Sunday, 26 May 2013

Another Form of Life: a short story


Photograph by Rosie Pursglove.


I joined a WEA writing class in nearby Beeston at the beginning of 2011 and have been going ever since. At the time (and still do) I had several writing projects I wanted to undertake, but the class has been an apprenticeship of sorts and still is. Most of what I have written to date has been 'inspired' either by the class tutor or a writing friends. I do not pre-plan what I write. I like to write long hand at first, then type my work up, making changes as I go. A few of my stories have had the benefit of an outside editor, commenting on my text. Most have just had me re-reading them and finding mistakes and changes to make every time. From what I have read, I have come to the conclusion that no 'author' is ever satisfied with what they create for more than a moment. Another Form of Life was written in December 2012. I hope you enjoy.

Author’s Preface
My story begins with a woman coming home, then reflecting on events, her less than satisfactory marriage and, finally, a conversation with another woman. It was inspired by a conversation with my writing buddy, Cindy.

After the first handwritten draft, my story needed a title and in the recesses of my mind I had a phrase, ‘another form of life’, which I wrote down and as I typed this version I added a couple of paragraphs of imagined conversation between my heroine, Ellie, and her sister-in-law, Cheryl. Into my head came a reference to ‘The Rainbow’ by D H Lawrence and I got a clue as to where my story title came from, so I began reading The Rainbow again and, there, in the first chapter was the phrase I had remembered from many years ago: ‘The woman wanted another form of life than this.’  There is also a reference to Birthday by Alan Sillitoe and the chapter referred to is number eight.

Characters in order of appearance
Not all my characters ‘speak’, some are only mentioned.

Ellie: main character.
Ian: Ellie’s husband.
Sally: Reading Group member.
Mother / mum / Vera: Ellie’s mother.
Tom: Vera’s neighbour / partner.
Bert: Neighbour.
Ivy: Neighbour
Eric the police constable.
Dave: Ellie’s son-in-law.
Laura: Ellie’s daughter.
Beth and Robbie: Dave and Laura’s children, Ellie’s grandchildren.
Mark: Ellie’s son.
Rachel: Mark’s partner
Cheryl: Ellie’s sister-in-law, Ian’s sister.

Before
As Ellie put her key in the front door she remembered. Ian was out. He hadn’t been there to say goodbye, nor to go with her to the railway station. Now he wasn’t there with a welcoming kiss or a warm embrace. He never was.

Ian knew how stressed she got when she had to go and visit her mother. Three days, but it seemed like a week. Once upon a time he would have gone with her, even when they were both at work. Not any more. Always some excuse. This time it was a bowls match. Last time it was Harry’s seventieth birthday ‘bash’, whoever ‘Harry’ was!

Once inside the house, Ellie took her overnight travelling bag from her shoulder and placed it on the hall floor, then gave it the hardest kick she could. ‘That’s for you Ian’, then she did it again, but this time she missed and stubbed a big toe on the skirting board. ‘Fuck you Ian. I wish you were dead’ she heard herself shout as the pain shot up her right leg. That was the one advantage of a detached bungalow in Skegness over a semi in Arnold, the neighbours couldn’t hear her when she screamed expletives. They may have been surprised. So would Ian. It was never something she did in company. In the library last week, she had heard Sally from reading group describe her as ‘demure and a bit frumpy’. She had smiled to herself at the time, whilst making up her mind there and then to lose weight after Christmas.  

Ellie made a mental note to buy herself a travelling case on wheels, as she began to remove her coat and realised that her right shoulder was stiff and feeling uncomfortable enough to dim the now receding pain in her toe. She cursed her mother for being fitter than she and behaving like a sister. Even worse, looking like one. 

Ellie’s mum, Vera, had stayed out of the sun all her life, and washed her face in spring water when she got up and before she went to bed, plus using moisturiser and a body lotion every day. These were habits Ellie had taken to without a thought. Her own chest and bosoms were smooth and soft. She never had much of a cleavage, but they were still quite firm for a woman aged sixty-three.  ‘A good handful’ was the nicest thing Ian had ever said about them. What would Bert say if he got the chance? 

 Ellie worked out long ago that her mum must have been fifteen when she got pregnant. She never understood why she was the only one. In fact she wouldn’t find out for another fifteen years. Only when Vera died would all be revealed. If only her mum had agreed to come and stay with them on her birthday, but no, she was having a party for her mates at the community centre.

When Ellie’s train had arrived in Nottingham, no sooner was she on the platform and there was her mum, waving and smiling, with Tom, her next door neighbour, standing beside her. ‘Ellie, Ellie, here, here we are’ and she came forward at a rush and before Ellie could put down her bag was plastering her face with big wet kisses, but Tom was there too, taking the bag from her shoulder.

‘You won’t need that where we’re going. Tom’s going to take it home for us. We’re off into town to John Lewis for a spot of lunch and some shopping. I want you to help me choose a new outfit for tomorrow. Tom’s already help me choose a lovely bra and a slip to die for. I’ll show you when we get home’. She never paused for breath as they turned and climbed the stairs towards Station Street and The Tram, by which time Tom had already disappeared. 

The whole three days continued at the same breakneck pace. Vera was inexhaustible.

Ellie was glad to be home. She needed the rest, even though it meant cleaning up after Ian. After forty years she knew him well enough. If they had stayed in Nottingham it might have been easier, but no, Ian had set his mind on following his mates to ‘Skeggie’ and seeing out his days playing bowls and dominoes, whilst Ellie kept him looking clean and tidy and properly fed.

Ellie was rebellious enough to take up a few activities of her own. Quilting and reading with two quite different groups of ‘girls’ she had come across in the Library. They had been welcoming and were fun. Most had come to see out their days by the sea. Then there was birdwatching with Bert and Ivy from down the road. Of late, Bert and Ellie had been going to the nature reserve at Gibraltar Point on their own, as Ivy was waiting for a hip operation. She liked the intimacy of the hive overlooking the salt marsh and wasn’t sure at first if Bert’s thigh brushing against hers was deliberate or not. After the third occasion, Ellie put her hand onto Bert’s thigh, pretending it was done without thinking, as they watched an early Wigeon duck land just a few feet in front of where they were sitting.  Bert’s response had been to place her hand in his and squeeze. Nothing more had happened. After all, it was only five days ago. The bird was an early arrival and would have left by May for its breeding grounds in Russia and Scandinavia. She didn’t know that she would be gone too.

Ellie would not have thought that twenty-four hours ago. She was thinking about it — a lot — and she was aware of feeling warm inside for the first time in years, such was the excitement brought on by Bert, who was five years older and good looking for his age. He had big hands and she liked that. So what had changed her mind? It was her mum. After the party, a few came back to her mum’s little two up, two down, in Radford and they continued talking until, at about ten o’clock, there was only Ellie, Vera and Tom left.

‘We’re be off then.’

‘Mum?’

‘I’m going next door. It’s what we do most nights. All the time. I just stayed last night to keep you company, but you’re a big girl now, it’s my birthday, and you’re going home tomorrow.’

‘How long’s this been going on?’

‘Every opportunity since your dad died and a few before, not that you heard me say that.’

‘So why tell me now Mum?’

‘I’m past caring what anyone thinks and I’m fed up pretending that Tom and I are just a couple of old folk who totter around together.’

Ellie just sat in her mum’s easy chair, gripping its arms. It was like being at the dentist, gagging to say something, whilst all your energy was directed at clenching. As she looked up at her mum, Vera gave a gentle punch to Ellie’s right shoulder and said ‘You should try it some time’ then winked.

‘Mum!’

As for Tom, he was grinning ear to ear, enjoying every moment of the exchange and then it hit Ellie like a sledgehammer. They were same age! She and Tom. Her dad had died fifteen years ago and Tom had moved in when?. She tried to do the calculations in her head. Nearly twenty years!

‘Tom, how could you?’

‘Easy. I love your mum. Aways have, ever since she said “Hello” the day I arrived next door and she made it obvious to me that she was interested’.

‘That long? You must think I’m bloody stupid or blind, or both.’

Vera took her daughter’s hand off the armrest and pulled Ellie to her feet before giving her a big hug. ‘We’ve just been very careful when in your company. The neighbours have known for years, so don’t beat yourself up. Be happy for us.’

Ellie could feel her eyes welling up, ‘I am Mum, I am’ and she put her free hand out to Tom, who took it in both hands and stood there looking at them both with that soppy grin still across his face. Why had she never noticed what was now so obvious?

The last thing Vera said to Ellie, as they got on the train behind Ian, who had carried her bag all the way to Nottingham Station, was ‘Tom keeps me on my toes. He still has expectations’, then she paused for a moment before saying ‘It’s a pity Ian doesn’t’.

Ellie had never experienced such turmoil. They had seen her off at the station and she thought of nothing else all the way back to Skegness. Mum, Tom, Bert, Ian, Mum, Tom, Bert, Ian, Mum, Tom, Bert, Ian, on and on. She barely noticed the final waves they exchanged as her train pulled away and she only became aware of the fact that she was back in Skegness when the train let out the loud hissing sound it always made when the sliding doors opened and its electric motors finally stopped.

She was glad they lived close to the station. Right now though the uppermost thought in Ellie’s mind was murdering a cup of tea. Her anger at Ian not being there had been replaced by warm expectations of Bert. She hung her coat on its hangar and placed it in the hall cupboard, slipped off her shoes and put on her felt clogs. It was chilly. Ian hadn’t even put the heating on. She’d unpack later. Something was missing. At first she couldn’t quite work out what it was. Ping ping, ping ping. There wasn’t a sound to be heard.

God, Ian was becoming a pain in his old age. He’d even gone out without setting the burglar alarm, then she noticed the kitchen door was ajar. That was a fire hazard. If anyone knew that it was Ian. He had been a fire fighter for thirty years. At first, Ellie didn’t believe what she was looking at. She thought it was a trick of the light. A hallucination. It was Ian, face down in a bowl of porridge. Motionless. Dead still.

‘Ian Ian’, Ellie heard herself cry, her head in a whirl. ‘Not this, not this’ was all she could hear herself thinking. She turned and almost ran into the hall, where she stumbled over her travelling bag.

‘Fuck, fuck, fuck’ Ellie mumbled to herself as she clambered to her feet, reached for the telephone and dialled ‘999’. It seemed like forever before she was telling the operator why she needed an ambulance. The policeman arrived first — just four minutes she learnt later. Oh, how Ellie needed him. Eric was his name. He could have been Dave, their son-in-law. The constable took charge of not only the situation, but her as well.

After that everything was a blur. It would be some months before the events of that night became something she could remember, by which time Ellie wasn’t sure whose memories they were. She did remember ‘phoning Laura and Dave in Leeds and telling them not to come until the next day. Their daughter was distraught. If Dave had not answered the ‘phone, Laura would have been out the door immediately and with her by midnight. Ellie did not want that and Dave, bless him, understood. Anyway, they had to make arrangements for Robbie and Beth. At eight and ten the children were too young to be caught up in their grandfather’s death. Luckily, Dave’s parents agreed to come across from their home in Oldham there and then. 

Mark, their son, worked in an ambulance control centre in Stafford. He was working a shift when Ellie ‘phoned, so she spoke to Rachel, his partner, who she had not yet met. Rachel said she would go and tell Mark in person. Ellie was pleased that Mark appeared to have chosen well, but after they met the next day, she realised that he had had little say in the matter — a bit like Tom really. Rachel was very much like Vera. Tall, slim and confident. Ellie was quite the opposite in every respect.

Bert and some of the other neighbours came to see what was happening and if Ellie needed any help. No one in their friendly little street could have missed the flashing lights outside number sixteen. Eric, the police constable handled them all and stayed with her until it was getting light. He only left after making her breakfast. Ellie didn’t eat it. Once on her own, she telephoned her mum and was relieved when she heard Tom’s voice on the other end.

‘Ian’s dead.’

‘Oh Ellie.’

‘I don’t want mum dashing across. There’s nothing she can do and the kids are on their way. I’m expecting Mark soon and Laura’s just called to say they’re about to leave Leeds’, then she paused before adding, ‘I’ll phone later. Tell mum I promise’.

Tom was his reassuring self, never hurried, he took his time at everything. ‘I’ll tell her when she’s out the shower. I’ve got to go and do her back. She’ll ‘phone whatever we say. You know that, but I’ll keep her here until you say otherwise’.

‘Thanks Tom, you’re wonderful’ and with that she put down the telephone, surprised at how calm and in charge she seemed. It wasn’t how she expected it would be at all. Ian dying.

The final thing Ellie did for herself was call the Co-op. She was glad she and Ian had funeral plans. By the end of the day, there was little to do, but wait.

After 
The funeral, ten days later, half-filled the crematorium. Ian’s friends, most of whom Ellie didn’t know, turned out in force and his club organised the buffet, for which they wouldn’t take a penny. Back home afterwards there was just eight of them. Ellie, Vera and Tom, Laura and Dave, Mark and Rachel and Cheryl, Ian’s sister, who was a few months off retirement and lived in north London, where she was a ‘Human Resources Manager’ in supermarket distribution centre on the M25. They got on well enough, but she was very different to the rest of the family. When Laura and Mark were kids, they stayed with Cheryl every summer. Mark still went and it was how he had met Rachel, who had a room in the house next door to Cheryl.
             
Because the bungalow had two bedrooms and Ellie didn’t want to be seen favouring anyone, she asked Cheryl to stay with her. The others stayed in a small private hotel at the bottom of the road on the seafront. Late-November was a quiet time, so they had the place to themselves and it was where Ian’s club arranged the buffet. It was all so convenient and that suited Ellie’s disposition perfectly.

Over breakfast the next morning Cheryl said. ‘Ellie, I can stay on a few days if you would like some help. What would you like to do right now?’

Ellie looked up from her toast and wondered if she had yolk from her poached egg dribbling down her chin. It felt like it. ‘Cheryl, can I ask you a question first?’

‘Of course.’

‘Why did you never marry. I’ve never known you have a man in your life’.

‘I didn’t want to be like our…’ Stopping, she put down her hands and rested them on the sides of the table, ‘I didn’t want to be like my parents. At best they tolerated one another. Dad resented Mum getting pregnant with Ian and always said I was his ‘payback’, that she didn’t want any more kids because she had had such an awful labour, so he made sure she got to repeat the experience with me and she never forgave him — or me, but you know all this.’

‘Well, it doesn’t answer my question if that’s what you mean’ replied Ellie.

Cheryl’s tone of voice changed the moment she began to speak. The considered vowels were replaced by something more menacing, which immediately had Ellie’s full attention. ‘OK, try this then. I’ve been all me since my first day at school. Our teacher, Miss Barham, was so in charge. She showed no favours and no one dared cross her. She ruled her classroom with a rod of iron without ever raising a hand and by the time I left to go to grammar school, she was the headmistress. I so wanted to be like her’.

Cheryl paused and leaned in towards Ellie. ‘By then I realised that Dad and, forgive me Ellie, Ian were selfish shits who, between them, knocked all the stuffing out of Mum. No wonder she was bitter and dead at fifty. If you’re lucky you can find a man to control. Money attracts money, which puts women like me, from a working class background, at a disadvantage. The middle-class favour their own at work and you only get as far as I have by playing their game, but you’re never one of them’

Then without blinking an eyelid, Cheryl changed the centre of attention to Ellie: ‘Ian hit on you and you succumbed. Do you really think he was worth forty-three years of your life?’

Ellie didn’t know what to say. She sat there twirling what remained of her toast.

‘Yes or no Ellie?’

‘If only it were that simple. Look at my mum — Vera — she wasn’t that happy with Dad, but out of it came Tom, who has been part of her life for the past twenty years. Perhaps I can be as lucky’.

‘It wasn’t luck Ellie. Vera picked Tom. She knew exactly what she was doing and, me, I’m going to do just the same when I retire at Easter. Just watch me’.

‘You Cheryl?’

‘Damn right’.

‘I haven’t ever heard you talk this way before’. It’s as if you’re another person’. Ellie was hooked, She had never seen Cheryl as anything other than staid — a bit like herself, but far more professional. Someone who had made the most of her education and deliberately chosen one of the few careers where a woman could progress. She, on the other hand, had spent her life working in shops, but she did have a small pension from her years with Boots.

It seemed to be getting warm in the kitchen and it wasn’t yet nine o’clock. Cheryl undid the top two buttons of her blouse and pushed its collar away from her neck. ‘I’m just the me you’ve never seen. I’m going to shock you now. I used to pick up men on holiday. Never really enjoyed it, so I haven't bothered for years’.

Ellie finally finished her toast and felt herself gulp. She looked across at Cheryl, and wondered if her ears were already red. She could feel her cheeks filling with blood as she thought about Bert and picking up men. At first, she didn’t notice that Cheryl had stopped and was looking at her.

‘Are you alright? Ellie, I’m sorry if I’ve spoken out of turn’.

‘No Cheryl, it’s nothing you’ve said… Well… Oh fuck it Cheryl, there’s this man who’s taken a shine to me and I’m feeling guilty about it. It’s only happened in the last few weeks. I was thinking about him moments before I found Ian. Apart from holding hands, nothing’s happened yet, but he makes me fill warm inside and I like that…’

‘…and Ian didn’t do that?’ added Cheryl, speaking Ellie’s thoughts for her.

‘Not for years’. Ellie paused, ‘Mum said I should “try it sometime”’ then Ellie laughed and waved her hand in front of her face as she continued ‘the night before I found Ian, with his face in a plate of cold porridge. That’s how I knew he was dead. I stuck a finger in the porridge, I didn’t touch him once. I just went and dialled 999.’

She looked at Cheryl and they both burst out laughing.

Ellie leant across the kitchen table and put her hand on Cheryl’s. ‘You got me reading you know. I hadn’t been going out with Ian long and you were always there, in your parent’s kitchen doing homework or reading. It was bigger than this one. Do you remember? You asked me why I was going out with Ian and I looked at you as if you had asked the dumbest question possible, then you gave me a book and said “Read this”. It was The Rainbow by D H Lawrence. I didn’t really understand it until after I was married and had the kids. I must have been twenty and you about fifteen or sixteen. You were always doing exams. I was better looking then. I had curves and a waist — Ian liked that. He was always with his mates and they wore us girls like trophies. I think all of us drifted into marriage. Wendy and Kev were there yesterday, but what happened to the others I have no idea…’.

Ellie was on a roll. she hadn’t been this animated in years. Hardly pausing for breath she continued: ‘…In Alan Sillitoe’s book Birthday there’s a chapter where Arthur and Avril Seaton are standing at the kitchen sink peeling apples and just talking and it ends up with them going to bed. I’d love to do that with a man. Never have’. Finally, Ellie stopped and, patted Cheryl’s hand, which she was still holding. ‘It was you Cheryl who got me reading and I will be forever grateful. Without books, I would have gone mad long ago’.

Cheryl was about to reply, when their conversation was interrupted by a knock at Ellie’s front door, which turned out to be Mark and Laura, with Dave in tow. Rachel was also with them, but she had just come to say ‘goodbye’. She was going back to Stafford on the train. They all stood in the kitchen, with just Ellie still seated, when Mark put his arms around Rachel’s waist and his head on her shoulder. ‘Mum, we’ve decided to get married in a few weeks. No fuss, just family and close friends’.

Ellie got to her feet and gave Rachel the biggest hug she could. ‘Well I never. Nothing like good news to lift the spirits. Your dad would be pleased’. As the others looked on, Ellie guessed that she was the last to know. After Rachel had left, they all spent the morning at the dining room table going through what papers there were. Ian's will left everything to Ellie and the bank and savings accounts were in joint names, as Ellie was the one who paid all the bills. Dave had already spoken to the Inland Revenue and sorted out Ian’s pensions. Ellie knew already that she would get half Ian’s works pension every month until she died, even if she re-married. They had joked about it once, a long time ago.

Dave ended his resumé by asking Ellie if she had thought about what she was going to do now that she was on her own, and it was clear from the nodding heads that Dave was speaking for Laura and Mark. Ellie was feeling overwhelmed by the attention and the speed at which things appeared to be moving. ‘Give me a few weeks, then I’ll think about it. Your Auntie Cheryl’s going to stay on a couple of days and I might go back with her’. This news seemed to please everyone.

As if on cue, there was another knock at the front door. This  time it was Vera and Tom. Ellie’s mum had been magnificent at the buffet after the funeral, protecting her daughter by whisking away anyone who wanted to offer more than their condolences. Mark and Laura were too consumed with their own grief to be left in charge. Dave and Rachel, with support from Tom, mingled with Ian’s mates and listened to their reminiscences. A few had even made the journey from Nottingham, including two of their old neighbours from Arnold. Somehow, they all got through the day and Ellie was grateful that her mum had given Cheryl the job of keeping a close eye on Mark and Laura. There had been no one better suited to the task. After all, she was a professional ‘people person’.

At that moment they were a family and Ellie’s eyes welled up as she looked around the room. They all noticed and it was Cheryl who placed a hand on her back. Silently, Ellie said to herself ‘Thank you Ian. This is the best thing you’ve ever done for me.’ It had been a momentous thirteen days since she had left home alone and headed to Nottingham. There was no way she could have envisaged any of the subsequent events. Right now she was looking forward to spending time with Cheryl. Bert would have to wait.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Counting Ducks: a short story for Rosie




Two close friends, Paul and Rosie, sent me a card with a painting of Hampstead Pond by Gary Bunt on its front*.  Rosie added a note, saying 'I am sure you can weave a magical story around the picture… I look forward to reading it'. Well, Rosie, and anyone else who reads the next 700 words, I hope you enjoy.


Jack Davis met Sally by Hampstead Pond twenty years ago. She was feeding ducks when he noticed her for the first time. He was sitting on a bench enjoying one last drag on his cigarette before going where he couldn’t remember.

The rain didn’t bother them then. Today it had taken a special effort to get this far. ‘I reckon you’ve fed ten thousand ducks in the time I’ve known you’.

‘You’ve been counting then’.

‘Began the day I saw you. You were doing your best to be fair, moving along the edge to give bread to the ones too timid to come close for fear of being pecked by the bullies. Told me a lot about you that did’.

‘Never told me that before’.

‘Ah, well’ said Jack with a sigh.

He felt Sally put her hand around him and then put her head on his shoulder. Jack responded by pulling her closer. They stood there in the February drizzle, him protecting her with the help of his pocket umbrella, watching the ducks beginning to congregate in expectation.

‘If we stay here any longer, you’re going to leave a lot of disappointed ducks behind’ and with that Jack turned and guided Sally away from the Pond, which had been central to their relationship right from the off. He had come back the next day and the next day and the next day to watch her. It took a fortnight, or so he thought, for Sally to notice him and when she did, she gave a little wave. Jack waved back and shouted ‘Can I buy you a cup of tea?’

Jack expected her to be hesitant, but she wasn’t. ‘I know a little place’ came the reply. She was taking charge, it was no longer his game. ‘I’m Sally. I saw you looking at me the very first day you sat on that bench, smoking, then coming back day after day’.

‘I can’t remember you telling me before’ replied Jack.

‘Doesn’t matter now. It was all a long time ago. We got it together didn’t we’. Not a question. A statement of fact.

‘Only because I stopped smoking’.

‘Plus the rest’ laughed Sally. Jack felt her nudge his side as she did so.

‘You changed too’ chided Jack.

‘Of course I did’, then after a short pause added ‘At fifty-nine it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it wasn’t it?’

‘Yes. Do you now what I remember most?’

‘You’ve told me a thousand times, but tell me again’.

‘Your flawless complexion close up and the way droplets of rain ran down your face before dripping off that little chin of yours, then your smiling pale blue eyes and button nose and your thick white hair and wondering’.

Sally laughed again. ‘I was good to you wasn’t I?’

‘The best’, squeezing her hand as he said the words, then adding ‘What about me?’

‘Far too eager’.

‘Don’t remind me’ groaned Jack in embarrassment, even after twenty years.

‘You asked’ laughed Sally. She laughed a lot. ‘I’d relive that day every day if I could’.

‘Really’.

‘Look at what followed, here we are now. If it was that day again, it would all be before us again and I would like that, wouldn’t you?’

The touch took Jack by surprise. ‘I thought you’d be here Dad, John’s looking for you too’. His daughter Jane, one hand on his arm, was using her free hand to press buttons on her mobile before waiting… ‘John I’m with Dad at the Pond’. She appeared to be listening and as Jack turned to retrace his steps, Jane held his arm a little tighter. ‘No need. I’ll get us back and go straight to the crematorium. Tell the others and we’ll meet you there’.

Jane released her grip and pulled Jack close and they looked at the ducks for one last time. ‘There’s a nice pond near home Dad. We’ll take Sally there and you can go and talk to her every day’.

‘I’d like that Love’.

A little unsteady now, Jack took his daughter's arm and walked away from Hampstead Pond for the last time.  

Robert Howard

NOTE: *  For copyright reasons I have not reproduced Gary Bunt's painting of Hampstead Pond. To see it, click here.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A watery walk for those in search of healthy retail therapy

This is one of my favourite walks, probably because the bus links are so good and there is a choice of places to stop along the way for a drink and eats if I am so inclined.  I walk from Lenton, where I live, but you could just as easily begin at Nottingham Railway Station or the Broadmarsh Bus Station.

The map shows linking bus routes. To and from Beeston Marina, you need to use Trent-Barton bus routes 18 (Monday–Saturday every 30 minutes) and 20 (Sunday every hour), which run from the Broadmarsh Bus station via Friar Lane, Derby Road and QMC, to Beeston Rylands, then Beeston Bus Station and onto Bramcote and Stapleford). For other points, use either the Trent-Barton Indigo or SkyLInk services, which run every 10–15 minutes daily and link up at at a number of points along the way.


I usually start at the new canal and cycle bridge by Castle Marina in Lenton,


and pass under Gregory Street, which gives this great view of the Nottingham Canal from its bridge in Old Lenton, looking south-west towards Beeston.


The only remaining boatyard on the canal in Lenton.


This unimposing wall of steel shuttering marks the point in Old Lenton where the Nottingham Canal used to turn north and head towards, Wollaton, Awsworth, Eastwood and Langley Mill, where it ended at its junction with the Erewash and Cromford canals. From this point on what remains of the canal is actually the Beeston Canal. The line of the old canal is now used for the River Leen as far as the Derby Road.



Runners on the towpath, having just passed under the old Chain Lane canal bridge in Dunkirk. Two hundred years ago this would have been deep in the middle of country side. Later, Dunkirk Farm would beginning appearing on maps and, by the end of the nineteenth century, had moved half-a-mile north-east and given its name the new community of Dunkirk, which was being established south-west of Lenton.


Along the south side of the canal, for a good mile, your view is blocked by a high flood wall, which is decorated along its length with brick and tile works of art based on designs drwan by local school children.


On reaching Beeston Lock and Marina, you come to the western end of the canal, at the point where it joins the River Trent, and you can linger awhile if you wish in the Marina café...


...before continuing your walk towards Attenborough and the Chilwell Retail Park alongside the River Trent.


There is good riverside signage and plenty of opportunities to turn away from the Trent and head towards the Attenborough Nature Reserve Visitor Centre, which has an excellent café and is where we like to stop and rest.

As walks go, it's one of the best, especially if you like retail parks and shopping. The Carrington Street canal bridge by Nottingham Railway Station is within sight of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, then you walk past the Castle Marina Retail Park in Lenton and half-a-mile on from the Attenborough Nature Reserve is the Chilwell Retail Park. What more could any health shopper want, especially when, all three are no more than a few yards from a Trent-Barton SkyLink bus.


Canals are really great for urban walking, as I hope this post shows.