In February this year, a member of Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach – Frank Walker – sadly passed away.
Frank loved writing and often drew on his life experience as a farm stockman as his inspiration for his short stories and the memoir he was working on. He was also studying for an Open University degree in English Literature.
His stories were touching and a window into farming life in Dumfries and Galloway – always finding something to laugh at. He was also an ardent supporter of Lockerbie Writers, and held the group’s kitty as well as selling Lockerbie Writers’ two self- published books to anyone who would give him the time of day.
In memory of Frank, Lockerbie Writers have created a collection of flash fiction, inspired by Frank’s love of farming. I think he would have enjoyed reading the stories below … And told a tale or two of his own.
Homeward Bound by Kath J Rennie
It was a day from hell for Masie Parrington. A redundancy notice given. The car breaks down. A two hour wait for recovery has blood pressure rise. Constant phone calls to her partner Mac get no response. She’s unaware he’s packed up, taken most of their possessions, leaving her with all the debt he created. She knows this on approaching an unlit, unwelcoming flat.
A bottle of gin is opened. She drinks like a woman possessed, uncaring of the future.
A tapping on the living room window catches her attention. Her vision is slightly blurred, and yet she’s convinced the Robin is giving her a message – to return home.
A decision is made. A train ticket booked. The long journey to Scotland begins with a slip of a foot on the train’s step. Once seated, floods of tears are muffled with her scarf. She hopes the revellers in opposite seats do not notice … They do.
‘It’s not that cold!’ one shouts over to her, offering then a can of beer which is refused. ‘Snotty bitch!’ he coldly broadcasts for his friends to hear.
One joins in with a barrage of questions. ‘What’s up Doll? Been given the elbow have ye? Want to come and sit on my knee? I’ll soon warm ye up!’
The relief when the drunkards disembark in Ambleside has Masie breath with relief. Her journey continues onward towards Lockerbie station. She stares aimlessly into the countryside’s darkening sky. She worries that the weather is about to change. Blackening clouds show signs of rain, or sleet. She hopes the former, just in case the taxi-rank is closed. It is.
On finding all taxis have finished for the night, she searches her backpack for her mobile. Realises in disbelief, the phone is still heading north. She weighs up her situation. Sleep on a platform bench or begin the five-mile walk home to her parent’s farm, a place once loved until meeting Mac, a travelling salesman.
Her trek to the farm is slow-going. Sleet turns to a heavy snowfall. The country lanes become harder to climb, their steepness is battled against with might, until energy to continue diminishes and she falls to her knees. She prays for help, then when her plea goes unheard, screams out for it. In the distance, a sheep dog pricks its ears. Its master, checking his flock of sheep also hears the cry, but thinks it’s a distressed wounded animal. He calls Alfie back when taking off at pace. A scent is picked up. The dog jumps one dyke after another, until finding the woman who’d cared for him as a pup, yelping then for his master who follows behind.
Masie’s bedroom is aglow and becomes warmer as more logs are settled onto the fire by her father. He listens as his wife consoles his daughter.
‘We never trusted that man! He sweet-talked you to live in London. In time you’ll realise returning home is for the best.’
‘Yes,’ she sobs. ‘It is.’
College Fields Farm, Shropshire by Geoffrey Hugh Lindop
It was Boxing Day, 1961, when my father showed me College Fields, the farm where he was born. The college of medieval monks, after whom it was named, farmed the area selling their produce in Market Drayton about seven miles away. Today their original farmland is split amongst three neighbouring farms with a county boundary separating them.
College Fields, Shropshire, was renowned for cheese making. It was Cheshire cheese made in Shropshire. My father’s generation was born long before the Trades Description Act came into being, but he knew his cheese. One day we went to Market Drayton and he pounced on a particular cheese in the grocer’s shop.
‘See that green fade in that cheese,’ he pointed out to me, ‘that’s a sign of a good matured cheese.’ He bought quite a big slab of it, which we ate for supper − he was right, I have never tasted such a wonderful cheese since.
Two hundred cows fed on the grass at College Fields alongside horses, sheep, pigs and poultry. They left the grass in good condition. My father continued his guided tour and showed me the medieval strip farming, perfectly preserved.
Father pointed out the strips running up and down a south facing hill where they caught the maximum of sunlight/heat. Furthermore, water easily drained from them downhill.
‘Them old ’uns knew a thing or two,’ commented Father.
He showed me the tree in Canridden Wood where he, his brother and sister had carved their initials. Something I thought was restricted to lovers. Yet the three of them were supported by their mutual love at a time of crisis − their father died of pneumonia when my father was only five. My grandma kept the farm in profit with the help of labourers.
My father precociously asked to share the labourers’ food to the point of annoyance.
‘Here lad would you like a sandwich?’
Father gladly accepted until he found that the filling was cow-shit. He never bothered them again.
William Lindop and his wife, Mary Silvester, moved from their farm at Chipnall where they raised their family, to College Fields around 1830. They had seven children. Two of their sons had public houses, one in Woore the other in nearby Knighton. William travelled to the pubs in his pony and trap. I guess all his drinks were ‘on the house.’ At the end of the evening his inebriated body was lifted into the trap. The pony knew the way home.
George, the second youngest of five sons, took over the farm, which was rented from the Oakley Estate. The entire 2,450 acre estate, including College Fields, was sold in September 1919 when my Father was 11.
‘Wouldn’t you think that they could let Mother stay on,’ complained my father, ‘she was a widow looking after three kids.’
It’s A Sheep’s Bleat by Paula Nicolson
Yesterday was sheep shearing day at the farm just along the road from my house.
The ewes and rams in the shed became a choir; a cacophony of cries. But to themselves, they understood completely what they were bleating on about and perhaps it was something along the lines of:
‘Careful Doris, don’t step on my hooves, I’ve only just had them filed!’
‘I’ll try, but it’s a bit of a squeeze in this queue.’
‘Well try losing some of that lambing weight.’
‘Speak for yourself! Anyway, looks like we’re due for a shave today.’
‘About time! I’ve had to drag this coat through the mud all winter and I can barely see through my fringe. I was voted the worst coat in the flock the other day.’
‘I’m going to ask for a complete all-over shave; a makeover. That’ll show Roger for going off with another ewe.’
‘Betsy had a few swirls put in last time, so I’m going to ask for that.’
‘That’ll look bleatin’ lovely!’
‘But do you think the shearers really listen? They just shave their own way most of the time.’
‘I don’t think they understand sheep.’
(This story was previously published in July 2020 on Paula’s blog: It’s a Sheep’s Life … Baa @Blogger)
Sunday with Grandad by Christina Openshaw
I must admit, I’ve never known much about farming. Although when I was young and living in a town, it was on sunny Sundays when I would come across anything resembling farming. This was when Grandad called for us three sisters, after Sunday school and lunch, to take us for a walk. Off we’d go, I’d be about twelve, Lynn nine, and the youngest Jan sitting in her pram along with a bottle of water to drink later.
We always started our journey by going down the lane that led to the railway line. On the way stopping at the veg shop owned by two spinster sisters who still opened on Sundays, hoping, to make extra money. Grandad would buy each of us an apple to eat on our walk. On reaching the bottom of the lane, we turned left into the walkway that ran parallel between the railway on the right and the stream on the left. After a while we reached Stanley Fiddian’s pig farm. As usual, Grandad had brought along some out-of-date bread from his shop. The pigs would let us scratch their heads; they knew why we were there. Stanley’s wasn’t a true pig farm as such, I later discovered. I’ve now seen one that takes over a whole field, with lots of small pens for shelter.
Walking along, we followed the stream which passed the allotments. We waved to the men working them while keeping our eyes open for sticklebacks swimming in the shallows.
‘Should have brought a jam jar Grandad,’ I once said.
‘And who’s going to carry it all the way on our walk?’ he replied. No more said.
Soon we reached the clough, walked to the top and the road that led to the farms up ahead. We’d be walking for about an hour by then. We’d sit on the grass verge, each taking a drink from the bottle of water before we carried on. The farms we passed were mixed: small fields with both cows and sheep getting along together, others growing wheat or some other cereal. Here it was quiet and peaceful: only the odd bird song, or the gentle moo from an approaching nosey cow.
As we made our way to the main road that took us home, we passed a chicken farm.
‘Keep an eye open for any eggs under the hedgerow along here, as the hens sometimes lay away,’ Grandad whispered.
We’d all be bent over bottoms in the air, looking in the long grass. We must have looked funny; weren’t bothered just as long as we found some – we usually did. Grandad carried a paper bag in his pocket, just in case. Eggs were wrapped and hidden near Jan’s feet under the pram cover.
Then it was back along the main road with more and more houses the nearer we got to the town centre and home, looking forward to eggs for tea and feeling sorry to be leaving the farms behind, but there was always a next time.
We miss you Frank,
love from Lockerbie Writers and A Novel Approach.