Update: Computer

Further to my previous post, I have managed to get my PC working. But it is definitely temperamental, and feels as if it might just die at any moment.

As a result I have ordered a new one, to be delivered next week.

Meanwhile, I will soldier on with what I can do on this one.

Thanks to everyone who offered help and advice.

Computer Failures

My PC has stopped operating properly. Despite reboots, and all the usual troubleshooting, it is constantly crashing.

As a result, I am posting this from my tablet, to let you know that I have no idea when I will be posting regularly again, and I am currently unable to answer comments, or read your posts.

I cannot tolerate the annoying keypad of this tablet for long, or the slower speed of wi-fi.

I will let you know if and when I get it working.

Best wishes, Pete.

Runs In The Family: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.

The surgeon examined Agatha in the presence of her maid, to maintain decorum. He pronounced his diagnosis of a growth in her womb with a solemn expression. She had guessed as much already, given the unusual swelling of her lower belly, and the cramping pains that often preceded the loss of blood. There was little he could do, as he feared cutting her open would undoubtedly kill the poor lady. He left her a strong potion for the pain, and advised her to take a double dose when she was very uncomfortable.

Agatha had no intention of dulling her senses with the opium compound. Instead, she sent for notebooks, and set about writing down all she knew of the history of the Dakin family. Letters and journals stretching back to the time of Isiah Dakin had been discovered in a box in the attic during the last renovations, and she had kept them safe in her room, locked in a trunk. There was also an old family Bible, with notations of the births, marriages, and deaths that had preceded her arrival at the riverside house. Agatha added two loose pages to that, completing the family tree with what she knew up to that time.

Aileen proved to be a wonderful additon to the household. With Esmerelda as good as useless as lady of the house, the pregnant girl studied carefully under the instruction of Agatha. She took it upon herself to spend time with the cook and her assistants, to speak to Jarvis about his function, and to encourage the housemaids with her friendliness and down to earth manner. Despite her youth and condition, she fast became very popular, even with Oscar. The one stumbling block was her strong Scottish accent, which necessitated her having to constantly repeat herself when speaking. Agatha employed a tutor to travel daily from Colchester, so he could educate the girl in how to make herself better understood, and also give her some encouragement in reading so as to better herself. Her presence was just what Agatha needed to try to fight her terminal illness, and to hope to live long enough to see the Dakin family well settled.

Henry arrived home on leave, startled by the news that there was a new wife in the house, and a child soon to be born. But he was more concerned about the condition of James. The confusion in his mind had not healed, and he spent much of his time walking around the estate, as if in a dream. No less than three doctors had examined him carefully, and all agreed there was nothing to be done. He had been given his own rooms in the new East Wing, and a young man had been employed to stay with him at all times, lest he wander away and get lost. Henry was also appalled at the behaviour of his wife, Esmerelda. He went into her room and much shouting and reprimanding could clearly be heard, even from the floors below.

His scolding seemed to do some good, at least for a while. Esmerelda joined the family for dinner, though her tiny portions were laughable. She also sat with them in the late evening, as they discussed business and family matters. But she insisted on being close to the fire, and constantly complained of feeling cold. When he went back to his regiment, Esmerelda returned to her old ways. But it was not long before she discovered she was with child again.

Henry had obviously done more than just shout at her.

During the first week in May, Aileen delivered a healthy boy child, with the ease of a sheep lambing in a field. At the request of her absent husband, the boy was named Spencer Abraham, and his bright red hair matched that of his young mother. Not long after that, Richard returned from his education, now a strapping young man. He seemed somewhat embarrased to find his mother expecting again, and that may have encouraged him to discuss a career in the military, asking to follow in his father’s footsteps. He didn’t bother to consult his disinterested mother, so spoke about his desires with Oscar and Agatha. She was now confined to her sick-bed. Frail, and close to the end. She advised Oscar to let the boy do as he wished, adding that if it didn’t suit him, he could easily come back and study the family business.

On the day that Richard left for his training as an officer, Agatha died in her sleep that night.

Young Aileen had to step up immediately, becoming the lady of the house despite her age. Esmerelda had confined herself because of her expected baby, and was rarely out of her room. With baby Spencer cared for by a nurse during the day, Aileen took charge, putting into practice everything she had been taught by Agatha.

Though she added a few ideas of her own too.

Runs In The Family: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.

On a bitterly cold afternoon that December, Jarvis the butler heard the large bell ringing at the main door. He slipped on his formal frock coat, and went to open it. In front of him was a short girl, ginger curls bursting out from under her small bonnet, and a face white and frozen with the cold. She managed a cursory curtsey, and put down a cloth bundle as she handed him a letter. He saw it was addressed to Oscar Dakin, so showed the girl how to enter by the trades entrance at the back, telling her to wait in the kitchen.

Oscar read the letter twice, shaking his head. It was from Abraham, and introduced the girl as his wife, Aileen Mackenzie. She was the daughter of a tavern-keeper, and barely sixteen years old, almost half Abraham’s age. She was at least three months with child, his child, and Abraham had done the decent thing, with a hurried wedding in a parish church outside of Edinburgh. He had then sent the girl south by mail coach to London, and from there to Colchester, where he had told her to hire a carter to bring her to Dakin Hall. He pleaded with Oscar to care for her, and to welcome her into the family. She could read and write, he said, and would prove to be a loyal wife, he was sure.

Jarvis was told to bring the girl to the study, where she sat gazing in fear at Oscar’s eye patch, and disfigured face. He explained the domestic situation to her, and told her that Agatha and Esmerelda would have to take charge of her, to educate her in the ways of a lady of consequence. Not knowing what to say or do, and exhausted from her journey, Aileen showed Oscar the cheap wedding band on her finger, and thanked him for his kindness. As she was led away by Mrs Knight, the new housekeeper, Oscar called out that she should be fed, bathed, and given a change of clothing.

Fionn heard the news two days after the event. There had been trouble to the south. The slaves were in revolt, and white men were being killed. Houses and crops had burned, and rumour was that a substantial slave army was roaming the countryside almost unopposed. At the plantation where he worked, inland from Cap Haitien, the owners and managers were getting a militia together to defend their interests, as they themselves prepared to escape the island. All the slaves were now ordered to be shackled or tied together at all times, even when working in the fields. Any white man willing to fight for pay was being employed as extra guards, from the pickpockets of the coastal towns, down to released prisoners and local vagrants. Fionn was now in charge of a team of unsavoury characters, all well-armed, and edgy and nervous too.

Nobody was prepared for the sheer size of the slave army that quickly moved across the north of the island, killing and burning as they went. On Fionn’s plantation, they felt secure behind their well-constructed defences, but with some sixty white men available to fight, and most untested in battle of any kind, the news that almost one hundred thousand were against them left them in no doubt what to do. They chained the slaves together inside their huts, and ran for the coast. Fionn was hoping to get on a ship to anywhere, with enough plunder taken from the plantation house to pay his passage. But with an old winded horse, and the whole area in turmoil, he was forced to hide in some undergrowth, still a good distance from any port.

They found him still sleeping, but their shouts woke him up. He knew better than to try to buy them off, so made a fight of it as best as he could. The first three to appear through the thick leaves were shot down by his musket and pistols. But there was no time to reload, as the next dozen or more charged him. In moments, he was hacked to pieces, by ex-slaves using the very pangas they had once been given to cut the sugar cane.

They left his body where it was, took his weapons and horse, and moved on.

Agatha was bleeding again. As she woke up that morning, she could sense the sticky mess between her legs, and under her nightwear. What had started weeks earlier as an annoying occasional drip, was fast becoming a nightly flood. For days now, it had got so bad that she had instructed the maids to just burn the sheets, as they could no longer get them clean. Standing in front of her dressing mirror, she ran a hand around her gaunt face, feeling the hard jawbone stretching the skin. She could put it off no longer.

A message was sent to the surgeon in Colchester. He should attend at his earliest convenience.

Featured Blogger: Jim Webster

Jim is a blogger and published writer. He is well-known for his writings about the fictional land of Port Naain, and his hero, the poet Tallis Steelyard. On this occasion, his guest post is kind enough to feature my home vllage of Beetley, (as Beetfield) and also reference parts of the area, including the woodland, and the local Thai (Toelar) restaurant, The New Inn. As for who the Hermit might be, I will leave you to imagine. 🙂

Feeding The Hermit Of Beetfield
By Jim Webster

There are many undignified but expedient ways to leave Port Naain and I suspect that I have used most of them at one time or another. It must be admitted that leaving the city as an employee of a ‘Night-soil Factor’ is probably my lowest point. In my defence I must point out that I was young then and had got involved in politics. Thus you might say I deserved what I got.
In Port Naain as in any other city there are factions who contest for power and influence. As always they are dominated by rich and powerful people. Let us be honest here, they are all much of a muchness, largely spending their time reacting to events. Frankly as I have grown older I have come to think that there isn’t really all that much between them. Oh yes occasionally one wants to be a tyrant or another displays obvious incompetence but their colleagues can normally be relied upon to ensure their fall. The problem lies at a much lower level. The supporters of these factions can become vituperative. I suppose membership allows a person with no particular skills or intelligence to strut upon the stage, clasping around his inadequate person the shadow of his or her master to serve as a cloak. The particular political figure they support (in reality somewhat nondescript with no evidence to their credit of honesty or competence) is the savour of the city whilst their opponent (the contents of the previous parenthesis can be moved here as you wish) is a demon incarnate, drinks the blood of virgins, has small children roasted for his delectation, and doubtless snarled at a kitten.
It is a sad state of affairs, the supporters’ enthusiasm for their cause is displayed in inverse proportion to their intelligence and common sense. Thus it is often a far too tempting situation for a young poet. One can knock off a scurrilous ode denigrating one faction’s leader and make good money reciting it to members of the other faction. If you’re clever you can ensure that the ode also admits the substitution of a leader of the other faction, thus doubling the level of remuneration available.
I confess I was tempted. Indeed given I was at the time single, utterly penurious, was eating perhaps three meals in four days, and had few if any patrons, I was more than tempted. I plunged into the ideological maelstrom like a man possessed.
I discovered to my horror I was good at it. I was cheered to the echo, silver poured into my cupped palms. I pandered to the somewhat pathetic whims of both sides and both sides cheered me to the echo. Alas the inevitable happened. Somebody noticed and both sides felt betrayed. Indeed these obdurately opposed factions went so far as to combine their resources to hire bullies to track me down. I was fortunate to be forewarned. Thus I got a head start as I fled the Misanthropes but it was a close run thing until they lost me as I ran down the steps onto the Privy Pier. Here I met Old Jaysen the night-soil collector who had just emptied his cart into the waiting sailing barge. Hastily I swapped my jacket and breeches for the spare pair he kept under the driver’s seat and dropped down onto the barge.
The Factor looked askance in my direction and asked whether I had mistaken his boat for a pleasure cruiser. I said that I was happy to sign on as a labourer for a short trip. This he agreed to and the barge cast off. As I coiled one of the ropes I could see my pursuers spreading out across neighbouring wharves, searching for me.
The trip across the estuary is comparatively slow but I suppose it both gave me time to enjoy the view and get used to the odour. On the south side of the estuary we sailed carefully up one of the small rivers which drain the surrounding countryside. Here I earned my keep as we had to lower the sail and pole our way in. Finally we tied to a field wharf where a local landowner awaited us. He glanced at the cargo and agreed to accept it. Thus we started to unload.
In all candour I have done harder jobs, but few less pleasant. Still as a metaphor for the politics I had been so recently engaged in, I felt it had a certain validity. By dint of hard work, we eventually had the entire cargo stacked on the wharf even as farm workers were loading it into carts to take away. The job done, we threw off our clothes and swam for a while in the river. Then, back on shore and dressed, the Factor asked me if I wished to continue with him as he was heading back to Port Naain. I decided against returning so soon and expressed a desire to spend a little time travelling. After all, I am a poet, I can pay for my supper with my wit alone.
He gestured down the track along which the carts were progressing. “Follow that for three or four miles and you’ll come to Beetfield. It’s not a big place but hospitable enough.” With that he dropped half a day’s wages into my hand (which was more than I’d expected) and bid me good day. The crew prepared to pole their craft back to the estuary and I set off to see what pleasures Beetfield had in store.
I must confess I didn’t know this part of Partann as well as I might do. It’s rather off the beaten track, the main roads bypass it and it retains a charming and bucolic air. If asked to name its principle features, I would be tempted to say, ‘flat.’ Still it is pretty enough. Indeed it is a ‘working’ prettiness. Nobody here had been tempted to contrive in real life a picture they once saw on the lid of a box of biscuits.
Eventually I reached Beetfield. I confess I almost missed it. It is a thin ribbon of houses wandering down a quiet lane which doesn’t really appear to lead anywhere. A lot of the houses are set back from the lane and hide guiltily behind tall hedges. It was as if they were embarrassed by their own tranquil agreeableness. Still I realised I had arrived somewhere of modest consequence when I arrived at the ‘New Inn.’ I confess I always tend to wonder in these circumstances, what happened to the ‘Old Inn?’
I remember one village in Partann where the ‘New Inn’ was on the site of an inn that had been burned down by raiders. It was in its turn replaced by the ‘Even Newer Inn.’ In another village they demolished the previous inn by pushing it into the plague pit to help seal it and when everything had settled they built the New Inn on the foundations of its predecessor. In Port Naain the ‘New Inn’ was rather less exotic. In an attempt to avoid his creditors the landlord changed the signboard and when his creditors arrived, he cowered under the bar as his wife, who had a thick Partannese accent, explained she had just arrived in the city. She explained that she had purchased the inn at a ‘fire sale’ price from the previous owner who left at speed in a cart loaded with such belongs as were not included in the sale.
The New Inn at Beetfield was, compared to these examples, blameless. Admittedly the sign on the door had said, “Genuine Toelar Cooking.” But I wasn’t too worried. Every dining place that wants to tempt the foolhardy will boast that they use Toelar spices. Perhaps one in a hundred have the nerve to actually do so. I introduced myself to the lady who sat behind the bar. I explained that I was a poet who was willing to perform for a meal. She smiled broadly, “Would you care to try our food first before making such offers?”
“Why, how authentic is your cooking?”
“I was born and raised in Toelar and was taught to cook by my mother and grandmother.”
At that moment a ditty came to me.

“In Toelar the spice,
Is nice.
Does that suffice?

The main course I’ll splice,
In a trice
To pour over my rice

On your advice
What price
For a side order of ice?”

“You claim to be a poet?”
“I’m rusty, I’ve written nothing but political doggerel for a month and recent events have shown me that I need to purge it from my system.”
“Some good Toelar cooking will purge anything from a man’s system.” She studied me carefully for a while. “By the look of your face you’ve not had a good day. I’ll tell you what, in half an hour the patrons will all be assembled who’re coming. Tell them the story about how you came to be here, then you’ll get your meal and a glass of ale.”
One of the patrons asked, “What if he feeds the hermit?”
“Them as feeds the hermit get their evening meal. But in his case I’ll throw in breakfast and a night sleeping on the common room floor.”
“Feeds the hermit?” I asked, a little nervously. I’d heard of strange rites and rituals that strangers could be sucked into in even the most ordinary village.
“Don’t worry about it.” She changed the topic, “Look, more customers coming in. They’ll be ready for your story soon.



Believe it or not, Beetfield is so quiet that the rumour that there would be storytelling at the New Inn brought in extra custom without the Landlady having to go so far as to advertise my presence. Still I told them the tale. Not merely of the day but of the month leading up to it. It might be said I embroidered, but in all candour what happened was salutary enough without me striving ostentatiously to outrage verisimilitude. Looking back it was a good tale, well told.
Indeed when I finished one of the patrons stood up, thanked me and said that he hoped the younger ones present would see my tale for the parable that it was. All his contemporaries nodded sagely and all the young ones squirmed and somehow gave the impression that if they ever ventured into those circles, they would not make my mistakes. Still the oldster, at the end of his homily, asked for another glass of beer to be served to me, to be put on his slate. Several others took his example to heart, and I had a cheerful half hour. My full plate was put before me and to be honest it was excellent. The spices were not merely hot, they had within them a subtlety and sweetness that I found enchanting. I sat, eating, chatting and laughing with my new found acquaintances until suddenly there was this strange wail.
“Ah,” said the landlady, “The hermit needs feeding.”
With that she dashed into the kitchen and soon returned, carrying a basket.
“Be careful with this, in the pan is a stew. It’s twice as hot as yours, it’ll make your eyes water. The bottle is beer, and there’s a chunk of decent bread and butter. Give it to him and when he’s eaten it fetch the basket and everything back.”
“Where is the hermit?”
Just follow the path across the road from the Inn. It leads through the wood. You’ll know when you’ve got there by the noise.
I ventured out of the front door and saw the path. Greatly daring I followed it. It went into the wood and then seemed to turn east, leading through the wood, then between some cottages and across a track before plunging into another wood. It was from within that wood that the noise seemed to emanate. There was an eldritch wailing, punctuated occasionally by howls. Cautiously I followed the path, my spirits buoyed by the quantity of good ale I had drunk.
I eventually came out of the wood and there was a pleasant enough stone built hut, its walls rendered, its roof apparently sound. It was surrounded by a garden and looked out over some lower land where I could see ponds in the distance. A man, older than me but barely more than middle aged, sat on a tree stump. He was playing the Partannese bagpipe. Badly. As he played his dog howled along. The dog saw me, barked and the man stopped playing.
“Ah, supper.”
He produced a spoon and a fork from out of his jacket and when I passed him the pan he set to with a zest. Finally he broke a little off the lump of bread and used it to wipe out the pan. “By heck young fella, I were ready for that.”
As he appreciatively drank his beer I tried to weigh him up. “So you’re the hermit.”
He gestured around him. “Behold my humble hermit abode.”
I took in the flourishing vegetable garden. “You’re not doing badly for yourself.”
He pondered my words. “Well, I’ve got my garden, there’s fish and frogs and what-have-you in the ponds, and I even catch the occasional wildfowl with my snares. Then of course I get a good meal every night.”
“So how did you end up a hermit?”
“Marriage, I were left heartbroken by marriage.”
I settled myself comfortably on a neighbouring stump. There was obviously a tale to hear.
“Aye, ah married well. A fine wife.” He gazed nostalgically into the empty pan.
“So what went wrong?”
“Ah married too well. I should have stopped with one wife, two was unwise and three was just downright greedy.”
I hazarded a guess, “And they found out about each other?”
“Did they just! There were no reasoning with them. In the end I am sorry to say I had to lay down the law to make them see sense.”
“Did it work?” I think my incredulity was obvious in my tone.
“No. I left in haste and travelled for some weeks until I ended up here.” He looked round with a satisfied air. “I sat outside the New Inn and somebody asked me who I was. In a moment of inspiration I said, “I’m a hermit, looking for somewhere to settle.”
Well that flummoxed them so they went back into the inn. Looking back this village doesn’t have a lot. It doesn’t have the sort of things villages need to raise themselves above the level of hamlet. But as they talked it over in the bar it must have occurred to them that having a hermit would give them an edge over lesser villages which lacked the amenity. So they came back out and offered me the job. Well we negotiated, I pointed out that hermits aren’t cheap. I cannot sit here all day meditating on the great eternal questions on an empty stomach.”
I looked round into the gathering evening gloom. “It doesn’t strike me that you’re overwhelmed with folk asking you deep and meaningful questions.”
“Wrong time of day for that. Folk know that I’ll be here at noon every day. They ask me the question one day and I’ll meditate on it. Or at least I’ll think it over as I go about my various chores. Then next day at noon, I’ll give them my answer.”
He passed me the pan back. “Anyway you’d better get back, you’ll get lost in the dark.”
As I stood up I asked him. “So anything you’ve learned being a hermit?”
“Yes, life is better if you’re a hermit who cannot play the pipes than if you’re a competent musician who can.”

Jim’s style is unique, and always great fun to read. The adventures of Tallis Steelyard can be found on this blog.
https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

His general blog is very interesting too.
https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/

I can recommend his great value books, available from Amazon.

Here is his author page and short bio.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B009UT450I

Please visit Jim, and let him know he is part of our great community.

Pete Van Winkle

Apologies for the lack of a new serial episode. (Or anything else worth reading)
Despite managing a temporary fix on the keyboard, I have been afflicted with something similar to whatever ails my computer.

Lack of reliable function.
A tendency to stop on a whim.
The general wearing out of parts.

Just like my once-trusty PC, I am a Windows 7 man, in a world ruled by Windows 10. The tiredness and fatigue that started out as a lot of over-long sleeps has degenerated into a zombie-like state where I have no enthusiasm to do anything. Even the slightest regular task, like gving Ollie a nice long walk, now feels like walking on Mars in a spacesuit, and leaves me shattered. For the first time I can remember, I had to take to my bed at 3:30 this afternoon, drained by a 90-minute walk with my dog.

Were it not for my next-door neighbour deciding to cut her lawn with an exceptionally noisy motor-mower, I may well have been sleeping now. It is still daylight, and only 5:40 pm, yet all I can think of is getting dinner eaten soon, then going to bed as early as possible after that.

I am considering checking with Ancestry DNA, to see if I am related to Rip Van Winkle. If so, see you in twenty years.
(If you don’t know that story, here’s a link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rip_Van_Winkle )

I will do my best to keep up with your posts and comments, but if you wonder where I am, it’s a safe bet that I will be in The Land of Nod.

Best wishes to you all.
Pete.

Some more blogging frustrations

Just when it is the most inconvenient time, my keyboard has decided to play silly buggers. That, or my PC is about to expire, now Windows 7 is no longer backed up.

After problems with the errant ‘W’, the ‘M’ has joined in the game. On top of that, the keyboard keeps being failed to be recognised by my PC, despite being ‘reinstalled’, and the PC rebooted.

So I am merrily typing away, only to look up and discover that nothing is appearing in the text box, and the lights have gone out on the keyboard. Then they come on again, and I type a few words before they stop halfway through a sentence. The local PC repair shop has closed for a Virus Shutdown, and I don’t want to invest in a new PC at the moment.

This has happened no less than ten times, just typing this short post.

So that’s why the serial fiction is on hold for now, and my posts will be considerably shorter for some time.

Still, that might be good news for some of you! 🙂 🙂