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3 April 2020

A Novel Conversation with Jae Malone and Armistice Endor Jenks

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To be a little different from the usual 
'meet the author' 
let's meet 
character...
Armistice Endor Jenks

Woman, Vintage, Female, 1890, Portrait

from

Q: Hello, I’m Helen, host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Jae Malone’s second book of a series, Queen of Diamonds. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  

A: How very hospitable of you. I don’t usually get this kind of welcome and thank you so much for your invitation; I’m delighted to be here. I’d love a cup of chamomile tea if you have some, please. I tend to stick to herbal teas, but I can’t resist a chocolate or two, especially soft centres.
My name is Armistice Endor Jenks and I am proud to be one of a long line of reincarnated witches spanning five centuries. Some of our powers have diminished over time, to a point where I am unable to cast spells or hexes. I do curse people occasionally but nothing much comes of my efforts. I sometimes think it would be nice if my author had allowed me to keep those skills – especially if someone upsets me. But, she didn’t, so now my main talent is healing; I adore working with herbs and creating potions, I also give Tarot readings and I have a very unique ability to communicate with animals, domestic and wild…you know…a little like that Dr Doolittle…but it’s something I find quite humbling at times; thank Brigid, Goddess of the Hearth, for allowing me this privilege. Those are my talents…oh…and I do hope I don’t sound pompous if I say, in all honesty, I believe my skills mean I’m worth being a lead character.

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
A: Jae tells me that these fantasy adventures were originally aimed at older children and young adults, but she now has as many older adult readers. The age range begins at about 7 years for independent readers, or younger if children are being read to. The oldest person we know who has the series, is 93 years of age and my author’s reviews come from people of all ages.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both?)
A: Oh, I’m definitely a goodie…but I’m not a pushover. There are one or two people who have cause to remember that. However, those people aside, I think my friends would agree I’m loyal, helpful…um…yes, kind and…easy to get on with but, then when you think about it, some of my friends themselves might be considered a little…strange? No, not strange…I’d prefer to say…unusual.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: Hmm. Yes. That was very hurtful, although I’m not sure you could call her my arch enemy. Since my husband, Edward, died I have been alone; I had a sister who lived abroad and she died some years before, leaving me with no family. Then I heard that my sister’s grand-daughter, Tanith who, it was reported died in a natural disaster, had survived and wanted to make contact with me. Well, as you can imagine, I was overjoyed. Wouldn’t you be? When she came to stay with me though, things were not quite as I’d hoped. There were a few things that didn’t add up, something wasn’t right, but I ignored those little warning voices. I just convinced myself we simply needed to get to know each other – but I should have taken heed. She turned out to be false, and my genuine great-niece had indeed died shortly after the catastrophe and this, this  Elêna creature had stolen her identity. I’m sure my author wouldn’t like me to tell you how things transpired but needless to say, they didn’t turn out well for either of us.

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: I’m actually a main character in Queen of Diamonds and Fool’s Gold. I enjoyed my role in Queen but, when you read Fool’s Gold, you’ll understand why I wasn’t quite so happy with the way things turn out in that one. I am also briefly mentioned in the fourth book of the series Avaroc Returns and the forthcoming – Jae hasn’t told me the title yet – fifth volume. Although I’m actually dead in these. I am though keeping an eye on my latest regeneration, Morgan Landers, as she is still very young, bless her, and inexperienced, but she’s a sweet young thing.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: Hmm. There are two of them and it’s difficult to choose, so if you will indulge me, please. The first has to be when Elêna drugs me and I think I’m going mad. The second is when I die after being thrown down the stairs. Not pleasant memories at all.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: Oh, I think that has to be when I am preparing for a Tarot reading but cannot find my cards. I know where I put them last, but they’re not there. My cat, Bandit, knows where they are and keeps trying to tell me, but I don’t listen. Then I find he’s right after all. He’s quite smug and has that look on his face that says, ‘See, I told you. You know I’m always right!’
He's intelligent and has a sense of humour, but he’s not always quite as clever as he thinks he is!

Cat, Person, Playing, Pet, Paw, Happy

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?
A: Indeed, she has. Queen of Diamonds is the second in what is now a four-volume series of fantasy adventures set mainly in Somerset, around the Wells, Wookey Hole, Glastonbury area. The series combines the real and fantasy worlds; humans, elves and animals and the reader discovers just what goes on under the Mendip Hills. My author expected that the first in the series, Silver Linings, would be a stand-alone, old-fashioned Christmas story, but she soon discovered that some of my fellow characters insisted she continue their story, and  I’m delighted they did as I would never have existed if she had stopped writing at that point.
Silver Linings was followed by Queen of Diamonds, Fool’s Gold and Avaroc Returns.




Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: Yes. She is working on a prequel to the four Winterne Series volumes, where the back stories are given of incidents and items mentioned in the series. She is also working on a fourth sequel – a spin off – with the two young female cousins as the main characters. My author has not given either of these books a title yet.
In addition, she has begun another series of books for younger children – two of which are available now, Lorna and the Loch Ness Monster and The Raven and the Thief, set at the Tower of London. These are being followed up by three further books that are gentle awareness stories for younger children about our native wildlife and the ecological problems they face.



These books are with the illustrator now – ‘Blue Teaches a Lesson’ about a mother badger, and ‘Mrs Pringles Needs a Nurse. Both books are due out in March or April this year. They will be followed by ‘Tib and Tab Find a Friend’ when otter twins help save a kitten when she becomes caught up in a plastic can holder.
And, when Jae’s not busy with her writing, she puts us to one side for a while…sniff…while she runs her writing workshops for adults, school workshops and a countywide children’s creative writing competition in Nottinghamshire where she lives.

Q: How do you think authors can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?
A: I think that has to be by giving reviews and sharing information about the books if, of course you’ve enjoyed them, via social media. My author’s reviews, by both the media and readers, have been very positive. Getting ‘out there’ and meeting people, e.g. group talks, and activities can also be very rewarding for a writer who loves their work and enjoys talking about it.


Q: If your author was to host a dinner party what guests would she invite and why? Maximum nine guests – real, imaginary, alive or dead.
A :
I know she would like you to be there, Helen.
H: Thank you - invitation accepted)

David Bradley, actor.
David Bradley by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg

Stephen Booth, author
Black Dog (novel).jpg

Eoin Colfer, author
Colfer at BookExpo in 2019

Gerald Durrell, Zoologist and author
Gerald Durrell in Askania Nova, 1985

Jack Keating, her father, now deceased. 
He had a ‘blotting-paper’ brain that soaked up information 
and could discuss almost any subject.
 He would also have enjoyed meeting so many 
authors as he loved reading.
Fog, Mist, Golden, Sunrise, Lake


Her grand-daughter, Erin, 
because she would love to meet 
such wonderful people - especially Jae's Dad,
her great-grandfather.
© Jae Malone

Dame Maggie Smith (retouched) (cropped).jpg


Chris Hemsworth, actor…
just so we can sit and look at him. 
He doesn’t have speak.

images: Wikipedia
and Pixabay

Thank you, Armistice, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? Meanwhile, chatting is thirsty work, would you like a refill of that drink…? I’ll have another Gin and Tonic . . .
Salute! Here’s to writing a best seller!

CONNECT WITH Jae Malone:


EXCERPT from Queen of Diamonds

Armistice Endor Jenks was born on Armistice Day 1918 and was well over ninety years old. She was tall, straight backed, unwrinkled and moved with an agility envied by people half her age. No-one would ever have called her beautiful. She was striking, with a strong handsome face and eyes so dark blue they were almost black, under arching grey eyebrows. She had a long straight nose, a firm jawline and a wide mouth often set in a determined line as she concentrated on herbal cures but could switch to a smile in a heartbeat. Those who didn’t know her thought she was arrogant, but they were entirely wrong. Her few close friends knew her heart was as soft as goose-down and were privileged to have her friendship. 
When she did make one of her rare appearances in the village, people either stared or hurried off in the opposite direction, never quite sure how to react. But Mrs Jenks cared not a jot what anyone thought of her. Indeed, she thoroughly enjoyed her macabre reputation as it kept away the local children, of whom she was not particularly fond. In her opinion, children were noisy, bad mannered, far too boisterous and only became tolerable when they reached her shoulder height, and she was very tall. 
In fact, it was customary to hear a harassed mother use the ultimate deterrent of, ‘Mrs Jenks will get you’ when scolding their disobedient children, just as their mothers had done; no footballs were ever accidentally kicked into Mrs Jenks’ garden.  
Had the villagers known just how close to the truth they were, they would have been astounded and probably even more afraid, because Mrs Jenks was indeed a witch, although she had never cast a spell, jinxed or hexed anyone maliciously in any of her many incarnations, all of which she remembered very well. Particularly vivid were those in which she had been starved and beaten, tortured with pins being jabbed into her skin or tied to a ducking stool and drowned; her memories of both times she was hanged were particularly distinct. 



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2 April 2020

Ten Minute Tales His Cousin's Bride by Catherine Kullmann

Ten Minute Tales
For your entertainment
a different Ten Minute Tale* every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversations)
Enjoy!



His Cousin’s Bride
by 
Catherine Kullmann

“Ten to nine. Twenty, twenty-five minutes to get the business done, a bite of breakfast and you’ll be back at your premises by eleven.” Bartholomew Hines snapped his watch shut. “You’re doing well, they tell me.” He broke off when the minister emerged from the vestry. “I’ll just have a word with Mr Hare.”
Left alone in the pew, Joel MacAllister awaited the arrival of his cousin’s bride. His second cousin, he reminded himself. Apparently the Alderman considered the relationship close enough to request him to act as groomsman at his second wedding. It would have been churlish to refuse, especially as Bartholomew was intent on a private ceremony. Just a year since, he had lost both his first wife and their only child.
Joel idly studied the lists of benefactions inscribed in gold on two dark brown boards and quirked an eyebrow at the gallery’s vice-regal pew where the Lord Lieutenant might shelter between the forceful display of the royal arms and the imposing organ. Strange to think that the rebel Lord Edward Fitzgerald lay in the vaults below. The then rector had waived his right to be buried there in favour of the Duke of Leinster’s son. It showed that even in the worst of times there were men who behaved decently.
The second witness, the clerk’s wife, sat opposite. She was the only other person present.
Bartholomew was marrying the orphaned daughter of a Bristol sea-captain; brought to Dublin three years ago by her uncle, Samuel Gore. She was wealthy, perhaps, but that was not what Joel looked for in a wife. His thoughts drifted to Sarah Lewis, remembered how her warm smile lit up her eyes and softened her lips. A devoted daughter, they said, who had nursed her mother to the end while ensuring that Mrs Lewis Milliners continued to thrive.
She had purchased a pair of scissors the morning he had opened his new shop. ‘This is my first sale,’ he had told her proudly.
She had smiled, counted out the exact sum due and added a silver sixpence. ‘A handsel, Mr MacAllister. May it bring you good fortune.’
And so it had. Between Dublin Castle and the regiments garrisoned in Ireland, a good sword-cutler was always in demand and other cutlery—razors, scissors and the like—was also going well. His fortune would be sealed if he could win Sarah as his wife!
Joel looked towards the door. Still no sign of today’s bride.

Across the city, the young woman in question turned from the window as the carriage disappeared from view. Too late, now, to change her mind. She paced up and down, pausing to peer into the looking-glass. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing? Have you truly considered the consequences?” Her curved lips firmed. She nodded resolutely to her reflection and lowered the embroidered veil, obscuring the pale oval of her face.
The door opened. “You’re ready,” Mr Gore said. “Come, then!”
He neither offered his arm nor waited for her to precede him, but purposefully descended the stairs, confident she wouldn’t balk at this last moment. She climbed docilely into the waiting carriage. Soon they had clattered across Carlisle Bridge and were turning into Dame Street. By rights the wedding should have taken place in the bride’s parish, but the Alderman had insisted on St Werburgh’s. It didn’t matter. She resolutely looked away from her companion, her unseeing gaze fixed on the passing scene.
The air was cool despite the morning sun, and she shivered as they waited. A heavy oak door gave onto a tunnel-like entrance which in turn led to a gloomy vestibule within the thick tower walls. It opened into an ante-chamber. Beyond it, a high arched window flooded the church with light that shimmered down the aisle and spilled through the doors in a glittering stream.
“Wait here,” the clerk instructed. He vanished, to appear moments later at the top of the aisle, hovering behind a minister who stood expectantly at the altar steps beside two gentlemen.

The minister moved forward and the bridegroom beckoned imperiously. Joel touched the ring in his pocket before taking his position on his cousin’s right.
The bride approached slowly over the black and white squares, her head bent and her fingers barely resting on her uncle’s arm. She was expensively dressed in a pelisse of dark green velvet trimmed with fur, her face concealed by the heavy veil which fell from the deep brim of her bonnet.
Was she disfigured? By the smallpox, perhaps? Joel shrugged. It was no concern of his.
The minister commenced the awful prologue to the marriage service.
Mutual society, help and comfort,’ Joel reflected dreamily. Perhaps he should simply ask Sarah if he might escort her to church next Sunday. That would make his intentions clear. But to do that, he must contrive to have a private word with her.
“……For ever hold his peace.” The minister paused perfunctorily before addressing the bridal couple, “I require and charge you both……that if either of you know any impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it.”
“I do so confess. The bride does not consent.”
It was the bride who spoke. A salvo of startled gasps and bitten-off exclamations escaped the few onlookers. Incredulous glances crossed uneasily before focussing on the still, veiled figure. Mr Gore and the bridegroom closed in on her from either side.
The minister cleared his throat. “I beg your pardon, miss?”
She took a folded paper from her reticule. “Miss Matthews has not agreed to the marriage.”
Gore grabbed for the letter but the minister was before him. Furious, Gore lunged and viciously jerked her by the wrist. “I warned you not to make trouble, my girl. It’s all lies!”
“It’s true, I swear it!”
She put up her veil with her free hand and, chin raised, looked defiantly from one man to the other. Her eyes were huge in her chalk-white face.
“Sarah!”
As Joel started forward, his cousin rounded on Gore. “What the devil are you about, man? I’ve never seen this woman before in my life.”
Joel pushed past Bartholomew to clasp Sarah within a steadying arm then stretched across to clamp Gore’s wrist in a steely grip. “Release her!”
“Who the devil are you to interfere?” Gore tried to tug his captive towards him. “Fetch the constable! Most likely she kidnapped my niece and stole her clothes.”
“Release her, I said!” Joel’s fingers tightened in a brutal vise that made the other hasten to obey.
“You’ll pay for this, you brazen hussy!

Joel urged the trembling Sarah into a pew and slid in beside her to block her from further assault. “Sit. You are safe now.”
She leaned against him, cradling her wrist. After a moment she looked up, blushing faintly. “What must you think of me!”
“That you are very brave—and very foolish,” he answered honestly and was rewarded by a startled smile.
The minister refolded the letter. “Miss Matthews says she was confined so closely that only through such a substitution could she escape. I shall have to report this. I must remind you gentlemen that it is a grave offence to coerce a woman into marriage.”
Bartholomew bristled. “I did no such thing. Her uncle there assured me the girl was happy with the match.”
 “If you had taken the trouble to court your intended directly, sir, you would have learned otherwise.”
The Alderman reddened at Sarah’s quiet reproach and pointed sourly at Gore. “He wouldn’t leave us alone together, said she was willing, but shy. Well, I thought, there’s plenty of time to woo her after we’re wed, especially when he insists the marriage take place quickly. There was some seaman from Bristol annoying her, he said and,” he looked embarrassed, “I was lonely after Maria died. She, Miss Matthews, I mean, is a taking little thing.”
While he was speaking, Joel had gently bared Sarah’s wrist. “He bruised you,” he growled, with a dark glance at the offender.
“That’s nothing compared to Miss Matthews’s black eye.”
“What!” Gore snapped. “I never raised a hand to her and if she said so, she’s a liar!”
“No,” Sarah’s voice dripped contempt. “You put her on bread and water and kept her on her knees repenting her sin in opposing you until she fainted and bruised her face. That’s why he had me bring her such a bonnet and veil,” she explained to her appalled listeners, “so that no one would see.”
“The rotten scoundrel!” the clerk’s wife cried.
 “I refuse to stand here and be insulted.”
“Just a minute, my fine buck!” The Alderman hurried after Gore as he headed down the aisle.
“I apologise for the disruption, sir” Sarah said to the minister as a dull thud signalled the closing of the outer door, “but we could think of no other way to manage it.”
“It truly was a unique experience,” he replied with a boyish grin. “I admire your courage, Miss Lewis. Miss Matthews writes that she is safe and well.”
“She is, and out of harm’s way by now.” She sighed. “I suppose it will cause a great stir.”
“Maybe not,” Joel said. “I doubt Gore will wish it bruited about and I’ll have a word with my cousin.”
“Poor man, I was sorry for him,” Sarah looked at the minister. “Do you require anything more of me, sir?”
“No. Thank you, Miss Lewis.
 “Come,” Joel said to Sarah, “I’ll take you home.”
To his relief, she didn’t challenge this brusque assumption of authority but simply replied, “Thank you, Mr MacAllister” and followed him out of the pew.

Once in the vestibule, she turned her back to him and, with a murmured, “pray excuse me,” removed her bonnet revealing a heavy coronet of rich auburn hair. It must come to her hips, he thought, shifting uneasily at a vision of it flowing over creamy shoulders and a white shift. When she looked down to unpin the veil, his fingers itched to touch the little tendrils curling at her delicate nape. Better think of something else, he ordered his unruly mind, you’re still in a church and wearing clinging trousers at that. His working garb of leather breeches and jerkin would be more concealing.
Sarah opened the top button of her pelisse and spread the collar wide, then ran her finger around the inside so that a delectable little lace frill sprang into view. She donned the bonnet again, tilting it to what was evidently just the right angle before tying the ribbons in a coquettish bow. Seemingly oblivious to his presence, she removed a small folding mirror from her reticule and examined her appearance, then touched a finger to her lips and smoothed it over each eyebrow. Apparently satisfied, she tucked the mirror, pins and veil away before turning towards the door.
“You look charming,” he said, entranced by this glimpse of the private Sarah.
She jumped when his deep voice broke the silence and blushed scarlet. “Oh! Mr MacAllister! I had quite forgotten— pray excuse me.”
He shook his head, smiling. “That bonnet is much more becoming now than when it was set four-square on your head and pulled down over your forehead like a coal-scuttle.”
She laughed. “Tricks of the trade, sir. I can’t afford to appear as a dowdy any more that you would willingly sport a dull or clumsy blade.”
“Very true,” he agreed.

“I suppose I should be grateful to Gore,” he began as they strolled down Castle Street. “I’ve been at my wit’s end wondering how to arrange a private conversation with you.”
She raised her eyebrows. “For what reason?”
“I’m told you permit your girls to have followers provided they present themselves for your approval first.”
She hesitated briefly but then walked on. “That is correct. They are orphans, you see, and live with me. I won’t tolerate their being pestered by men who consider any shop girl fair game, especially if she has no family to protect her.” Her hand went to her mouth. “Not that I mean to imply, Mr MacAllister—that is, of course an upright man like yourself must always be acceptable.”
“Thank you,” he said gravely. “Tell me, Miss Lewis, to whom does a man apply if he wishes to court you?”
Her jaw dropped. “Please don’t mock me, Mr MacAllister,” she said with quiet dignity and looked away.
“Sarah! You wrong me! I meant it most sincerely,” he protested urgently. They had reached Essex Bridge. He stopped and gently turned her so they stood looking down the Liffey, their backs to passers-by.
“What is a man to do? You don’t appear to have any relatives and you might as well live in a papist nunnery, surrounded as you are by all your girls—they even swarm around you at church. How the deuce am I to get to know you better?”
“Do—do you really want to? Pray consider—I’ll be thirty next birthday.”
“So old?” he teased her. “So will I.”
“It’s different for men,” she said flatly.
“Who says so? They? Sarah, a woman who in the cause of what she considers right is willing to appear disguised as a bride and reject another woman’s bridegroom at the altar should be able to rise above what they say!”
“Most men want a biddable girl. I’m not that.”
He grinned. “You made that very clear this morning. Just listen to me, Sarah. Please?”
After a moment, she nodded.
What should he say? This was worse than awaiting the trial of his proof piece by the Guild. He could only speak from his heart. He laid his hand over hers where it rested on the parapet.
“You’re beautiful, kind, generous, a good mistress, a good neighbour and a highly respected tradeswoman. What man would not want such a helpmeet, provided she could find in her heart a fondness for him to match his for her?”
When she didn’t respond, he was sure he had spoiled his chances. Then she brushed her eyes with a gloved finger.
“Mr MacAllister.”
Her voice, softer, more hesitant than usual, gave him hope and, his heart in his mouth, he corrected her. “Joel.”
“Joel,” she repeated quietly. “I own I feel the lack of a loving companion in my life.”
He tilted her chin lightly so he could see her eyes. “Sarah, could you bring yourself to walk up the aisle again, properly this time?”
Her smile arched through her tears like a rainbow across a stormy sky.
“I think so, Joel, just not at St. Werburgh’s.”

© Catherine Kullmann 2020

You can find out more about Catherine’s books and read her blog (My Scrap Album) at www.catherinekullmann.com

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1 April 2020

Ten Minute Tales THE RETURN TO LOCH SHIEL by Richard Tearle

Ten Minute Tales
For your entertainment
a different Ten Minute Tale* every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversations)
Enjoy!

THE RETURN TO LOCH SHIEL
by Richard Tearle
 
Loch Shiel and the Monument
 © https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Flaxton


Summer 1966
After a week camping in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the three London boys decided to move on and take the train from Fort William to the end of the line at Mallaig in the Western Highlands of Scotland.
   The train moved unhurriedly along the line, lurching around some of the tighter curves. Whether by luck or due to the Scottish sense of hospitality they would never know, but they found themselves in prime seats: the last carriage had once been used on a crack express train service between London and Edinburgh. The rear of the coach sloped outwards and sported two large windows. The three friends had been allocated three of the four seats that faced outwards thus, combined with the normal windows either side, gave a panoramic view of the countryside.
   They had watched Ben Nevis disappear into the distance.  Ray Turner, sixteen years old, was enthralled. Never had he seen such a beautiful land.
He felt a tap on is shoulder. He turned and was confronted by a smiling woman. 'If ye look to your right, ye'll see Loch Shiel and the Monument.'
   Ray shifted his position. The train was crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, though he did not know the name of it then. From a high vantage point, he looked down. The loch, clear and blue, sparkling in the sunshine, reflecting the few clouds in the sky stretched out in the distance, tapering into a 'V' shape,  hills on each shore like protecting soldiers. It was magnificent and took his breath away.
   'See the Monument?' the woman asked, pointing to a spot on the near shore.
   He saw a round tower, crenelated, with what looked like a small figure standing inside them.
   'It's where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard,' the woman explained with more than a touch of pride in her voice. '1745. The Jacobite rebellion. Och, here's ma stop. Nice to have met you, young man. Enjoy your stay in our wonderful country.' And she was gone.
   Ray turned back to the view. The train was slowing but even so the sight was gone all too quickly. The Guard called out 'Glenfinnan! Glenfinnan Station!'
One day I will return, Ray vowed.

FIFTY YEARS LATER
'You ready, Dad?' Denise called from downstairs.
   'Just coming' Ray shouted back. For the third time – at least – he checked his rucksack. All was there as it should be. The camera had not sneaked out of the bag!
   Outside, Denise's partner, Andy, was already waiting in the car, engine running, picnic bag nestling on the back seat. Ray opened the back door.
   'In the front, Ray,' Andy called over his shoulder. Despite a half-hearted protest, Ray climbed in.
   'How long will it take?' he asked as he buckled his seat belt.
   'From Lennoxtown to Glenfinnan? Two, maybe three hours. We'll go to the bottom of Loch Lomond, follow the western shore and then on into the Highlands. You'll love this!'
   He would. Spending time with his daughter and Andy had proved the best holiday of his life so far. They had taken him to Stirling Castle, The Wallace Monument and the Kelpies so far. The camera had been busy and Ray had ensure that he had charged it fully the night before.
    'Look,' said Ray, 'I really appreciate this. It's a long way and …'
  'Away with you,' Andy laughed. 'It's my pleasure to show off my homeland to you.  Tell you what, we'll stop off at Glenfinnan station first: maybe there'll be a train coming. It's a steam line now, y'know.'
Ray did. One of the most picturesque heritage lines in the world. Ray settled back in his seat.
   They made a couple of stops on the way; at Tarbet towards the north of Loch Lomond where pipers were on hand to play tourists onto the loch's cruise ship and then at Fort William for petrol and a comfort break. Ray was amazed at the knowledge Andy displayed about his country. Ray could sense the delight in the Scotsman's tone.
   The road from Fort William followed the railway line most of the way to Glenfinnan. Andy parked the car in the station car park and they made their way onto the platform. There they found a small museum and a tentative enquiry elicited the fact that there were, in fact, two trains due in about the following half hour. Denise suggested a coffee in the converted coach.
   Time passed quickly and soon they were out in the sunshine again, waiting for the first train which could be heard approaching, the beat of the cylinders clearly audible in the still air.
   Camera ready, Ray snapped two or three shots as the Stanier Black 5 seemingly strolled into the platform, eased to a steady and controlled halt and blew excess steam from the cylinders. It was a thrilling sight, one seen only rarely since his childhood. On that trip fifty years ago, steam had been replaced, the line's regular locomotives condemned to the scrap lines and the cutter's torch. A few more snaps and Ray expected the train to move off. But he was mistaken. The tracks merged into a single line beyond Glenfinnan station and this train could not move until the southbound train had arrived. Ray realised only too late that he was on the wrong platform; the approaching train would be obscured and the footbridge was now at the other end of the platform.
   The arriving train gave a whistle. A Thompson B1 running tender first. Such was Ray's position and the curvature of the track that he could not get a decent picture. Never mind: when the train stopped, he would have plenty of time to cross the lines via the footbridge and get some nice photos.
    Except the train did not stop.
  Albeit at a very slow speed, it passed straight through and the opportunity was missed.
   As the first train departed, Andy suggested that they walk to the loch less than a quarter of a mile down the hill whilst he took the car down to the visitor centre car park.
   'So many memories,' Ray murmured to Denise as they strolled down the hill.
   'Are you enjoying yourself, Dad?'
   Ray smiled. 'You have no idea how much!'
   She hooked her arm in his. 'I'm glad. That's what you're here for.'
   Ray smiled at his daughter. 'I don't want to go home – you know that?'
   Denise laughed. 'I can understand that.'
   The trees to their right disappeared and the loch suddenly appeared.
   'They filmed some of Highlander here, you know.'
   Ray nodded absently. He did know, but he was captivated by the sight of the shimmering waters and the dancing sunlight.
   Andy gave them a toot and a wave as he drove past. The visitor centre was on their left and they watched as Andy turned in.
   'You go on,' Denise said. 'I'll meet Andy and we'll follow you down.'
   Ray turned to his right, square on to the loch's edge some fifty yards away. 'Loch Shiel, you are beautiful,' he said out loud but directed at no one. 'I promised I'd be back and here I am.'
   At ground level, it seemed even more striking than the last time he had seen it from high up on the famous viaduct, sliding by as the train had shown but a teasing glimpse of it.
   And there was the monument. The very same monument that he viewed only so briefly fifty years before. The place where Bonnie Prince Charlie had landed and launched his ill-fated rebellion. There it stood.
Surrounded by scaffolding and swathed in a canvas covering.

© Richard Tearle



(Photo by the author)

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