Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Ghost of Squeeze Guts Alley

In the City of Truro, where I live there is a small alley way connecting Duke Street to St Mary’s Street. It’s called Squeeze Guts Alley for reasons that will become obvious.

As you may have seen, if we are friends on Facebook, I have recently posted some pictures showing me in Squeeze Guts Alley.

The whole thing started when a friend said he thought I would have difficulty, because of my size, getting through the Alley.

I was having a wander around town with some other friends one Sunday morning, and thought it would be good to have pictorial proof that I could easily get through. So my friend Andy took this picture:

Then another friend challenged me to see if I could get through sideways. To prove I could Andy took this picture on the following Sunday:

As we were preparing to take the picture another man came through the alley. He told us it was called Squeeze Guts Alley because you have to squeeze in your guts when someone else wants to get past. He also told us that he had heard that the Alley was haunted, but he didn't know any details. That set me off on a mission to find out about the haunting. I'll come to that in a moment.

Before I get to that here are a couple of pictures, taken by my friend Julie, which show Andy and me squeezing our guts to get through the Alley:

Now for the haunting:

I looked through various books and on the Internet to see if there was any information about the alley being haunted, but drew a blank. So I went off to local history sections of the Library and Museum. I was kindly given permission to look through some very old documents. There were many boxes to look through; I must have spent nearly a week going through all the stuff. Eventually, I came across a very old and delicate booklet entitled ’The Ghosts of Truro’. But it didn't say who had written it or who was its publisher.

To my amazement this little rhyme appeared on the first page:

Fiery Steve

If, on a fine Midwinter’s Eve,
Through Squeezeguts Alley you should stray,
Please beware of fiery Steve
Who haunts the ope upon that day.

A passage followed describing the sad story of Stephen H. Treffry who died on Friday 20th December 1787:

Squeezeguts Alley is believed to be haunted by the ghost of Stephen H. Treffry. He was aged 27 at the time of his death on Friday 20th December 1787. At an inquest held at a local hostelry it was found that he died from burns and the impact of a fall from the first floor window of his home in Duke Street Passage (now called Squeezeguts Alley).

It appears that Stephen was in the habit of throwing hot coals, from the fire in his sleeping quarters above his workshop in Duke Street Passage, onto to noisy persons who passed through the Passage late at night. The Parish Constable, Constable John Bolitho, reported that Mr. Treffry had spent time in the Town Prison for previous occurrences. It seems that, on this occasion, he had not realised that live coals had fallen from his coal shovel on to the floor of his quarters, flames took hold whilst he was remonstrating with persons in the alley on whom he had tried, unsuccessfully, to pour live coals. It appears that when he realised his home was on fire he attempted to dowse the flames, but the flames caught his nightshirt, in great fear he ran to window and fell through and plunged to his death. The persons in the alley, a Mr. George Richards and a Mr. Peter Richards, who were brothers, did manage to put out the flames but were unable to save Mr. Treffry. Constable Bolitho also stated the Duke Street Passage and other opes were used by men rushing to find work at the Quay when a boat docked and the bell was sounded. Those who found work would return at the end of the day, often having a local inn on their way home, and could therefore create a lot of noise, To the annoyance of many local residents.

Mr. Treffry was well known and liked, by many local residents who had known him since his childhood when his parents had a business selling vegetables in Middle Row. He himself had been in business as a Carpenter and Gilder in the premises in Duke Street Passage for several years. Many of his customers spoke well of him and the quality of his work. It was stated that he would greatly missed.

Although other stories related in the booklet were found in various documents.
There is no trace of this story or the rhyme anywhere. Maybe it was considered fictitious and not worthy of publication.

I hope you enjoyed reading it.

And don’t forget to look up when you’re passing through Squeeze Guts Alley.

(Ope is used in Cornwall for small alleyway or passage).

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Was he wearing his titfer...

It’s amazing how time goes so quickly. When I looked at my blog the other day I realised it has been nine months since I published a post.

So, I thought it was about time I wrote something. I was prompted to do this because I have just spent an hour at Waterstones in Truro listening to Liz Fenwick (author of The Cornish House and The Cornish Affair) talk about the process of getting books published and the impact of social media. I enjoyed the talk and it inspired me to come home and do this.

So I’m going to tell you about something that happened today:

I remember watching the film The Hours. In which Virginia Woolf explains that she cannot write anything until she gets the first line to a book, and it is that first line that inspires her. I think quite a few writers work that way (I forgot to ask Liz Fenwick about that). 

Anyway, I woke up this morning (always a good thing), sat on the edge of my bed, and while I was sitting there these words came into my head:

‘Was he wearing his titfer when you last saw him Mrs Clack?’

I’m not sure where these words came from. But, I did hear them in the voice of Inspector Fred Thursday, in the latest episode of ‘Endeavour’, which I was watching just before I went to bed.

I mulled these words over, thinking maybe this is the start of something big, my first best seller maybe!

I continued to cogitate on these words when I was sitting contemplating; in the place where I often sit contemplating. A second line came to me and I realised it was developing into some kind of crazy poem:

Did you see his titfer,
When you saw him Mrs Clack
I don’t think so sergeant,
Unless it was behind his back.

At that point I decided I was going mad, so I had a shower and tried to forget it.

Obviously, I couldn’t forget it or it wouldn’t be written here. I’m not going to do any more with it though.

Titfer is slang for a hat. Tit for Tat = Hat

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Pete's Desert Island Discs

I recently listened to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4:

Desert Island Discs is a biographical and factual radio programme, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was first broadcast on 29 January 1942 and celebrated its 70th anniversary in early 2012.
Each week a distinguished guest ("castaway") is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item that they would take if they were to be castaway on a desert island, whilst discussing their lives and the reasons for their choices. It was devised and originally presented by Roy Plomley. Since 2006, the show has been presented by Kirsty Young. (info from Wikipedia).

Russell Brand was the ‘castaway’ on the programme I listened to. It was very interesting. Russell was probably more honest and open about himself than I have heard him before. Listening to him made me think how challenging it must be to rummage inside yourself and come up with a list of songs that mean most, and that you treasure and would not want to lose.

So, I decided it would be a good idea to do a bit of rummaging myself and compile my own list, and evaluate the reason for my choices.

It would be quite easy for me to choose a list of my eight favourite songs, but it's not that simple. If you are going to take eight discs with you, and that's all you will have, you need to choose songs which have meaning for you, and that invoke memories, which stir, comfort, and inspire you. The list becomes a very personal thing, only important to the person who compiles it, with no real value to others, who may scratch their heads and wonder why some tunes have been included.

I've put Youtube videos for all the songs below, but I realise that they are probably not available on most mobile devices (iPads, iPhones etc), So I have now added a link for each of the songs. If you click on the link it should take you to the video on Youtube.

Those who know me well will know that I am quite an emotional person. Most of the songs I’ve chosen are quite emotional and stir my emotions.

So here goes: The first song I have chosen is the aria La Mamma Morta sung by Maria Callas. I first heard it the film Philadelphia. This film, and this song particularly, touched me deeply and helped me sort out some of my ingrained prejudices. So every time I hear it now it stirs something within me.


Secondly, I’ve chosen Sæglópur by Sigur Rós. This song represents a boy of work which I have come to love. I play Sigur Rós music regularly, especially when I’m driving. Again their music is very emotional. Consistent with my obsessive personality I have collected almost everything they have ever recorded.

I became interested in Sigur Rós several years ago when Davina and I went to Camden Town and bought the album Takk, which Davina found reduced in a shop and, thought it would appeal to me. She was right (she knows me very well). They mostly sing in Icelandic so I can’t understand what the songs are about but the beauty of the music and language never fail to touch me.

We were very fortunate to see them live last month, at the Eden Project, here in Cornwall. I never imagined we would see them perform live, but the dream came true and it was an incredible evening.

My next choice is Cold, haily, rainy night by The Imagined Village. We saw this band live at the St Ives Festival in 2010. They art a multicultural group of musicians who take traditional English folk tunes and give them a new twist. This song will always remind me of the time when we first moved to Cornwall, something we dreamt of, but never thought would happen.

Dance the Night Away by The Mavericks became special to Davina and I when we first got together, and it has been special ever since. Whenever we hear it, it makes us smile and want to dance (although, you wouldn’t want to see me dance).

On the Street Where You Live sung by Mario Lanza will always remind me of my brother John, who died in a car accident in 1970. In our mid teens John and I both thought we had brilliant voices and used to try singing this song in our bedroom, in competition with each other. His voice was much better than mine, but I would never have admitted that then. The strange thing is that I always thought it came from West Side Story, maybe because we also used to sing ‘Maria’ together, but I have just discovered it comes from the My Fair Lady!!!

There was a time in my life, as some of my friends will remember, when I mostly listened to music by Willie Nelson. I became obsessed with him and talked about him a lot. So I’ve chosen  ‘I'd have to be Crazy’, which I still think is brilliant, to remind me of those days.

Caruso by Julio Iglesias is another song where I cannot understand the words, but the raw emotion in Julio’s voice never fails to make the hairs on my arms stand up!

Finally I have picked We Are Young by Fun just because I love it and because it is fun, it makes me want to sing and always puts a smile on my face.

So those are my eight ‘Desert Island Discs’. You may ask, “Where are the songs that remind of your children and other family members?” Well, the memories of my family are so real, vivid, lively, and lovely, that I will never need reminders of them.

Now I have to choose a book and a luxury item.

I am spoilt for choice with books. I narrowed it down to three:

An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, which probably touched me and changed me like no other book has.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, which helped me so much when I was having to make big decisions about the direction of my life.

But, I have chosen The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster. A book, which is so well crafted that, I could read it time and time again and never get bored with it. It’s my favourite book and the one I took with me to get signed when I met Paul Auster at The Cheltenham Literary Festival last year.

Now I have to choose a luxury item. I would take my Gillette Fusion ProGlide Styler. It’s an amazing razor. It easily trims my ugly eyebrows and helps me get rid of the awkward little hairs that grow in funny places when you get to me age. I'm not sure what I'd do when the battery ran out!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Tide (a short story)

I mentioned in an earlier post I have joined a creative writing group the meets at Waterstones. As a result of that I have attempted to do a bit of writing, although it's taken a bit of a back seat recently because I have been concentrating on wood carving. In April there was a chance to enter a short story to the Fowey Festival (DuMaurier Festival). So I thought I would have a go. The had to be called Tide, and no longer than 1500 words. I wrote a story and sent it in and didn't even get a mention in the final results, which may not surprise you when you read it. I struggle to stay within the word limit, and I was unhappy with the ending. But, I have put it here for you to read:

I'm scared.
I was scared when I joined the Lodge; as I stood blindfold, not knowing what was going to happen; when I repeated the penalty for sharing the secrets.
I was scared when the Master called me in to the anteroom, and asked me to bring my regalia case with me.
I was scared, as I sat on a rock and waited for the tide to come in.
When I went into that ornately decorated room with its beautiful furniture, and comfortable leather chairs, the junior and senior wardens were already there with the master.
“Come in John, take a seat. We've asked you to meet with us because, as Junior Deacon, we have an important task for you to perform.”
There was only one seat that I could take; they had obviously arranged it so that I was facing the master with the senior warden on my left and the junior warden on my right. The chairs were arranged around a beautiful walnut table. The chair was very comfortable, but I felt very uneasy.
The master continued. “You may be aware that in these days some brothers are not as protective of our secrets as they once were.”
“I’ve heard it said, yes.”
“Good. Well we, that is the Past Masters and myself, decided it was time to do something about it. We believe we should invoke some of the original penalties for divulging our secrets. So, we made it a priority to ensure that people with the skills required were placed in senior positions within the lodge. As you are probably aware Robert, the junior warden here, is an undertaker, and Charles, the senior warden is a very accomplished butcher. I myself was, in an earlier time, in the Special Air Services. You were chosen because as a surveyor you have skills in measuring etc. So the team is complete, and ready for action.”
Ready for what I wondered.
“The senior deacon is also a surveyor, with many more years experience than I have.”
“That is true, but his skills may be needed for more senior brethren.”
His eyes were fixed on mine as he spoke. I knew he was referring to me if I decided not to comply.
“We believe you are the right man for this particular task.”
He continued.
“You will remember Mike, the young man who joined the lodge at the meeting before last; you escorted him around the lodge.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Unfortunately, Mike chose to approach the editor of a local paper, wanting to expose us. He, though, was unaware that the editor is also a brother. They arranged to meet in one the Editors' empty holiday lets. What Mike did not know, was that we three, (he pointed to himself and the wardens), would be in an adjoining room, listening to the conversation.
Last evening we met and listened to him spill our secrets to the editor. So, having all witnessed that, we decided to carry out the penalty.”
I could not believe what I was hearing, I sat opened mouthed, listening and unable to speak.
“You will recall what the entered apprentice penalty is for revealing our secrets.”
His eyes seemed to glaze over at this point.
“…under no less a penalty, on the violation of any of them, than that of having my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the root, and buried in the sand of the sea at low water mark, or a cable's length from the shore, where the tide regularly ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours.”
“Yes, I remember it very well.” God, what was he going to say next?
“We three have already carried out most of the penalty on the aforesaid brother.”
He couldn’t mention Mike’s name now.
“We let him spill the beans, as it were, and then as he was about to leave I rendered him unconscious, the senior warden carried out the butchery part, and the junior warden has disposed of the body, apart from the tongue, which had been skilfully removed and retained by the senior warden.
That's where you come in”
I was beginning to work out where this was going.
“Your task is to bury the offending tongue in the sand of the sea, yours can skill be used in pacing out a cables length from the shoreline. We thought Chapel Cove would be a good place to carry it out. It is very secluded and low tide tomorrow is around sunset. I’m sure it will be quiet enough for you to do what you need to do.”
He was talking as though he was sending me out to buy a bag of frozen peas, completely unaware of the seriousness of what they had done, and of what they were asking me to do. Surely he could see I was shitting myself. But, he just carried on.
“The senior warden has bought the miscreants’ tongue with him for you to take with you today, you’ll need to keep it in the fridge overnight.”
I couldn’t believe they were serious; I quickly racked my brains to make sure it wasn’t 1st April. It wasn’t; that was days away. They meant this!
The senior warden took a small plastic storage box from his case and handed it to me. I tried not to look as I took it from him and quickly slipped in into my regalia case.
“We’re also going to give you a silver trowel to use during the ritual.”
Ritual, ritual? This wasn’t ritual it was murder and I had just become an accomplice.
The junior warden handed me the trowel, which I also put in my case.
What could I do? I could leave here and take the tongue straight to the police station, but most of the local police force were members of our lodge or related to someone who was. Or, I could do what I was tasked to do, and keep quiet about it.
I was scared about what would happen if I didn’t comply with their demands.
I was scared about what would happen if I did. But, at that moment I felt I had no choice. I had to do it.
The master spoke again: “Well I guess that’s it John, unless you have any questions.”
“No, no questions.” I was too gob-smacked to say anything.
“Good. Oh, just one more thing, don’t forget to let the senior warden have his box back, his wife uses it for his sandwiches.”
I had to suppress a laugh when he said that.
With that we all stood up. All three gave me the entered apprentice handshake, I picked up my case and left.
I was very aware of what I was carrying on the short walk home. Hoping the police had not started a stop and search policy.
Nothing happened.
When I got into my flat I was relieved that I was on my own, there was no one to go poking around the fridge. I put the lunch box in the fridge without looking at it.
I was working the next day so I left it where it was until I came home that evening. When I got in I didn’t feel like eating, so I got myself ready, took the tongue from the fridge. I put the lunch box and the trowel into a plastic bucket that I had decided to take with me, so it looked as though I was digging for bait or something.
The beach was quiet when I arrived; no cars in the car park.  I found what I thought to be the shoreline (these things aren't always easy), and quickly paced out a cables length (608 feet), carried out the deed, and walked back towards the rocks. Then I sat and watched the tide wash over the spot where the tongue was buried. It didn't take long; the tide was on the turn. I was still feeling scared as I sat there. It took about twenty minutes for the water to cover the freshly dug patch of sand.
When it did the sense of relief was amazing.
As I walked back to my car eight or nine laughing faces appeared from behind the rocks. Brethren from the lodge were in hysterics and there in the middle of them was Mike, he who’s tongue I thought I has just disposed of.
He spoke, so it obviously was not his tongue:
“Why did you bury a piece of Pork Fillet in the sand?”
They all continued to laugh. It seems they had plotted this together, because I had played a practical joke on one of them a while ago.
I was annoyed, but relieved.
We went to the pub together and enjoyed the joke over again.
Later, the master, who had been amongst the group, made his apologies and said he had to leave. As he was leaving he shook my hand and whispered to me:
“You’re ready.”

I’m scared.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Tarantula Carving

When I began woodcarving, my daughter, who keeps Tarantulas, asked me if I could do something spiderish. I said I would once I had finished my first Green Man (see an earlier post). So I looked around to see what carvings of Tarantulas there were. I didn't find many.

This one I found on the internet:

 I thought that be fairly easy to do.

But, the I saw this one on a post at a car park:

I liked that, and thought that would be the way to go.

Then, as I was trawling the internet, I came across this picture:

Although it was only pictured from the top, I decided to print it out and trace it on to my bit of old wood. The good thing about this picture is that it has some shadows, which gave me a clue to the shape of the legs.

So I managed to draw an outline and the traced it with carbon paper onto the wood, and then I started to carve:

After a while the spider began to appear:

Then, as I continued, I somehow managed to knock off the two spinnerets (pointy things at the back), which frustrated me. Then a friend told me that the body was a bit long. So I shortened the body and reinstated the spinnerets.

It took a lot more work; carving, sanding, and oiling. But, eventually, this is how it turned out:

Then, as I was trying to get a bit of a shine on it, I dropped it and broke one off the spinnerets of again. That meant time scrabbling around the floor looking for the broken piece. Eventually I found it and glued it back on.

I thought I had better not touch it again, so I wrapped it carefully and sent it to my daughter. But, not before I asked a friend to take some photos of it.

Here are some of them:

It's not perfect, the body isa bit flat. I am, though, very pleased with the finished carving, and so is my daughter, I'm glad to say.

When I was a child I was always terrified of Tarantulas. The main reason for that was that we had a Fyffes Banana warehouse behind our local public swimming baths. There were often rumours that a Tarantula had come over in a box of bananas and escaped into the swimming baths. Those stories terrified us as young kids, especially as we had to go swimming every week with the school. I think that fear has stayed with me since then.

I was reminded of those times when I came across this poem on the internet:

By Richard Edwards

Tarantula, tarantula,
Hidden in your crate,
Can you feel your hunger,
Turning into hate?

Tarantula, tarantula,
Being swung ashore,
What are all those whiskers,
And those fine fangs for? 

Tarantula, tarantula,
Lowered to the quay,
Will you thank the greengrocer,
When he sets you free?

Tarantula, tarantula,
Scuttling out of sight,
Who’s bed will your darkness
Glide beneath tonight?