The church was full today. The whole town had gathered to say a heart-felt goodbye to one of their oldest residents, Jan Prideaux. Eighty four years of age, old Jan had continued working until the day he died. Like his father and grandfather before him, masters of their trade. Now the village would no longer have a blacksmith. As a boy he had cut his teeth shoeing the horses from the farm, the big house and the local hunt stables. All had succumbed to changing times. Motor cars, tractors and the demise of hunting with dogs. No more would the smithy ring to the sound of hammer blows, the hiss of steam from drenched iron or the wheeze of the bellows keeping the raging fire aglow. It was fitting that Jan would be carried through the doors so beautifully decorated with the crafted ironwork of his last commission.
We stood up on the cliff looking down at the scene of destruction below. The gale force wind so strong that we could hardly stand. Waves crashed over the bow of the stricken vessel. We could not keep our torches alight unless we lay upon the ground sheltering them from the driving rain with our curled bodies. The cries from below sounded English but there were also high-pitched screams in a language I couldn’t identify. Daniel beside me had toshout to make himself hard, “I s’pect tis them Frenchies they’ve been tellin about, poor buggers.” I only nodded in agreement. There was nothing we could do till the sea and wind settled. Then we would go down to the beach to see if anyone had got off to the shore. All we could was sit and wait.
At first light the wind had lessened. There was no sound. Fearing the worst we climbed down the fisherman’s path to the shingle beach. The ship had completely broken up overnight. There were rough, broken planks of timber, chests and casks scattered among the rocks. Much more numerous were the bodies. Some lying face down, arms outstretched as if scrabbling at the sand. Some face up, their faces white, fixed in fear, eyes dull and lifeless. The worst sight were a group of both men and women lying like rag dolls close to a cave entrance.
Going over to examine them we were stopped in our tracks at the sight. All were wearing leg-irons and neck-braces chained one to each other. It was obvious, they were slaves being transported to the colonies. The sailors hadn’t even freed them at the time of the wreck in order that they might have a chance of escape.
I believe it was that one act that turned us against our sea-faring brothers. Without a word being spoken the vow never again to help them was taken. Not only that, our loathing at their cowardice was so high that we were encouraged to start the act of wrecking and thus gaining benefit from their distress. Much to my shame I can safely say that was how and why our terrible, callous and cowardly acts of piracy started.
It was only when we arrived in the basin that I read once more the ancient scroll that had been entrusted to my safekeeping. I realised that despite many years of poring over by student and fellow supposed expert alike we had based on our ideas on a mis-translation of the words. By carefully reordering the words finely etched on the copper plates I could see that our expedition was bound to end in failure. A disbelieving Lot had thought they could divert a river back to save his home but the ferocious heat had turned it to salt.
I cant help thinking I should have been a bit more specific when I engaged that signwriter. I asked him to paint one of those old machines they used to have in the children’s playground. I knew it wasn’t called a helter-skelter but just couldn’t think of the name. What did he do, went and looked it up online, that’s what he did and then thought he was being funny. I’ll give him, “Witches Hat,” when I see him.
This day was summer when the sun shone, and biting winter when clouds overtook the sky, a tumultuous mix of seasons in the span of an afternoon. An apt description of Exmoor, an unforgiving place. In one day you can walk through a whole year of weather, warm, wet, cold the whole shebang. It is all part of it’s magic and sometimes mystery.
A young family were staying in Porlock weir, the husband a warehouseman, his wife a part-time classroom assistant. She had returned to work after a two and a half year break after the birth of their first child, Millie. It was Easter half term and they had managed to rent a small cottage.
With Millie tiring of rock-pooling and net-dipping every day they decided to visit Culbone church, reputed to be the smallest church in England. Although a long walk, the path was suitable to take a buggy through the woods along the gently sloping cliff edge.
It was a glorious Spring morning when they set off, Millie well wrapped up but her parents dressed as if for a Summer stroll. A cloudless sky when they set out but while in the church it began to darken. On the way back the rain started to fall. At first just a few large drops but gradually increasing to a downpour. They had just passed what appeared to be a cave entrance. He took Millie by the hand and ran back to the cave while his wife dragged the buggy. A leaflet in the church had stated that charcoal burners used to live in the woods during medieval times, part of a leper colony so they assumed that this had once been a dwelling. In fact it was the entrance to an ancient, disused lead-mine. This was an industry that was not mentioned as it could be bad publicity for the countryside.
The rain was incessant and after a while where it had been seeping from above their heads it became a constant stream. They were amused when without prompting, Millie made a cup of her hands and started to drink the water and splashing it on her face. After about fifteen minutes the rain stopped and once more the sun came out. They hurried back to their holiday cottage as fast as possible ready to change and relax before the journey back to their home the next day.
In the car Millie started to complain of stomach ache and seemed in so much pain that they called into accident and emergency at their local hospital. After many anxious hours they were told how lucky they had been. Millie was suffering from arsenic poisoning from the water that had seeped through the mine roof. She had been very close to death. They would be prepared for any weather without sheltering next time.
The sentinels stand
unseen in our ream, they wait
sharpened lances crossed
At nine o’clock Joshua stirred. Feeling apprehensive about the coming battle he walked out to take one more look at the recalcitrant city. His army, having been camped in their siege positions outside the walls were becoming restless and many were now unsure if they were strong enough to defeat their mighty foe.
He was the only one with true faith and so far they had been unquestioning of his power but he suspected that his officers and men were becoming bored with the inactivity. He stood lonely, leaning upon his staff, gazing silently at the towering walls. The mighty walls of Jericho whose stalwart defenders had so far resisted any efforts to induce them out from the safety of their fortress, secure in the knowledge that the walls had never before been breached.
Lights glowed at every window and he imagined the citizens, although nervous, going about their business unperturbed by the shadowy danger that lurked in the night. They felt sure of their ability to withstand any length of siege and would not risk leaving the city to join in battle with the enemy.
Joshua turned and slowly walked back to his tent. With a half-smile he decided to sacrifice and pray to his one God. He knew that the answer would come to him before daybreak.
Circe raised the cloth covering the sphere, there, though indistinct, he saw the screaming face of his wife.
Following the ox
in a cumbersome progress
over rough pastures,
he wears, but we share, the yoke
as from dawn to dusk we toil
Woefully we watch
worldwide waters warm within,
wandering whales weep