Friday, 11 September 2020

How the other half live

North Walney

“Will this do for a lunch spot?”  Amanda pointed towards a nice sandy spot in the middle of the dunes.

“Looks good to me!” Chris smiled and slipped off the tatty old backpack, depositing it onto the sand with a gentle thud.

“Eeewww – sweaty back!”

“I can’t help it, it’s a hot day – oooh that feels nice.” Chris’s t-shirt billowed out as a cool breeze caught it. 

Amanda was already busy unpacking the picnic – sandwiches, tea, cake – she lined them up in the sand between them.  “Where are the crisps?”

“Front pocket”

“Got them!”

They sat together eating lunch and taking in the view.  On a clear sunny day like this North Walney had a hint of the Caribbean about it, with light sandy beaches stretching off into the distance and sparkling blue sea surrounding the dunes. 

An aeroplane passed overhead, descending on its way into the local airport.

Chris squinted into the sky, staring intently at the plane.  “A Gulfstream G500 – nice.  Very nice.”

“You are such a plane nerd!” teased Amanda.

“That,” said Chris “is one of the most exclusive private jets in the world.  The whole of the interior is lined with leather and wood, with made to measure seats – it even has marble floors; and all for just £44 million or so, depending on the finish.”

“Forty four million pounds?”  Amanda watched as it flew by.  “ I think I just saw a face at the window – couldn’t see who it was, must be someone famous.  Imagine having all that money.  You’d never have to worry about paying the mortgage again, or fixing the car.”  She pulled at the sleeve of her t-shirt, studying a fresh hole that had appeared there that morning.

“I’m sure they have their own worries.”

“Yeah, but money wouldn’t be one of them!”  The plane disappeared out of sight behind the dunes and down into the airport.  “What would you do if we had that sort of money?”

“It’s almost impossible to say – I can’t really imagine it.  We could get a swimming pool for a start, although I’m not sure where we’d put it.”

Amanda snorted “Where would we put it?  With that sort of money we could get a whole new house!  I’m thinking two pools, one indoor and one out!”

Chris poured another mug of tea from their blue flask, battered and chipped with the scars of previous adventures. “We could get a bigger flask too! Or push the boat out and get two!”

“Sod the flasks – we could fly to India and buy our own tea plantation!  We’d make sure all the workers were well paid and looked after, of course.”

“Of course” Chris smiled.

“And we could buy a massive woodland somewhere and protect it – but still let people come and visit so they could see the birds.  Maybe we could have a cafĂ© with the best cakes in the world – I know, we’ll get Mary Berry in to bake them all!”

“I’m not sure she’d agree…”

“Of course she would, she must be bored now she’s not on Bake Off any more.”

“And just how do you plan to get all of this money?  Got a rich relative you’ve not told me about?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  We could buy a lottery ticket on the way home.  I’m feeling lucky!”  Amanda snuggled up next to Chris who draped a protective arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close.

Chris kissed the top of her head and smiled. “I think we’re both pretty lucky as it is. Do you want the last swig of tea?” and handed Amanda the mug.


The plane taxied to a halt.  Princess Margareta uncrossed her elegant legs and slowly stood up; she smoothed down the creases in her white linen skirt and walked over to the mirror in the private bathroom suite.  Peering at her reflection she twisted her head to see if any grey hairs were showing, then stretched the skin around her eyes to hide the few wrinkles which had begun to grow there.

“You look gorgeous.”

She turned to smile at Sarah, stood in the doorway.

“You always say that.”

 “Short red power jacket or comfy green coat?” Sarah held up the two options for Margareta to choose from.

“Let’s go with the red, I need all the help I can get today.”

Sarah hung the green coat on the back of the door and handed over the red jacket.

Taking the jacket with one hand, Margareta brushed a hair from Sarah’s face with the other, allowing it to rest for a moment on her cheek as their eyes met. 

Sarah reached up and covered Margareta’s hand with her own, pressing it closer to her cheek, before removing it from her face and gently kissing her palm.

Margareta sighed. “I am so tired of this.  Why can’t I just be me?  Why can’t we be together like normal people?”

“Because we just can’t.  It is what it is. Can you imagine the headlines?  I could never do that to you or your family.”

“Times were different when we first met, I could understand it back then, but the world has moved on, surely they would accept us now?”  She squeezed Sarah’s hand, still locked tightly in her own.

“The press would have a field day.  ‘Gay Princess Never Loved Late Husband’ –  that’s just what they’re like.  Archie was a good man, we both know that.”

Margareta sighed. “You’re right; I know you are, it just feels so unfair.  Did you see those two women on the beach as we flew over just now?  Cuddled up close, enjoying a picnic in the sunshine and not a care in the world.”  She let go of Sarah’s hand and slipped on the red jacket, scooping her hair out from under the collar and allowing it to tumble around her shoulders. “What I wouldn’t give to be just like them – we could go anywhere and do anything and no one would give a damn.”

“I know, but we still have so much.”

Margareta sighed and gently kissed Sarah’s cheek.  They stood for a moment, foreheads touching, no words needed. Then, turning, she took a deep breath, pulled back her shoulders and made her way to the plane exit.

She paused at the cabin door, looking backwards to Sarah for one last reassuring glance.  Sarah bobbed out her tongue causing Margareta to giggle, before quickly composing herself.  She then fixed her smile and stepped out of the aircraft and into the bright sunshine to greet the officials awaiting her arrival on the tarmac.

If you enjoy short stories based in Cumbria then check out my book - it has 10 shot stories, all set in the county, with photos and a location guide for each chapter.  CLICK HERE to buy yours (Currently only available via Amazon)

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Alone again, naturally

One thing that is becoming more apparent to me as lockdown restrictions ease, is that I'm a bit of a freak.  I mean, I've always known I was a bit weird, but now I feel as if I am decidedly odd, and definitely at odds with most of the rest of the country.

I adored the solitude of lockdown.  I have loved being at home.  I still do - I am not remotely bored with it.

Days gradually became a whirl of Zoom meetings and delivering online courses, punctuated with lovely leisurely lunches of freshly made sarnies and a proper cup of tea.  Every morning and evening I would wander off into nearby Eggerslack woods, following barely trodden paths to enjoy time completely alone, far away from the rest of the world and the ping of my mobile phone.  I saw deer - honest I did - though the varmints always legged it before I could get my camera out.

Then I broke my leg.  Not the worst thing in the world by a long way, but it meant my solitary walks in the woods were off the agenda - way off.

Week one wasn't so bad as I was completely housebound and we're lucky enough to have enough space to escape each other - although still close enough for Steve to hear my pleas for a cup of tea (most of the time!)

Week two onward was when I really began to feel it - the fact that I couldn't escape anywhere alone.  At a time when restrictions were easing and friends were excitedly heading off on holidays, or meeting up with other friends and family, all I wanted was to do was to go for a walk alone.  Completely alone.  Like I did in the woods.

Although I could get around a bit more, I could only tackle flat tarmac and, even then, only for short distances, as I rebuilt the strength in my leg.  The thing is, just about all nice flat walks with a view are incredibly popular.  We found quieter spots, but I craved solitude at a time when everyone else in the world seemed to be craving other people.

Morecambe - perfect place for a flat walk

I tried not to get cranky, but I may, on occasion, have failed.  I read an article about a child who had been desperately sick but "not complained once" - sadly the same would never be said of me.  If there's one thing my broken leg and lack of mobility has taught me, it's that I am going to be a hell of a handful when I'm old and less mobile.  Seriously, I will be a cantankerous old moo and possibly the scourge of any retirement home I end up in.  Remember Waiting for God?  Diana will seem angelic by comparison.

Desperate to push myself to regain some independence and solitude I persuaded Steve that Hoad Hill in Ulverston would be a great idea.  True, there would be people, but if we went late in the day and took the pretty way down we could enjoy some peace.  It worked - and my leg didn't fare too badly.  (It's week 6 - I was expecting to be throwing somersaults by now.)

Lulled into a dangerous sense of "I'm fine now, honest I am" I suggested Black Combe for Bank Holiday Monday.  I love Black Combe.  I mean *really* love it.  Steve tried suggesting it was, perhaps, a little ambitious.  I fixed him with my "Diana stare".  He relented.  Game on!

I struggled in a couple of places on the way up - a few slightly steeper sections that I simply did not have the strength in my leg to pull myself up - but I am nothing if not sheer bloody minded.  We took a long lunch break half way up in the sunshine and eventually made it to the top around 3pm, where I collapsed in the shelter with a flask of hot tea and a handful of painkillers - but I'd made it - and the best part lay ahead!

Solitude at last!
Pretty much everyone who goes up Black Combe returns down the same path.  Not me.  I head off the northern side, dropping down to Butcher's Breast then following the path along the bottom back to Silecroft. Yes, it was far too far and overly ambitious and yes, I was in a huge amount of pain by the end of it.  BUT we only saw one other person between leaving the summit around 3:15pm and limping back to the car just before 8pm.  Solitude.  Utterly blissful solitude.  

Every single ounce of pain was worth spending time alone on a beautiful hillside, on an utterly perfect day.  I totally understand that, for many folks, the exact opposite is true, and it's fantastic to see friends excited about spending time together again but, for now at least, I will relish the opportunity to get back to my precious, solitudinous, walks.  

Whoop Whoop!

Fell Cottage - every time we pass I dream of living here...

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