Posts Tagged ‘Ulverston’

The Band Played On — short story by Gladys Hobson

July 12, 2011

The Band Played On

Introduction

Ulverston, noted for its Thursday and Saturday market days, and various festivals throughout the year, is blessed with a number of musicians who willingly give of their time to entertain shoppers and visitors to the area. On Thursday mornings, throughout the summer as weather permits, a band is playing in the cobbled market square. During festivals, various bands — including the Ulverston Town Band — also play at weekends. Sometimes the whole town centre is taken over by stalls, musicians, singers, entertainers, Morris men and clog dancers, and all the fun of the fair! There is even a Dickensian Weekend, when to top it all, many people are dressed in historical costume. Add to this programme of events, the annual Carnival Day, plus the Charter Fortnight culminating in a lantern procession and fireworks, and it is clear that the town is far from sleepy!
I love to hear the band play on Thursdays. This is usually a small band of mostly elderly gentlemen dedicated to sharing their gifts with all who wish to listen. They have been entertaining for years and clearly enjoy what they do.
Standing listening, I find my feet tapping to the music, and when the band plays tunes like the Floral Dance, oh how I wish we wrinklies had the freedom to dance like children!

Today (Saturday July 9th 2011) there is a special event in the town — Furness Tradition — with music and folk dancers. Before long, small children who were watching closely began dancing too. The whole thing reminded me of the following story I wrote for my anthology, ‘Still Waters Run Deep, stories of hidden depths.’

(The words of the Floral Dance, were written by Katie Moss in 1917 during a long train journey home from her stay in Helston, Cornwall.)

The Band Played On.

In Ulverston’s sunny Market Square, the silver band of mainly red-faced elderly gentlemen gave a lively rendition of the Floral Dance, oblivious to the movement of shoppers at nearby stalls and tourists snapping photographs in front of them.
Children, bored with standing at stalls while their mothers looked for bargains, drew closer to the band intrigued by the hand movements that produced the jolly sound. One boy did a good impression of the trombonist, another lad puffed his cheeks and laboured at producing a sound from his invisible euphonium. Little girls laughed and tapped their feet. Before long, more children joined in, with watching adults smiling, tapping and clapping to the merry beat.
A weathered elderly gentleman, with long white beard wagging in tune with the music, began singing:
‘We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone…’
The Floral Dance, now in full swing, more girls were dancing and swinging each other round and around while others jigged about doing their own thing.
The music came to an end, but the crowd hooped and yelled for more.
The conductor bowed, turned to the band and raised his baton.
The white-headed, bearded gent took off his coat, threw it over the nearest stall and started singing again, his elbows keeping time with the music.
Shoppers left the stalls and gathered round; smiling, laughing and clapping while their children merrily danced or imitated the musicians and singer:
‘Dancing here, prancing there,
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere…’
Market smells of fruit and vegetables, the scent of flowers, young women’s perfume, old ladies’ talc’, sweat, soap and aftershave, mingling with fresh air breezes; rainbow colours of summer clothing, moving sights and sounds — all swelling up to entrance and befuddle minds and bodies. Not one person immune to the hypnotic beat:
‘Bassoon, flute and euphonium…’
Maggie pulled away from the hand holding hers, and ran forward to join the dancing children in the cobbled square. Round and round, arms waving in time with the beat, laughing and singing the words she could easily remember:
‘Dancing here, dancing there…’
The crowd clapped and sang with her. Maggie’s movements became more intricate while retaining the essential simplicity of country dancing. Girls began imitating her and before long the market place became a throbbing beat of music, clapping and dancing feet. Heated musicians played on, mesmerised by what they had created.
‘Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.’
Round and round and rou…
The crowd hushed, the music petered out, children stopped dancing.
The bearded, elderly man ran forward and fell to his knees by the side of the fallen fragile lady. ‘Are you hurt, Maggie?’
She opened her eyes. ‘Lovely, wasn’t it, daddy?’
‘Yes, my darling, you danced beautifully.’
‘I want…’
Maggie’s eyes closed. The elderly man put an arm under her shoulders and held the old lady to his chest, wiping away long strands of grey hair from her wrinkled face. Tears ran down his cheeks.
A large muscular man from the vegetable stall came forward. ‘Here, Lambert, mate, I’ll carry her into the chemist’s for you.’
The crowd, no longer hushed, parted and made way for the carried woman.
‘I’ve called an ambulance,’ someone told the old man as they entered the chemist’s shop.
The old man nodded his gratitude but his eyes told those present that nothing would bring his wife back to life again. Even through his tears, he smiled. ‘She loved to dance and sing, you know. The dementia didn’t rob her of everything.’
Outside the band began to play, We’ll Gather Lilacs.
‘That’s our tune. We sang it at our wedding reception.’ He drew in a deep breath and said in a determined manner, ‘Could I have a drink of water please?’
Lambert sat on the chair placed beside his wife, now stretched out on a couch at the back of the shop, and he hummed to the music of the band. He took the glass of water being passed to him, shook tablets from a small bottle he’d taken from his jacket pocket, and threw them into the back of his mouth, swallowing them down with the liquid. Then he took his wife’s hand and began to sing in a croaking voice:
‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again…’
His quivering voice petered out as his body slumped to the floor.
And the band played on…

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Ulverston Carnival — Wild and Wonderful

July 7, 2011

(Click on photos to enlarge them) The sun shone for Ulverston carnival, making sequins flash as dancers performed and children laughed and jumped for joy!

The colours were truly magical, the costumes superb, the music rhythmical as girls and boys of all ages wriggled and romped or just strode along. Bands played, money jingled in boxes and buckets, and sweeties were handed to gleeful children. Everyone smiled, laughed and applauded the entertainers. Not a frown in sight as Ulverston gave itself to merriment.

Well done all those performers — slim or bonny, short or tall, and all shapes and sizes in-between — who donned their costumes and gave of themselves so merrily. So too the musicians who blew and banged and gave their all.















































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AND SO THIS POST ENDS WITH A BIG BANG FROM THE DRUM!

Ulverston — Festival Town Twixt Sea and Fells

September 4, 2010

Looking over Ulverston from Hoad Hill


Dickensian Weekend 2009


Ulverston is in the Furness region of Cumbria. The canal of just over a mile connected the town to Morecambe Bay. The canal is now blocked but it is a lovely stretch of water to walk along; full of wild life, and with beautiful views across farm land towards the fells. The coast there is quite delightful with a great little hotel, where you can get a drink, a good meal, or spend a few days in a room overlooking the bay. An ideal spot for exploring South Cumbria and beyond.

Ulverston — Festival Town Twixt Sea and Fells

A market town, friendly and warm,
Blessed by distant mountain scenery,
Seashore, bay, canal and monument
Surrounded by fields and woodland greenery.

On market day the band will play
Tunes old and new for one and all.
Shoppers from villages near and far
Buy goods from stalls and the market hall.

The Cumbrian Way leads from the Gill
Along a path and bridging a brook.
Trekkers togged in boots and anoraks
Follow Harvey map and Cicerone guidebook.

Take the Gill Banks path for a pleasant walk
By tumbling brook and broad-leaf trees.
See wild flowers growing by sparkling water,
Listen to birdsong, feel the whispering breeze.

Visit the Hoad — it’s an uphill trek
Along various paths — just make your choice.
When you reach the monument stay for a while,
The view is magnificent — your heart will rejoice!

Midst ivied tombs and forbidding trees
The Parish Church stands aloof from the throng.
Stained glass, choir, organ, tell the ancient story
And bells ring out their welcoming song.

By war memorial, under dark November clouds,
People come to honour the dead, as best they can
With wreaths of red poppies — symbolic of the suffering
Of man’s grievous inhumanity to man.

The Railway Station with tall clock tower
Stands just as it did in days of old.
Building embellishments and fancy iron structures
Picked out in bright colours of red, green and gold.

Walk by the cinema to the unusual museum
Where Laurel and Hardy are worshipped by fans.
Sons of the Desert are viewed there daily
On mugs, jolly posters, and films out of cans.

Hear the Town Crier ringing her bell
Loudly telling of what’s on in the town:
Art exhibition, drama and dances,
Church coffee morning with tombola and clown.

Festivals abound throughout the year —
Walkers, words, music, beer, banners and flags.
Folklore with singers, street music and dancing
Magicians and comedians telling old gags.

Dickensian Weekend come end of November —
Ladies in finery, sweeps in old rags.
Music and carols, roundabouts, chestnuts,
Mulled wine, fancy stalls set on cobbles and flags.

Carnival day and the town is packed full
Of locals and visitors, and child dancing troupes.
Floats, gaily decorated in colourful themes
Follow the pipers and marching band groups.

Late September when Charter Weeks end
There’s dancing and fun well into the night.
Wonderful sculptures with candles inside
Parade with live music, in a river of light.

At civic events and festive occasions
Join with the throng and let all-comers rejoice.
Firework displays end all great celebrations
With sighs of pleasure and joyful voice.

From the Anthology, Northern Lights (Magpies Nest Publishing.)

The Shore at Canal Foot

Looking over Ulverston towards the Hoad Monument and Morecambe Bay


The far end of the Gill footpath


Ulverston School Band is one of a number of bands that play occasionally in the Market Square. During the summer the Town Band plays nearly every Thursday

Ulverston Carnival — Fantastic!

July 6, 2010

Crowds of people enjoying themselves!


Many more to come

It was a gorgeous day last Saturday, not just because of fine weather but because it was a day when the residents of Ulverston and surrounding districts pulled out all the stops to put on a wonderful carnival. We were amazed at the ingenuity and skills of all those who made the costumes and equipment necessary for this fantastic event. Pipers and variety of bands took part, just about all the dancing schools in the area, and no doubt many of the local schoolchildren, clubs and pubs! It was a day of celebration to dispel financial gloom. A day of pulling together to rejoice and entertain. Tiny tots to adults (of all ages) did their best and no doubt so did many parents who made costumes. More on the Carnival and quite a few photographs can be seen on two of my blogs:
Writing For Joy
Diary Of A Country Lady
Don’t forget to click on the photographs to enlarge them.
You will notice that some of the dancers look a little weary. That is because before they reached us they had been dancing to entertain the crowds. Part of the time we were at a corner where the parade had to halt while crowds behind and at the front were entertained! We like to catch people unawares not just in stiff poses.

Just one of the bands

Ulverston twixt sea and fells!

April 26, 2010

The footpath to Hoad Hill


Signpost

The start of the woodland footpath


Twin lambs

Don't look at me, I didn't write on my new coat!


Beady eyed lamb with twin.

Hello, who are you?


Truly English

Ulverston, looking towards Birkrigg Common


Lambs on the Flan

Where's mum?


Ulverston Looking towards Holker across the bay

Ulverston Looking towards Holker across Morecambe Bay


Not due for the chop!

I'm growing into a beautiful lady.


Innocence

Where's mum and my twin?


Walking Around Ulverston.

A Walk on the Flan footpath and through the bluebell woods

For a pleasant little walk take the Gill footpath and follow it along until reaching Old Hall Road. Cross the road (where we once witnessed a duck, followed by her tiny ducklings, crossing over to the other side) and take the Flan footpath. Here you can witness bonny lambs, guarded by their mums, frolicking in the open fields, Surely one of the most joyful sights that tell us that spring is here. Not all the lambs are alike. Many are part black in differing degrees but all look cute and cuddly. I love the photo here where a lamb’s eyes glow, and especially the one that informs us that both infants are number 43, belonging to sheep 43. It reminded me of being in hospital with my baby tagged Baby Hobson alongside my bed with my Hobson notes hung on the end bedrail. A happy memory indeed.
From the footpath are views towards Morecambe Bay, with a distant view of the Holker estate, home of Lord Cavendish of Furness, (part of the well-known Cavendish family who own Chatsworth in Derbyshire — the home of the Duke of Devonshire).
But you don’t have to look towards distant parts to be impressed by the loveliness surrounding the walker: rich green fields and the approaching deciduous woods are peacefully refreshing,
Having reached the gate at the end of the footpath, you cross the road and enter a gate by a house. A signpost tells you that you are on a path that leads to the Hoad Hill. Soon the woods will be filled with the rich colour and scent of bluebells. At present there are large patches of wood sorrel, shiny-leaved ivy and later-flowering plants covering the ground.
We found the woods utterly delightful when, with clouds drifting, the sun began filtering through branches bearing their young green leaves still damp with morning rain. Twittering of birds and woodland aromas enhanced our vision of nature more than mere words can tell.
At the end of the path a high set of steps takes the walker over a stone wall and on to the path that leads to the Hoad Monument and beyond, with branches off to take the walker back to the main road and town.

For stories — humorous to macabre — set in Ulverston, Furness and Lakeland, with an introduction about each setting, see my book, Still Waters Run Deep, Stories of Hidden Depths. Visit Magpies Nest Publishing for samples and reviews. Can be bought from the publisher, from bookshops in the area, or ordered from anywhere in the UK. (UK post free if bought from MNP.)
For all my books — UK and USA published, visit my author web site.
See also my Writing For Joy blog — stories, articles and photographs.

St George and the Dragon in Ulverston Market Town

April 24, 2010

St George and the Dragon

Still fighting the good fight!


Crowds gather for the fun — St George and the Dragon!

Me Dance, Daddy

Cleaned up and ready to dance

Face painting for the cross of St George — well it's just like lipstick in the wrong place!

Cake stall — lots of other things to eat too!

Victoria School Jazz band — what a treat for St George's day!

In town today there is a Festival of St George going on — brass band, Victoria High School Jazz Band, Morris dancing, entertainers, plus the slaying of a huge dragon — lots of colour, sound and smells. Most of the smells coming from vendors of burgers and such. There are stalls selling just about everything, including cuddly life size toy animals. I saw one small boy struggling to carry a lifelike Collie dog. I wondered what would happen to it. Would it be a hassle-free pet to keep him company and someone to tell his troubles to, or will the novelty quickly pass and it become tossed aside with discarded toys ready for the next table-top sale?
As I write this, people are gathering in town for all the fun and games. Bread is piled high on one stall, cakes on another. There are canopied tables with meat, sausages, sweets, books, handicrafts, toys — you name it, you are bound to find it. Right now, musicians and dancers will be performing with children bobbing around longing to join in — and not only children, oldies like me find it hard to be restrained and ladylike. St George’s Day in Ulverston is mainly for families with fun and treats for the children.
Why celebrate St George? Such strange legends have little meaning today unless we all realise that we have a dragon within us — a mixture of greed, intolerance, envy, hatred — which the St George part of our personality needs to overcome. Surely this is something we should think about as we face hard times ahead.

Visit Magpies Nest Publishing and read chapters from some of my books
Gladys Hobson — Author. See my books and reviews
Writing For Joy — lots of photographs
Ask Gran Hobson for questions about yesteryear.

Of Pigs In Muck and Vacuum Gardening!

April 14, 2010

Of pigs in muck, and vacuuming bushes!


It has been a rather odd sort of day. My neighbours must think dementia has truly set in. I could be seen vacuuming one of my large camellia bushes. I was using a battery hand-held mobile vacuum cleaner in the hope of removing a hard black coating that has infested almost the whole bush. (The black stuff is called sooty something or other.) It did not work. I knew it would scrape off because I spent ten minutes scraping leaves on Sunday. But I wanted a quicker solution. So, after the battery ran down in the cleaner, I brought out a stiff-haired hand-held carpet brush. Pretty good. I removed a few buds in the process but with quite a few leaves de-sooted the sun can now get to work. Last year I vacuumed dandelion clocks. Excellent! Best thing to stop the seeds flying away.
This afternoon I took a walk along Gill Banks and photographed little pigs in the field the other side of a wall. Amazing how they can turn rocks over and dig out holes with their snouts, and snuffle stuff to eat. It is not a large enclosure and the whole patch must have been turned over many times. I can quite see why some mystery writers use pigs to dispose of bodies!
I also photographed the footpath and stream. It is a grand place for a quiet stroll. A bubbling stream, wild flowers and, if you are at the right end, a whiff of little pigs doing their own thing!

Lindal-in-Furness 1969-83 — with poem

April 9, 2010

After spending our early years of marriage in Beeston, Nottingham, followed by thirteen years of family life in Loughborough, Leicestershire, we moved north to South Cumbria (to what was then part of Lancashire). People were awed that we would move to near Barrow-in-Furness. It was considered to be the end of a cul-de-sac, if not the end of the world. And yet, the first time we drove up here, the scenery we passed through lifted my spirit and I knew that we were doing the right thing. True, the roads then were poor and the children were constantly sick as we drove in and out of the area. But things improved and the new roads give spectacular views of sea, mountains and fells. The air is fresh and clean, the pace gentle and the ‘natives’, in the village where we first settled, friendly. As indeed are the people where we now live – just a few miles away. We never thought when we were young that we would live in such a wonderful place as Cumbria, with its magical walks and drives throughout the English Lake District. Fells, mountains, lakes, rivers and streams, not to mention the culture embracing literature and art.
I wrote the following poem when we were about to leave our first home up here.

Our Time in Lindal 1969-1983

Sixteen years of village life,
So many changes we have seen
In brick and stone, and mortal flesh:
Time for a boy to become a man,
For a youth to grow in wisdom
And strong men change to weak.
Time for many friendly souls
To take their leave of earthly things
Having left their mark in village lore.

Sixteen years since first we came —
Townies in a rural place:
“Takes thirty years to be accepted.”
Half that time has passed away,
But villagers with roots going deep
Into Lindal soil and Furness ore,
Faithful members of the church,
Keepers of the rural scene,
Have not withdrawn a hand of friendship.

Sixteen years, now we move on —
With sadness yes, but thankful too
For all that Lindal’s given us.
Thankful for the friendships made,
The cheerful smiles, acknowledging waves,
And nods of recognition.
Thankful for the time and space
To move and grow, explore and be,
Thankful for acceptance.

The Man Who Told Lies

March 12, 2010

The Man Who Told Lies
By Gladys Hobson

‘Back from holiday? You won’t have heard then. That tramp who lived over there (he pointed to the cottages across the road) is dead. It was in the local paper — front page!’
Puzzled, I followed his gaze. ‘Tramp?’
‘You know, that old guy. Didn’t look after himself — drunkard. Wore shabby clothes, looked rough, needed a shave. Took his little dog for walks.’
The little dog — cute rat on long legs with a whippet tail — immediately identified the dead man. Tears rose in my eyes. ‘You mean Mark? Mark Ashley?’
‘That’s the guy. Told proper porkies. Police have been knocking on doors trying to find out if he had any relatives.’
‘He has a son — he’s a surgeon — and a grandson. They live in New York.’
‘Really? Nobody’s mentioned that. Better tell the police then. They’ve been asking all over the area. Someone said he has a cousin.’
‘He does. I think he lives nearby.’
With difficulty, I tried to hide the deep grief tugging at my heart. ‘What happened to Mark?’
‘Walked out to get his usual supper and fell down the cellar steps of one of those houses in Soutergate. Half drunk probably. A woman from the house rang for an ambulance. They took him to Furness General. He was sent on to Preston. He was in a coma for days, then he died.’
I was too upset to take in what else my neighbour said. Thankfully, he had to get to town and we parted company. No longer enjoying the beauty of trees and flowers that lined my path, or the warmth of midsummer sun, I walked the short distance to my home dazed and shivering. Mark dead? No more would I greet him and listen to his outrageous lies. No more would I see that silly grin and hear him chuckle at his own deceits. No more would I fuss that silly dog which had stolen his heart. Mark was dead. My friend Mark was dead and gone forever.
In my kitchen I made myself a pot of tea. I took a cup from the cupboard and put in a spoonful of coffee granules. I picked up the teapot and began to pour. What the hell was I doing? I hadn’t put in the milk. Wait a minute; there was coffee in the cup! I pulled myself together and decided on tea.
I drifted to the living room with its big picture windows giving views over fields and gardens. All so beautiful, life was going on as before, and yet…
Enjoying the familiar comfort of my reclining chair, I drank my tea and questioned why I felt so bereft. After all, Mark was not a relative nor had he been a close friend. True he was once a colleague sharing in the challenges imposed by the Ministry of Education when the local schools were reorganised into unwilling comprehensives, but he was a man very much on the periphery of my life.
Mark dead. I sighed deeply at the image in my mind of when I last saw him: uncombed hair topped with black woolly hat, grim face in need of a shave, head down, collar of black coat up, his limping frame bearing him up the road with his only true friend in tow — Peter the silent dog.
‘Hi, Mark,’ I said, as he was hurrying past.
He stopped, both he and Peter looking up. ‘Hello, Gladys, I didn’t see you.’
I patted the dog and it gave a nervous quiver.
‘What sort of breed is it?’
Mark proceeded to give me details of the dog’s unusual breed and pedigree, its very high cost and its naughty habits. I looked at the miserable dog, trembling at Mark’s ankles. Could that pathetic creature really take food from his plate, hide socks behind chairs, open his mail?
Mark’s face — pale skin, high cheek bones, square jaw, thin lips, fine nose slightly crooked, blue eyes under pale brows overhung with wispy greying hair — took on an aggrieved air. ‘That woman at the end of the terrace has accused me of letting Peter shit on her lawn. Huh, I told her, I take my dog out for a walk every day. It’s her own dog doing it, not mine.’
His countenance took on a conspiratorial look. ‘You know that ice-cream van that comes down the road?’
Who indeed could not recognise its monotonous chimes?
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’m surprised they get much custom. Most folk keep ice-cream in the freezer.’
‘They sell drugs to kids.’
He was watching for my reaction. Well, I could see the possibilities. ‘Really?’
‘Oh, yes. The police know about it. There’s a copper lives opposite me. He’s keeping an eye on it. That’s not all’ He nodded across the road. ‘That house that was for sale. Criminals have moved in. Police know. They’re doing surveillance.’
I nodded; after all I was aware of dealers pushing drugs in the town. I had recently been involved in a drop-in centre for the town’s youth. One evening, a police officer called in at the centre to warn us of the drug problem, and what to look out for. From then on, my nose was on the alert for wacky baccy. But criminals living in our close-knit area?
Whenever and wherever I met Mark he had a tale to tell me. I guess, spending many hours alone in his cottage with only his little dog and a bottle for company, he was short of intelligent conversation to brighten his day. He loved to be outrageous and so it was really quite difficult to sort truth from lies.
I knew he was a keen horseman and for years had entered races with his big white horse and, at one time, was keen on trotting with a small horse and light trap. That he fractured a leg several times and had received poor settings was obvious by his limp. Maybe part of his reason for drinking was to dull the pain he constantly suffered. Several tales came from his horsy connections.
‘You know Joan Smith, the geography teacher?’
‘Not personally, but I used to see her in the staff room.’ I could have added that I heard her too: she had a loud voice and a raucous laugh. ‘Jolly lady, sat with her smoking colleagues.’
He nodded with an urgency to get on with his tale. ‘She asked me to arrange the transfer of her daughter’s new horse. I turned up at the address given and was told the girl was not there.’ He gave a sort of whinny. ‘She said she had gone to paradise. So I said, “Oh, I am sorry. I’ll call another day”.‘
‘Really, that must have been rather embarrassing for you,’ but I was wondering if he was having me on.
‘Well, Joan was in the staff room the following day, so I asked her what she wanted doing with the horse. She told me her daughter wanted it taking to the field as instructed.’ He snorted with laughter. ‘Paradise is a place just up the road from where they live!’
I guess that tale could be genuine, or did he dream it up? At least he made me smile and perhaps that was all he wanted. Another tale he told me concerned a member of the royal family and a horse-and-trap race across Morecambe Bay. Evidently he accidentally messed up the start of the race, which earned him an unmentionable comment from the royal personage taking part. Mark looked deeply aggrieved.
‘I don’t care who he is, I told him even my father never spoke to me like that. And I wasn’t going to take it from him either.’
‘Good for you, Mark.’ Knowing that his temper had once led him to punching the parent of a boy he once taught, I found it easy to believe what he was telling me, but was I gullible old fool? I have heard of the Duke of Edinburgh driving a coach and horses across the sands but I have not found any evidence of horse and trap races, never mind His Royal Highness taking part.
Relaxing in my chair my mind took me back to the year, 1979. Three schools — girls’ grammar, boys’ grammar and a down-at-heel secondary — had come together to form a comprehensive establishment of fifteen hundred souls. Few people seemed happy about it. A few teachers gained but most lost out; the youngsters from the secondary school were convinced the ‘posh lot’ hated them; and the grammar kids were not keen to mix with that ‘lot from down the road’. Only the boys gained some satisfaction — girls galore! The parents of the grammar pupils had been promised separate streaming for their children where their education would continue until leaving at sixteen. Although the form classes were mixed, the pupils kept to their own social groups and then went off to be taught as before. Unfortunately, some teachers considered those from the secondary school as being unworthy of their time. Mark was not one of them.
His aloofness stood him out from the rest of the staff. He had little to say at meetings. Mark had made it clear to me that, although he was on a scale two, he had no intention of doing more than a scale one because he had not been given a position of responsibility. Evidently the extra scale applied to when he served in a different department — teaching biology. But since he had a degree from a top College of Art and had designed furniture on a commercial basis, I was surprised he was not a departmental head within the Comprehensive system. That is, until I got to know him better.
Whatever skills Mark had, and they were many, he was a very poor communicator where adults were concerned. It was some years later that I discovered his adeptness at telling lies. Even then I tended to take him at his face value.
Of course, he often annoyed me when, on taking an art class after him, I found the room untidy, the sink full of filthy brushes, no stock in the cupboard and, quite often, no drawing paper because he has used it all for his pupils to make sketch pads in bookbinding lessons. Not only that, but he copied some of my carefully thought up ideas for art classes. Even so, for whatever reason, I liked the man. Maybe it was because, when he did speak, he was not afraid to say what he thought. He was stubborn and could be incredibly witty: his guffaw creasing his face into a quirky smile. Also, the fact that he did find my ideas good enough to use with his own pupils boosted my ego; after all, I did not have his training or qualifications.
The day I retired from teaching, I was formally handed cards, flowers and a gift from the staff, but the thing I treasured more than anything was the simple present left on my desk. A single white rose stuck on a homemade card — a flying dove cut out of white cartridge paper — with Mark’s name and best wishes inside. I was deeply touched.
It was some years before I saw Mark again. I was surprised to see him on several occasions shopping in Ulverston. I recognised his lumbering gait before I saw his rugged unshaven face. But on each occasion, he was across the road and walking too quickly for me to catch him up. A few weeks later, I actually met him face to face. He told me that his mother had died and that he was moving out of Barrow to live in Ulverston, but he did not have time to go into details. So when I saw him enter a house just around the corner from us, I was pleasantly surprised. He saw me and invited me into his cottage to show me the improvements taking place. I invited him to my home for a chat when he had a free evening.
It wasn’t long before he was ringing our doorbell. I was pleased to see him.
‘Come in, Mark. We’ll go in the small sitting room; it’s quiet in there. Do you want a coffee?’ He declined: he’d only come for a brief chat.
So he sat on one of our vintage armchairs and made himself comfy. He had a way of wriggling into a chair as though shaping it to fit his body. Having settled into the seat, he sat back, shuffled his shoulders, crossed his legs and placed both hands on the top knee. He looked around the room, twitching his loose foot and occasionally jerking a shoulder. I could imagine him thinking, ‘Nothing Andy Warhol in here.’ He made no comment on my pleasant collection of Heaton Cooper prints — not his style.
I sat close by with my armchair at an angle — distant enough to be non-threatening but easy enough to converse eye to eye should he wish to do so. I gave him a few moments to take in the relaxing decor of the room: neutral pastel colours of walls, carpet and curtains with little splashes of colour introduced in cushions and pictures.
‘So, what made you move to Ulverston?’
He began by telling me about the trouble he’d had with his neighbours. ‘I like a garden that grows naturally — wild like.’ I nodded in acceptance, but thinking I was glad he wasn’t living next to us. ‘They complained about the tree growing in my garden. None of their business. I wasn’t getting it pruned back, it would have ruined it.’
And so he continued chatting, telling me about his search for a house and the need to have somewhere for his horse. The tiny cottage he had just acquired had cost him £19,000 and he was busy with alterations to give a more spacious feel to the place. He now had a gas fire set in the wall above floor level. ‘I’m giving it a black surround to match the furniture. Call in and see what you think.’
After a while he started shuffling in his chair and fidgeting with his hands. He looked at me and opened his mouth to say something then changed his mind. ‘I was going to tell you about…but no, better not…’ He shuffled some more. ‘Yes, I will tell you. I can trust you not to tell anyone else.’
Then began an extraordinary tale about receiving a letter from a woman he had known in his student days, who, at the time of writing, was dying of cancer. According to Mark, she wanted him to know that he had a son, and that he was also a grandfather. He then told me about the money his mother had taken from him every month, and of his wondering what she had done with it all, especially since she had died almost penniless. ‘Unknown to me,’ he said, ‘I had been keeping my son at Winchester. He’s a consultant surgeon now.’
He told me how his parents had decided he was too young to marry his student girlfriend and so kept their knowledge about the baby to themselves. Evidently the girl’s parents had been in touch with them and it had been a joint decision: presumably the girl had acquiesced to her parents taking over the baby’s welfare. Well, knowing things were different years ago, it was not difficult to believe the story, especially as Mark was going to show me a photograph of his grandson when I called at his house.
The photograph was of a handsome young boy, dressed in a riding outfit and astride a fine-looking horse. The fact that it was a black and white photograph was explained as having been snapped for a newspaper, his son being the winner of a prize. That was the first of many tales about his family. I saw no other photos but I refused to be suspicious.
Mark’s son had moved to New York but came over occasionally as he was following up a few of his important cases. I was told about a boy’s big toe being amputated to form a missing thumb and the complications resulting from the procedure, and of other tricky operations that his son specialised in. Do consultants really travel across oceans to follow up their cases?
Evidently the family visited him occasionally but did not stay long. They wanted him to go and live with them in New York. Mark said that he had visited the place and was not sure that he would be happy there. He told me quite a few stories of a private nature, but the one that sticks out in my mind because I can see it starkly in black and white, concerns the parentage of father, son and grandson. The three males were taking a walk together; each was dressed in black coat and black woolly hat. Mark said he had to laugh. ‘Look at us,’ I told them, ‘three bastards all dressed alike!’
Mark giggled at the telling of the tale. ‘All of us were born out of wedlock. Not many people know that.’
I felt honoured that he should confide in me. From that time on he often came up with a story about his surgeon son, of which he was very proud, and his grandson that took after his granddad for horsemanship.
Mark was still active: judging at horse trials and still riding. He also had a part-time job lecturing at Lancaster University. He told me that he only had three or four students to tutor: the young men were below standard and needed personal tuition. Mark said he had received a letter from one of the youth’s parents, thanking him for the help her son was receiving. Later he said he had a few hours a week at Edinburgh University. Those were the only times I saw him going out dressed up, walking into to town with brief case and umbrella to catch his train. Most of the time, when he was going down Soutergate to do his bit of shopping, he was unshaven and scruffy-looking. He was just the same when he was walking his nervous little dog.
One Sunday, I met him on my way to church. He stopped for a chat and, much to my surprise, came with me. Then some time later, when I was working in a church some distance away, he came to hear me take Evening Prayer and preach. It so happened that he knew the organist who was studying for a doctorate with the Open University. It was after that event that Mark told me he’d studied to become a doctor, but could not stand the sight of blood and so had to drop out. But he had done well at his London art college, so I decided he was a man of high IQ and many talents. I was not completely aware then of his wonderful talent for lying!
His son’s wife came into the stories occasionally, the two seemed to get on well together, certainly enough for him to be invited to live with them in New York. He told me he was going to stay there for three months to see if he liked it enough to move. He would not give up his home because he would use it for holidays. That seemed a very sensible thing to do, even though he had no idea then that the value of his little cottage would have increased almost fivefold twelve years later.
Other people came into his tales. He told me that a friend of his son was staying at his house while doing work at Glaxo. But I never saw anyone going in, or coming out of Mark’s house — including his family. No cars parked outside either, but maybe his visitors used the train. In fact, there could be an explanation for any oddity in Mark’s stories. Even so, when I asked him when he was going for that three months trip to New York he looked puzzled and needed reminding of what he’d told me. Also, why didn’t his close neighbours know anything about his family? And, why did they all think of him as a teller of porkies? As to Mark’s drinking and tramp-like appearance, had the man been a spinner of yarns to hide a sad and lonely existence? Well, the funeral would surely come up with answers about his family — or lack of it.
Life went on in the town without Mark but I sometimes saw a figure and thought, ‘Oh, there’s Mark,’ until realising I was mistaken — a common happening with people who have made a deep impression before their death.
We were away when the funeral had finally taken place. I did not make enquiries as to who was present: I decided to leave my memories of Mark intact. Mark is dead, but for me he will live on as the warm colourful character I knew him to be.
Or would I rather not know that I am a gullible fool?
Years later, and I still miss him. I ‘see’ him down the road and walking the footpath. He was part of my landscape and I guess he always will be.

Gill Banks

The stream at Gill Banks where Mark walked.

The Man Who Told Lies is published in Northern Lights, an anthology published by Magpies Nest Publishing — visit the publishing site for more extracts from the book

Gill path seat

Is Mark still here?

The Band Played On — short story by Gladys Hobson

February 24, 2010

The Band Played On

They danced to the band with the curious tone…

The Band Played On

Introduction

Ulverston, noted for its Thursday and Saturday market days, and various festivals throughout the year, is blessed with a number of musicians who willingly give of their time to entertain shoppers and visitors to the area. Throughout the summer, as weather permits, on Thursday mornings a band is playing in the cobbled market square. During festivals bands play also at weekends and are often joined by dancers. Sometimes the whole town is taken over by stalls, musicians, singers, entertainers, Morris men and clog dancers, and all the fun of the fair! There is even a Dickensian weekend when on top of all the above, many people are dressed in historical costume. Add to this carnival day, and Charter Fortnight with events and a lantern parade, and it is clear that the town is far from sleepy!
I love to hear the band play on Thursdays. This is usually a small band of mostly elderly gentlemen dedicated to sharing their gifts with all who wish to listen. They have been entertaining for years and clearly enjoy what they do.
Standing listening, I find my feet tapping to the music, and when the band plays tunes like the Flora Dance, oh how I wish we wrinklies had the freedom to dance like children!

The Band Played On.

In Ulverston’s sunny Market Square, the silver band of mainly red-faced elderly gentlemen gave a lively rendition of the Floral Dance, oblivious to the movement of shoppers at nearby stalls and tourists snapping photographs in front of them.
Children, bored with standing at stalls while their mothers looked for bargains, drew closer to the band intrigued by the hand movements that produced the jolly sound. One boy did a good impression of the trombonist, another lad puffed his cheeks and laboured at producing a sound from his invisible euphonium. Little girls laughed and tapped their feet. Before long, more children joined in, with watching adults smiling, tapping and clapping to the merry beat.
A weathered elderly gentleman, with long white beard wagging in tune with the music, began singing:
‘We danced to the band with the curious tone
Of the cornet, clarinet and big trombone…’
The Floral Dance, now in full swing, more girls were dancing and swinging each other round and around while others jigged about doing their own thing.
The music came to an end, but the crowd hooped and yelled for more.
The conductor bowed, turned to the band and raised his baton.
The white-headed, bearded gent took off his coat, threw it over the nearest stall and started singing again, his elbows keeping time with the music.
Shoppers left the stalls and gathered round; smiling, laughing and clapping while their children merrily danced or imitated the musicians and singer:
‘Dancing here, prancing there,
Jigging, jogging ev’rywhere…’
Market smells of fruit and vegetables, the scent of flowers, young women’s perfume, old ladies’ talc’, sweat, soap and aftershave, mingling with fresh air breezes; rainbow colours of summer clothing, moving sights and sounds — all swelling up to entrance and befuddle minds and bodies. Not one person immune to the hypnotic beat:
‘Bassoon, flute and euphonium…’
Maggie pulled away from the hand holding hers, and ran forward to join the dancing children in the cobbled square. Round and round, arms waving in time with the beat, laughing and singing the words she could easily remember:
‘Dancing here, dancing there…’
The crowd clapped and sang with her. Maggie’s movements became more intricate while retaining the essential simplicity of country dancing. Girls began imitating her and before long the market place became a throbbing beat of music, clapping and dancing feet. Heated musicians played on, mesmerised by what they had created.
‘Each one making the most of his chance
Altogether in the Floral Dance.’
Round and round and roun…
The crowd hushed, the music petered out, children stopped dancing.
The bearded, elderly man ran forward and fell to his knees by the side of the fallen fragile lady. ‘Are you hurt, Maggie?’
She opened her eyes. ‘Lovely, wasn’t it, daddy?’
‘Yes, my darling, you danced beautifully.’
‘I want…’
Maggie’s eyes closed. The elderly man put an arm under her shoulders and held the old lady to his chest, wiping away long strands of grey hair from her wrinkled face. Tears ran down his cheeks.
A large muscular man from the vegetable stall came forward. ‘I’ll carry her into the chemist’s for you, Lambert, mate.’
The crowd, no longer hushed, parted and made way for the carried woman.
‘I’ve called an ambulance,’ someone told the old man as they entered the chemist’s shop.
The old man nodded his gratitude but his eyes told those present that nothing would bring his wife back to life again. Even through his tears, he smiled. ‘She loved to dance and sing, you know. The dementia didn’t rob her of everything.’
Outside the band began to play, We’ll Gather Lilacs.
‘That’s our tune. We sang it at our wedding reception.’ He drew in a deep breath and said in a determined manner, ‘Could I have a drink of water please?’
Lambert sat on the chair placed beside his wife, now stretched out on a couch at the back of the shop, and he hummed to the music of the band. He took the glass of water being passed to him, shook tablets from a small bottle he’d taken from his jacket pocket, and threw them into the back of his mouth, swallowing them down with the liquid. Then he took his wife’s hand and began to sing in a croaking voice:
‘We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again…’
His quivering voice petered out as his body slumped to the floor.

And the band played on…