside were a strange looking legal document and a letter from Uncle Fred.

I opened the letter and read it to the surrounding crowd.

Jeanette I have left you this house because I know you will give it the love it deserves and the people will take you to their hearts and help you. You are the only one of my nieces and nephews that has the vision and the patience to make this happen. I am assuming you will not find this box until you have finished the house as the garden will be the least of your worries. If the house is habitable there will, I am sure, still be improvements to be made and I hear by give you the second half of my will. The document included with this letter is the deeds to my house in Spain. I never liked it but it was your Aunt Susan's favourite and I couldn't bear to part with it after she died. This is yours to do with as you see fit but it is worth about $250,000 so that should give you enough money to finish the toll house.

Everyone looked at me. Wanting to know what I would do. Six months ago I would happily have left this country and gone to live in the Spanish house. But Uncle Fred obviously knew what he was doing. I had grown to love this house and the people who had helped me over the last six months. I looked up and smiled. Penny passed me a glass of champagne.

'Here's to Uncle Fred and the full restoration of the Toll house.'

Everyone smiled and raised their glasses to me.

'Welcome to your new home.' smiled Penny

'Right Terry tomorrow lets start planning the next phase. And this time everyone gets paid what the jobs worth. I couldn't have got this far without you all but we can afford to do the rest now.

Finally my turret room would be a reality and the first story I would sit in there to write would be the story of Uncle Fred and the toll house.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


'Tea?' smiled Mrs Wilson.

'Oh, yes please,' as an SOPC you need to enjoy a cup of tea and a garibaldi biscuit.

'Sorry about the teapot. My best on seems to have gone missing.'

'What can I do for you today?'

"Well the girls are a little bit worried at the moment and they wanted me to find out if you could help us.'

'Okay. And who are the girls?'

'Annie Jones, Ethel Walker and Elsie Summers.'

'And what seems to be the problem?' I got out my notebook and wrote down the names.

'Well we've all mislaid something recently, At first we all thought it was old age but then at one of our tea mornings we all got chatting and found that we have all mislaid the same thing.'

'What was that?'I smiled thinking that whatever had got lost was just some old women getting a bit forgetful.

'Its our teapots. We have all lost our teapots.'

'Are you sure they have not been smashed by accident or put into a different cupboard?'

'I thought that when Annie said hers was missing. It was Wedgewood and she has got all those cats. They are always breaking something. But once Ethel and Elsie lost theirs I thought that maybe there was something in it. Elsie is a little bit of a kleptomaniac so there is no way she lost hers.'

'Elsie is a kleptomaniac?' I raised my eyebrows surprised by this admission. 'Do you mean she took them?'

'No.' Mrs Wilson was shocked I had asked such a question. 'I mean she's always tidying up and everything has its place.'

'Oh, I think you mean she has OCD.' I chuckled.

'I think I know what I mean.' said Mrs Wilson obviously upset that she thought I was laughing at her.'

'I am sorry I just wanted to get all the facts. Please go on.' I took a long sip of my tea and smiled.

'My teapot vanished. It was silver and had a milk jug and a sugar bowl that went with it and they have all gone.'

'When did you realise they had gone?'

'Myself and the girls have tea together every Monday and last week was my turn and the tea service was there then.  Usually it would be four weeks until my turn again by this Monday Annie was ill so I said I'd do it again this week. When I went to the cupboard everything was gone.'

'Who else has been in the house between those two Mondays?' I needed to talk to my sergeant but I want to make sure I could get all the information first.

'Well apart from the girls just Jenny Hopkiss, my home help, and Paul Heather, the odd job man.' Mrs Wilson was starting to look worried.

'Don't worry Mrs Wilson. I am sure we will get this sorted pretty soon.'

I headed back to the station and filled my sergeant in on everything Mrs Wilson had said.

"Right the first thing we need to do is go and talk to the other ladies to check Mrs Wilsons' story and see if they have also been in contact with either Jenny Hopkiss or Paul Heather.

We headed off to see the ladies and both Annie Jones and Ethel Walker confirmed that Paul Heather did odd jobs for them and that they had both lost their teapots. It all seemed strange that they had not lost anything else. These teapots were Wedgewood or silver so worth something but not the usual things a sneak thief would take, especially not when all these ladies had some jewellery.

We just had Mrs Summers left to interview.

'Tea?' asked Mrs Summers.

I was just about to say no when the sergeant jumped in and said that we would love a cup of tea.

Mrs Summers returned a few minutes later with a beautiful silver service.

Thanks for the tea Mrs Summers,' smiled the sergeant. 'Where did you get such a beautiful tea service?'

Mrs Summers looked up and as soon as she saw his face the teacup she was holding slipped from her hand and fell to the floor.  

'Are you going to arrest me?'

'I don't think so. Would you like to tell me what happened.'

'It's just I feel so bad. They all have such beautiful teapots and I have one that I bought from Whitards for £10. They are really sweet but sometimes they just make me feel like a poor relation.'

'I am sure they don't mean to,' smiled the sergeant as he poured Mrs Summers another cup of tea. 'Why don't you tell me all about it and once we had our tea we can see about returning all these teapots.'

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Melissa's blog

Hi everyone my name is Melissa and this is my first ever blog. My therapist says that I should write a blog as it will help me. Johnny Fisher from next door says that normal people don't have a therapist and I told Johnny Fisher that I am not normal. I am a princess. My Daddy said so. Johnny Fisher says I am definitely not normal with my big electric wheelchair and all my gadgets. Johnny Fisher is a nasty little boy so I accidentally ran over his foot with my wheelchair. That showed him.

I have had my princess dress on today because I had to go the hospital for more tests and it makes it easier for people to know I am a princess if I wear my dress. Then I had to go and see my therapist to check I am coping. I am not sure what she means, I can't remember much about life before the accident as I am still only six and it feels like I have always been in this chair.

I am in my Sponge Bob pyjamas now and mummy and daddy think I am asleep. I can't sleep while they are shouting so I thought I would try this blog thing and use my new gadget. Daddy has bought me a special microphone that I can talk into and then the fairies that live in the computer write all my words onto the screen. It's great.   

Mummy is shouting again because she says it is Daddy's fault I am in the chair. I think he was driving me to dance classes when we crashed. Mummy says if Daddy hadn't let me sit in the front I wouldn't have been hurt so bad.

I wish Mummy would stop shouting at Daddy. He always buys me great things to go on my chair and he got me Fiona today. She is the Queen of all the Panda bears in the world and she has a special place on my chair so she can keep me company. Mummy is always cross with Daddy and if she is not shouting she is crying. I shall talk to Fiona about how we can cheer her up. I will see if the fairies in the computer can help me make her a special card.

Oh sounds like Daddy has gone out. Mummy will be up for a cuddle soon so I best tidy up and get back to sleep.

Nice to talk to you all and maybe we can try this blog thing again tomorrow. Don't tell Mummy about the surprise. It can be our secret.

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