>’A Traveller’s Guide to Literary Scotland’

>Visit Scotland, in collaboration with the University of Glasgow and The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, has produced this very attractive introductory guide which is available for download from the ASLS site .

The guide displays the writers by region and then provides brief biographies (listed alphabetically) before displaying all the locations on a map.

A very useful, informative & handy publication.

>’Listening For The Past’

>

‘On the Machair’ and ‘Tweed’ are two pieces of ‘docu-music‘ composed by Cathy Lane.
Cathy is Co-Director of  CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice) at the University of the Arts, London. Her article ‘Listening For The Past‘ – ‘A composer’s ear-lead approach to exploring island culture past and present in the Outer Hebrides’ is published in the current issue of the journal Shima and can be read here: Volume 5 Number 1 2011 p114-127.
Enjoy!
Note: More of Cathy Lane’s work is available online: http://soundcloud.com/playingwithwords

Many Thanks…

…to those who have answered my plea for editorial assistance.

I am extremely grateful to you and the first pages will be on their way very soon.

(If anyone else wants to take a peek too, please drop me a line.)

Thanks again,

Back to the ‘sgrochladh’…

Editors Wanted!

As a result of several terribly kind people repeating their suggestion that I turn some elements of this blog into something more weighty, like a book, I am devoting my creative(?) energies to that task.

I would really appreciate it if some readers volunteered to take a look at bits and pieces as they slide from my typewriter and glide gracefully into a heap on the floor.

If you can spare a few minutes to help then please send me an email with the word ‘HARRIS’ as the subject and I will reward you with the odd page now and again.

Please don’t be shy!

A short life full of tragedy

Esther Bushnell was born in the final quarter of 1856 in Rugby, Warwickshire and named after her mother, Esther Hearnden, the daughter of a Maidstone ‘Hardware Man’. Her father, John Bushnell, was the Blacksmithing son of an Ironmonger, a trade that he too would enter in his own right after taking the family to live in Clapham, London. It may have been the growth of the railway that took the family to Rugby from their roots in Kent and it was certainly near to, what remains to this day, the busiest junction in the whole of the British rail network that the family were to move. It may also have been because John’s father, Joseph, had been born in Lambeth and the family may be connected to an earlier London Blacksmith called Bushnell. Esther had an older brother, John, whose birth had been recorded exactly a year before her own and a third child, Lucy, was to follow in the Spring of 1861.
In 1861 the family were living in Clapham Old Town in the now-obliterated Terry’s Lane. The first house in the lane was home to a 53 year-old widowed Charwoman, Jane Barrett, and next came her fellow widow, the 78 year-old Butcher, Fanny Terry, after whose late husband’s family the lane might well have gained its name? The Bushnells were next and finally Henry Blanche, a 43 year-old Greengrocer, and his family. Just four households suggesting, perhaps, either a short row or two-pairs of opposing buildings? A few years ago I did my best to walk in the steps of the Enumerator but, whilst I believe that I located where the lane once stood, I could not discern any structures extant from the 1860s.
Come 1871, mother Esther is in service in the Vicarage in Great Limber, Lincolnshire under the employ of the vicar, Thomas Ffoster Chamberlain who is as uncertain as to whether ‘Hester’ is married or not as he is as regards the spelling of her name which is particularly odd given his calling.
The children, meanwhile, have been separated with 15 year-old John learning the craft of the Blacksmith under the watchful eye of his widower grandfather in Maidstone whilst the two girls are ‘Enderd’ or inmates at the North Surrey District School in Penge, details of which can be seen by searching for ‘North Surrey’ – http://www.workhouses.org.uk/ . It must have been a miserable existence for the two girls, separated from their mother by an untraversable distance and from their father by his apparent disappearance from the Earth.
Worse was to come for in the Spring of 1878 that mother, still all those unaffordable miles away in Lincolnshire, died at the age of 42.
Things took their own brief upturn by 1881 when Esther was under the wing of her Uncle, Frederick William Luffingham, a Master Draper living at 104 Hoxton Street in Shoreditch. As an aside, little or nothing is known of this unusual family name and only slightly more of that of the Hearnden family that connected Esther to it. There may be some distant, in both time and space, religious persecution that led to the appearance of these names in the South-Eastern corner of the Country, and they certainly appear to have associated with other immigrant families in the ‘rag trade’.
In addition to her own security, Esther had the satisfaction of knowing that her sister was at the Home and Colonial School Society’s Training College for Mistresses in Gray’s Inn Road training to be a teacher. Also at this time, their brother John was in Cornwall where he appears twice in the Census of that year! Whether or not he was in Calstock or nearby Higher Dimson, he most certainly was an ‘Engineer’ or ‘Engine (Driver)’ and one of many such men responsible for running the steam engines at the mines that employed them.
John married in Maidstone 1883 before returning to Cornwall and starting a family, the first two children being born in that part of the World in 1885 and 1887 but Esther would never see her nephew and nieces for in the Spring of 1884, at the age of 27, she died, the death being registered at Tavistock, Devon, Cornwall. What was she doing in Cornwall? Had she found work there, was she just visiting her brother, or was there some other, perhaps romantic reason for her presence there?
Of course, ordering her death certificate might help answer the question, perhaps she fell ill but I prefer to let my imagination roam and see this most unfortunate young lady being as unlicky in love as she had been in life and, in a grand gesture redolent of late 19thC literature set in the wilds of the West Country, falling not under the ravages of TB but into a disused mine-shaft in despair at her lover’s rejection…
Although Esther’s life was over, there is one more thing to relate. Lucy did indeed become a teacher and is found in 1891 living with John, his wife and three children in the village of Sandling just a couple of miles North of Maidstone. However, by 1901 the 37 year-old is an Inmate of the  London County Asylum, The Heath, Dartford and her occupation reads ‘Schoolmistress’, with the word ‘Ret’ added as an afterthought. I have been unable to discover any further record relating to her, whether it be a marriage, an entry in the 1911 Census or her death.
Maybe I should have called this piece ‘Two Lives Full of Tragedy’?
On a somewhat happier note, John and his wife had celebrated 55 years of marriage before she died aged 80 in 1938 and he then followed her a year later when aged 84, the pair having lived for half a century in an idyllic spot near the archaeologically active chalk ridge known as the North Downs and the very attractive village of Boxley.
But that is another story…

Something Happened…

…a fantasy:

In 1861, the family of 28 year-old Ironmonger John Bushnell were living in Terry’s Lane, a few hundred yards from The Pentagon, in Clapham Old Town, Wandsworth, Surrey, London, where they had moved to at some point in the preceding five years.

By 1871 Mrs Esther Bushnell was in domestic service for a vicar in Lincolnshire, her daughters were at the North Surrey District School (an outpost of the Wandsworth Workhouse), her son was Smithing with her father-in-law back in her home-town of Maidstone and her husband (the census records her initially as ‘Unmarried’ but that is crossed-through and replaced with ‘Married’) has disappeared. Something happened…
Esther, holding 4 year-old Lucy in her arms and with John and Esther ready for school and at her skirts, stood at the step watching the childrens’ father John and their Servant, William Jeayes, strolling down the lane away from the leafy centre of the village and towards the sprawling warren of soot-soaked alleys that led to the railway. It was the growth of the iron tentacles in this quiet corner of London that had led them here following the years of living in Rugby. John’s work there had been fruitful and their domestic situation had harvested them John and Esther in quick succession. But the pull of the the South had been too strong and it had been decided that being back in John’s father’s family’s home county of Surrey, and near both their sets of parents in Kent, would be better now that a third child was expected. Thus it was that Lucy had arrived in Clapham (pleasing the child’s grandfather, even though it wasn’t quite Lambeth) and also that John had felt it time to employ a young man to train in the smith’s art. William was a pleasant companion who hailed from Northamptonshire but had been working in Rugby for a few months before the family offered him the chance to live with them and work in London. He didn’t need to be asked twice.

The two men were in high spirits, this was a boom-time in the area with much planned development, and business was brisk. Ironmongery provided, almost literally, the nuts and bolts of industrialisation and demand was high. Inevitably this led to the occasional short-cut but men such as these respected the materials they dealt with and the forces of the forge in which they toiled. They had no reason to be anything but content as they wove their way past the winding workshops down to the railside building that was John’s first and, as it transpired, last, venture.

Witnesses would later say that there was nothing unusual in the mens’ manner, no clues in their voices, no hints in their gait, nothing to suggest that that day was in any way exceptional. Many remarked on their passage that morning but not one person could recall seeing them return. In fact, after old Mick, the semi-vagrant, self-styled ‘nightwatchman’ who had seen them on his morning journey to the first hostelry where he could spend attain some senselessness of oblivion, after Mick’s sighting of them just yards from the door to John’s shop, nothing more was heard, or seen, smelt or felt, of either man again. The shop was still locked when, as the evening began to fade, Esther had asked her neighbour to sit the children whilst she went to find John and William. She was concerned. Her worry began to grow when she felt the brick at the forge-end of the building and found it to be be as cold as the earth from which the bricks had once been dug. Cold and damp where there should have been the dry warmth from a day’s toil. She had peered through the small, coal-webbed panes into the interior and seen a dark emptiness without the normal after-glow of the forge. The chimney had confirmed her fears and she began to run to the railway line that curved gently towards her. She looked between the thinning buildings until, at the edge of this bizarre bazaar of businesses, the lines lay before her. The sun was setting fast, casting long shadows from the myriad poles, and posts, sheds and other structures that lined the tracks. but nowhere were there the shadows of John or William. Neither were there any ragged bundles that might have once been men. There was nothing. A goods train hooted and clanked its way along the furthest track, the engine, streaming steam as its iron muscles pumped and pulled the huge load behind it. As the last wagon passed from sight, Esther turned and ran, her heart pounding with an ache beyond exertion, back towards the lane and the house of the Policeman.

Despite all the search parties, all the railwaymen, all the policemen, all the friends and neighbours who looked throughout the district, all the appeals that both her father and John’s father paid for in the newspapers, despite all the prayers offered in the churches, all the crying from the three children, all the half-seen faces and part-heard voices, nothing was ever found to tell what had happened to the two men.

With three children to support and no proof that her husband hadn’t simply vanished, Esther was forced to find work and, in the circumstances and with all the nasty rumours of what part she might have played in the vanishings, she was fortunate to find a respectable household happy to have her. However, the price paid was huge for, although her son John was taken under his grandfather’s wing as an apprentice smith, the two girls had to go and live in the harsh, unremitting regime of the District School. It broke her heart and Esther died, still in service, in Caistor, in 1878 at the age of 42.
And my interest in this mystery of Terry’s Lane? Well, John and Esther had a granddaughter that they never knew, and she was my grandmother…
(Note: The reason for this tale is not simply the disappearance from all the records of John Bushnell, but the simultaneous disappearance from the records of his servant, William Jeayes, too…)

William Jeyes was born in 1843/4 in Weedon, Northamptonshire and was the 4th of the 6 children of Cabinet Maker John Jeyes who by 1851 was a Widower living with his children in Weedon Beck. Oddly, in 1901 a William Jeyes, Platelayer, born in Weedon in about 1847, appears in London complete with a wife and 7 children aged from 1 to 20 and I can locate the family in 1881 too when William’s birth is given as 1848. It is possible that this is the same person but I cannot find the marriage record, nor William himself in 1871 and 1891. This, together with the discrepancy in ages, and a little poetic licence, is why I consider it possible that both men disappeared simultaneously…)

Scales

I recall the first time I saw familiar territory on a 1:50 000 OS map; land that I thought I knew well in its 1:63, 600 guise seemed stretched, less concentrated in its complexity, barren, almost. This artefact of enlargement, caused because the move to metric hadn’t been accompanied by much revision of the data, took a while to overcome. Metrication made sense mathematically but to someone who’s map-reading had been honed (OK, subjected to slight improvement!) over several spotty-faced years poring over the familiar density of the old ‘one-inch’ maps the newcomers were an unwelcome intrusion.
Sometime later I saw my first 1:25 000 map whilst walking in one on Britain’s National Parks and I couldn’t read it. It was as incomprehensible to me as a text written in a non-Latin alphabet. I can only suppose that my previous internalisation of the ‘one-inch’ format, which had been to such an extent that I could take-in a scene and imagine the ground lying before me, was sufficiently complete to be completely confused by the unfamiliar details, and space, on the super-scale impostor.
The relevance of all this? Well, all maps are approximations, compromises between the real World in all its dimensions and the paper plane created by cartography. All I had done was to embrace one such approximation and map it onto my mind, forsaking all others. It was a skill, but not one that was as easy to transfer as might be expected. Whilst the 1:25 000 map is a wonder of cartography (although desperately in need of revision), giving the walker hitherto unexpected detail of his surroundings anywhere in the whole of Britain, I still find the 1:50 000 easier to empathise with (my middle-age eyesight certainly no-longer finds the move from 1:63 600 such a pain) and I think the reason for that is context.
I was investigating fancy GPS gear with downloadable maps and realised that one would still need a paper map (and a compass, of course!) in order to make sense of the few square inches of illuminated LEDs. The ‘bigger picture’ that shows the lie of the land, that puts our place in a wider expanse, that reminds us that it is an appreciation of the whole that truly makes sense of the particular spot in which we are located, is what makes the 1:50 000 map such a treasure.
Oh, and if the option existed, I would still prefer a ‘one-inch’ map, with contours in feet and, preferably, at the same price as they were 40 years ago!
Notes:
A fascinating site on the development of OS maps – http://www.fieldenmaps.info/info/
An excellent source of downloadable (£) OS mapping – http://www.mapyx.com/

The Knitter

The clicking of her knitting and the soft purrs from the cat beside her raised the room from silence. Even the fire, to which she had added her last peat, was smoking soundlessly. Outside the wind had dropped from the savage storm of the afternoon as if, too, was readying itself for bed.
Her fingers moved themselves along invisible paths in the air, paths they knew so well from years of treading, paths that turned the soft spun fibres into warm, patterned, stockings for others feet to wear when treading much more solid paths.
She had no need for light, save that from the fire, for the moon was full and beaming through the small window at the knitter and her gently breathing cat. Her eyes, no longer as sharp and piercing as in her youth, were not needed for her work so she allowed them to rest and as they did so her mind, which retained those very same qualities that time had drained from her sight, drifted back through the years…
Her father’s voice, as he tended to the nets beside his boat, warning her too late of the wave that bravely ventured further up the shore than its fellows, washing the sand from her feet and wetting the hem of her dress with its cold, salty waters. As the wave slunk back to the sea, it dragged a strand of seaware across her toes and she squealed as the thin fibres tickled at her feet. A laugh from her mother, who was further up the beach, carrying the swathed bundle of her baby brother was joined by one from her father and she, embarrassed by the silliness of a moment before, joined her parents mirth…
The needles clicked on.
The young woman was the first to see the postie approaching. They never got mail, it being of little use to her parents and she not having yet met the friends whose travels would render letters necessary. The man saw her but did not wave, confirming her fears as if any confirmation was required. She ran towards the house, reaching the door just after the man had been greeted by her parents, her father slumping, her mother preparing a tear, and all this before the man had passed the piece of paper to them. All four went inside, her father taking the letter from the postie and a penknife from his pocket, she holding her mother’s hand as tightly as on the day they had waved her brother off, the brother that the letter, which the postie was now reading, confirmed she would never see again…
The needles clicked on.
There were children round her feet, a seemingly endless thicket of nieces and nephews, the fruits of her two much older sisters marriages. She had never asked her parents why there was this gap between the first two girls being born and her own arrival, the five fallow years being those of famine when many a child had perished, some at birth, some due to their mother’s dessication and others through disease and malnutrition. It was something to be borne but not discussed.
The children, for whom being gathered together in one place was a novelty, were excited but respectful. The coffin on the table in the neighbouring room told the story of this rare communion. Her father had died some years earlier, taken by the sea and kept in its unforgiving grip, and now her mother lay next door, her body finally succumbing to the gnawing from within that the knitter had nursed her through for several years. Her mother had blamed herself for her youngest daughter’s spinsterhood but, in truth, the lack of young men since the war and the effect upon her mother of losing her only boy-child in that hateful conflict had turned her away from bearing children.
She had always enjoyed her work and, as she was one of the best-known knitters on the island (her work had even won medals at exhibitions on the mainland), she could provide not only for herself but also for her widowed mother. They had been joined for a while by one of her nieces, partly to help her sister who had recently added another little boy to her family and partly to give the girl training. In fact she had proved a diligent pupil and almost as skilled as her ageing aunt and this, together with her liveliness and loveliness, had meant that she was soon someone’s wife and moved away.
Her mind found the memory of the funeral, the boat journey, the climb across the island and the interment in the ancient burial ground, too traumatic too bear, so it kindly spared her the agony…
The needles clicked on.
The moon had climbed through the night, moving its beams away from the knitter and her cat and exploring further round the room. The peat that had fuelled her memories now lay char-glowed in the grate. The light had dimmed, the warmth of the room had grown, and the bone-like fingers of the knitter had slowed.
The needles fell silent, slipping from the fingers which then gently followed them onto the her lap.
A strand of wool lay across the knitter’s hands, as a strand of seaware had once been lapped across a child’s feet by a wave of long ago…

The Immigrant

Her parents wept as the boat set sail, leaving behind the small fertile land at the head of the fjord on its journey to the open sea. They knew she had to go, to make a new life for herself and her man and the swelling that was growing inside her, but that only dulled the edges of the pangs of near-grief that accompanied her departure.

On board, she too was crying as the two specks on the shore diminished in stature before fading from view forever. The men, pulling on their oars, had each made this same journey to the Southern Isles at least once before. That was how it came to be that her man had persuaded her to leave the place of her family and live in the new lands of open space and fertility for plenty. His descriptions of the shell-sand beaches, the bordering strip of bounteous earth, the rugged rocks and the health and vitality of the peoples there had been the stuff of dreams. But they were not dreams they were real and from all over their icy Northlands young couple just like them were emigrating towards these warmer isles.

The wind was in their favour so the men ceased their rowing, shipped the long oars and raised the single sail. She felt the ship come to life beneath her, a gentle kick just like those that her belly had recently been feeling. She ran a hand over the warm roundness and smiled at the thought of the little boy (it was a boy, the wise-woman of the village had assured her) who quite soon would be playing at her feet outside the new house that her man had already built for them. It was, he told her, in a beautiful spot and they had used the best timbers, brought there from the Northland, to construct the roof. She had been astonished to learn of the lack of trees on this paradise and even more astonished when he had explained how not only roofs but also boats were taken there as packs of pre-cut parts that were then reassembled. It seemed an almost impossible idea and she was sure that in time such practices would die-out.

It was not long before the wind carried them to the mouth of the fjord and, for the first time in her nineteen summers, she saw the open sea. It was as if someone had parted the trees in a forest to reveal the space beyond. No longer did the towering cliffs of the fjord blinker the vista but all the ocean lay before her in a dizzying panorama of sparkling blue-green topped by flecks of white and as far as the eye could see. The ship began to rock a little more in response to the currents and waves below but she was determined not to display any weakness to the men. In fact the rocking of the waves, the gentle breeze at her back and the warm morning sun conspired to lull her into a happy sleep.

When she awoke several hours later and looked around she was shocked to see nothing but the ocean around her. The land, as far as she could tell, had dissolved and the whole world was now her, the men and the ship. She felt a slight panic at this new sensation but when she peered more closely to the side she saw the rippling darkness on the horizon. They were certainly far from land but not so far as to have lost sight of it. This, she knew, was the safest way for ships to travel for the waters here were less troubled by the spirits of the sea and by the rocks and shoals that lay nearer to the shore.

The journey South took several days, partly due to the vast distance involved but also because en-route they were to leave two of the men at their own new homes and collect two replacements who, like them were settling in the new isles. This was a common occurrence and the ‘leapfrogging’ allowed them to combine trade, communication and expansion. She enjoyed seeing the new places and, in one of them, met an older girl from her village who had made the same journey a couple of years earlier. Talking to this happy young mother about living in these new lands was particularly helpful as it convinced her that choosing to join her man in the Southern Isles had been the right decision.

The final leg of the voyage was full of anticipation and, although the sea was particularly rough for a couple of hours, the sight that emerged from the parting storm clouds made any past fears recede. In front of her was a small island and as the ship entered the strip of sea between it and the main island she saw for the first time the seemingly endless beach of pure-white sand, speckled with bright green seaweed and backed by the lush band of crops and the hills beyond. The sun turned the sea into a myriad sparkling mirrors and, as they ship reached the shore, her man put his arm around her waist and said, ‘Welcome to Seilibost.’…

Time to Reflect – a (pre)cautionary tale

He nearly walked straight past it. The stallholder was already wrapping her smaller items in newspaper and packing them into the collection of gaudily assorted plastic crates and the car-boot sale was due to end in half-an-hour. He stopped to tie his shoelace for the umpteenth time. It is a little known fact that some laces are particularly unsuited to left-handers and, for some no-doubt highly complex reason involving the way the lace is woven and the physics of knotting, they steadfastly refuse to remain fixed fast. It was whilst he knelt (bending down to touch his toes was beyond the reach of his middle-aged back) that he saw it. The mirror itself was perhaps no larger than a normal photographic print but the deep, dark elaborate frame was huge. The wood was crisply carved into a rain-forest of leaves and flowers and fruits that was so overwhelming in its design and execution that the small pool of tarnished mirror appeared almost incidental. He finished tying the lace (it was always the left shoe that came undone) and lifted the mirror onto the now nearly cleared table. The spotting on the mirror was caused by the silvering on its rear surface having deteriorated over time but it added to the charm of the piece and the small size of the mirror rendered its reflecting properties somewhat secondary to the decorative function that the frame performed in heady, intoxicating abundance. As it happens, this style was something that usually wouldn’t appeal at all to his taste which was more often attuned towards the Bauhaus, Mackintosh and the generally unflowered form. Nevertheless he found himself enquiring as to the price and the stallholder, one crate short of a cleared trestle, requested twenty English pounds. Normally he would have haggled but instead he handed her the twenty pound note with the words ‘Clydesdale Bank’ printed proudly across its surfaces, picked up the naked frame and returned to his car.

Car, mirror and man survived the journey home, despite him swearing loudly about ‘English pounds’ and reminding himself to replenish the stock of Scottish banknotes that he kept especially to antagonise shopkeepers in England who used the phrase. He took the mirror into the house and placed it on a coffee table. The table was one he’d had made by a female friend who was an extremely talented welder and it replicated in metal one of Mackintosh’s designs. They had designed it to be a prototype but the complexity of the construction taught them not to take the project any further. The whole room was decorated in similar vein and the effect was all the more surprising for visitors who stepped through the door of a seemingly regular Victorian brick and slate terrace and into a world of very un-English design. He hadn’t been too sure until a call from one of the glossy fashion mags offered him a ridiculous amount of money for doing a ‘feature’ on the ‘property’ convinced him that it was all in incredibly bad taste or really rather successful. He gave half the money to his kids and the other half to a candidate in the forthcoming local election. The candidate came last but not without being able to ensure that the neighbourhood was bombarded with literature supporting his cause.

This was the house that the mirror and frame found itself inhabiting and it also soon found itself being carefully dusted with a selection of soft paintbrushes. The man was delighted as the layers of dust were removed and the intricacy of the carving became steadily clearer. It was, quite simply, exquisite. The accuracy of the work resembled that of a diamond cutter and what made it so amazing were the plethora of piercings, many of which had been blocked by grime, that gave the frame almost as much surface on the ‘inside’ as it presented to the world. The back revealed no clues as to age but equally there were no signs of it ever having been removed. The mirror itself, that tiny, almost insignificant rectangle of glass, must be original. A fact that the discolouration amplified in abundance.

There were two metal loops and a piece of elderly, tired cord from which to hang the object but he decided to install some fresh cord rather than risking the glass to the frail health of the existing stuff. This task accomplished, he took the photograph that hung above the fireplace (one of his own images that had won a National competition) from its hook and replaced it with the mirror.

He stood back to better survey the effect and was extremely delighted. The frame was a wall sculpture, a piece of architectural art and the ‘floral’ nature disappeared in a tangle of shapes and shadows, forms and figures that defied description. He almost forgot that it was a mirror. However, as he stepped forward and focussed upon the distressed reflection something very strange happened. He saw his room, the door to the left, the large bay window to the right but the walls were papered in some hideous patterned paper, the floor covered by a large and vibrantly coloured rug, the furniture all dark brown and puffed and very, very large. He blinked. The hideous picture was still there, but now there was a man standing at the window and a woman sat sewing in the adjacent seat. He turned from the mirror and the room returned to normal. He turned back and the couple and their furnishings sat within the forest frame. Entranced, he watched as the couple conversed but suddenly the image began to fade and the pockmarks, whose disappearance he had neglected to notice, returned to disfigure the mirror. He sat. He had to sit for he had nearly collapsed in shock. Either he was ill, going mad (possibly both) or the mirror was, well, magical. He sat. And thought. He decided that he would not look at the mirror but would take it into the dining room, hang it there and see what happened. This he did but when he looked into the mirror he saw a range with pots on it, more hideous décor and all the trappings of the kitchen that it once had been. There were no people this time but he was sure he smelt something cooking. He looked away from the mirror and examined the frame intently. The strange foliage writhed this way and that, flowers and fruits displayed in their profusion and then he noticed it. A very small flower in the bottom right hand corner, tucked away towards the rear of the frame but with twelve petals and upon each petal five striations and, surrounding this flower, an almost circular leaf that had a curious notch like a tiny caterpillar bite. He reached forward to the flower, took it gently between his forefinger and thumb and applied some gentle force. The flower rotated. It notched its way around, each time stopping as a new striation aligned with the caterpillar’s blemish and as it did so the image in the mirror changed. He was rotating the dial clockwise and as he did so the mirror’s reflection revealed a new novelty until, after half a full turn, the room was lit by gas light, the crockery on the dresser was of finer quality, the range had shrunk in size and the ceiling gained in stains. It was still the past, but a more recent past, a more modern past, a newer past. The mirror had taken him forward in time, no, the mirror’s image had moved forward in time. He renewed his grip on the flower-dial and rotated it against the clock, against the flow of time and watched as, turn by turn, the mirror took him back until bare, unplastered walls and a roofless void appeared; still further and the walls melted into sky and trees and grass; further and the ground buckled and heaved and water came and went, creatures swam past, primeval forests sped into view before, as his fingers felt the flower stiffen, the rocks themselves melted and he felt himself sinking into the molten warmth.

The fire-fighter said he was lucky. It was only because of the stranger in the window (‘Dressed rather weird like’) that the lady over the road had dialled 999 and, when the police broke in, they had nearly choked on the fumes from the leaking boiler. The intruder was nowhere to be found but the man had been discovered lying on the dining room floor amongst the fragments of glass and wood from the smashed mirror. Oh, and there was a funny smell, an odd mixture of boiled rabbit and sulphur but they couldn’t find where it had come from…