Day 37: Salford to Leeds

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Mention Salford, and my first thought is L.S. Lowry and his Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs. Today, though, I want to concentrate on some creative types a little further along the route (or justoff it) in the town of Hebden Bridge.

  Houses and Barges by The Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

Houses and Barges by The Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

When I was but a youngster, I knew of Hebden Bridge as the place where pupils doing English A Levels went for their creative writing weekends. Then I got a little older and learned that not only is it home to other creative and New Age types, but it also has lots of lesbians. I went there for a job interview in 1995, and while the job itself didn’t inspire me, the town did.

It’s also inspired various of my friends, and two of them will be moving there later this year. I have grand plans to go and stay with them as soon as they’re settled.

Back to writing. The wonderfully diverse population for such a small town, along with the beautiful Calderdale scenery, inspired my story ‘The Woman Who Hatched a Fairy’s Egg’ in A Series of Ordinary Adventures. Cynthia inherits a large, rather run-down house up above the town from her partner, Sophie, who in turn had not long since inherited it from her grandmother. Not wanting to stay in London by herself, Cynthia moves into the house and starts on a plan to renovate it.

View towards Todmorden, West Yorkshire: Alastair Wallace

View towards Todmorden, West Yorkshire: Alastair Wallace

She also rediscovers her talent for weaving, which she decides to turn into a source of income, as well as renting out rooms in her house to visiting artists and craftspeople, just as soon as she gets the place in order. Then, one afternoon, she finds an egg…

At first glance, the egg looked like a confection, one of those solid chocolate sweets with the hard sugar shells that seemed to appear in the shops earlier and earlier each year. Those were generally a little smaller, perhaps two-thirds the size of this one. When Cynthia poked gently at the egg with one hesitant finger, it rocked as if it weighed little more than a handful of feathers. She lifted it carefully with her thumb and forefinger. It was faintly warm, its surface chalky, its contents moving slightly in much the same way as those of a raw hen’s egg.

Cynthia decides to incubate the egg, with no real idea what it might hatch into, and so her adventure begins. Along the way she meets various of the townspeople — locals and incomers — as well as becoming very good friends with Matthew, the local Wildlife Officer, and the widowed father of an estranged son.

How about a slightly longer excerpt, in which Matthew and Cynthia are on their way to Leeds to look at new furniture for Cynthia’s house…

“I tried phoning Martin last night,” Matthew said, just as Cynthia was about to turn the radio up after all. “He wasn’t in, but I left a message with one of them as he lives with.”

“Have you managed to speak to him recently?”

“Not since Christmas. He was at his grandparents’ but he phoned me on the day. I suppose we spoke for all of five minutes then.”

Looking down to Pecket Well & Hedden Bridge from Oxenhope Moor: Mat Overton

Looking down to Pecket Well & Hedden Bridge from Oxenhope Moor: Mat Overton

Cynthia waited for Matthew to overtake three lorries before making her reply, but Matthew spoke again before she could say anything.

“I just don’t know what I’ve done wrong. It’s been eight years. He can’t be holding a grudge after all that time, surely? The accident wasn’t even my fault. I was at home.” Just as he had been when Sarah died, he seemed to imply.

“I wouldn’t know,” Cynthia admitted. “My father hasn’t spoken to me in a lot longer than that.”

“Because you didn’t want to work for him? Dad wanted me to be a gamekeeper, but he came round once he saw I was happy doing my own thing.”

“It wasn’t that.” Cynthia was unsure how much Matthew knew: how much people had told him, and how much he had figured out for himself. “He was proud of me when I worked in the City. He was always far more keen to boast about what I made at bonus time than anyone else I knew did about their own money.”

“He didn’t like that you quit it all?”

“Partly. He didn’t want to tell people about my…” Her breakdown. “About how I dropped out, and sold all my status symbols. About how I was living in a tiny flat on the tenth floor of a tower block, and seeing a therapist three days a week.” She took a breath. “The last straw was when I went home to tell my parents that they didn’t have two sons and a daughter, they had two daughters and a son.”

“That’s not right.”

Cynthia hardly dared look at Matthew as he wrenched the truck off the motorway and through a series of roundabouts leading to an industrial estate. He slowed the truck, and pulled off the road into a car park.

At the far end of the car park, Cynthia spotted the first of the furniture stores on her list.

“It’s not right,” Matthew repeated. “You share something like that with them, they should try to understand.”

“He didn’t try. My mother might have, if he’d let her speak to me about it.” Cynthia unfastened her seatbelt. “But he threw me out, and told me never to darken his door again.” He’d called her every name she’d ever heard people use about “her sort,” and found even more on the one occasion that she’d tried to introduce Sophie to him. Perhaps her father would have accepted her in the end, if she and Sophie had been able to produce grandchildren for him.

The door beside her opened, startling Cynthia out of her train of thought.

“It just makes no sense to me.” Matthew was standing at her shoulder, even though she had no memory of hearing him get out of the truck. “You can’t help who you are. I’d never turn Martin away for something that wasn’t his fault. I wouldn’t turn him away for something of his own choosing, either, but we’re not talking about choice here.” He held out his hand.

Cynthia let him help her down, then kept her fingers loosely entwined with his.

“I’m trying to picture it,” Matthew said slowly. “You went home, and said ‘Dad, I’m not—whatever your name was before—I’m Cynthia,’ and then he threw you out? He’s never got in touch, and said ‘Sorry, Cynthia, it was me that was in the wrong’?”

Cynthia shook her head. “Never.”

“If Martin… Well, I might be angry at myself for not seeing it without being told, but not in a way that might make him think I was angry with him.”

“He’ll come round one day.” How could he not? Matthew was obviously a good father, despite his faults.

“I hope you’re right.” Matthew looked down at their joined hands. “Can I ask you one thing? Just so I can get my head around it all?”

***

You can read more about Cynthia and Matthew, as well as a whole host of other, highly diverse characters in A Series of Ordinary Adventures from Candlemark and Gleam. But for now, some other fun facts about Hebden Bridge, which is sadly suffering right now from the worst floods in 30 years.

Little Blue and Red Barge on the Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

Little Blue and Red Barge on the Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge: Bernard Rabone

It’s on the Rochadale Canal. They don’t hold with supermarkets or plastic bags. The houses are built on top of each other, because of the steep hills.It used to be known as ‘Trouser Town’ on account of all the mills. Feel free to add more facts of your own.

All photographs from 123RF Stock Photos

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About Stevie Carroll

Born in Sheffield, England's Steel City, and raised in a village on the boundary of the White and Dark Peaks, Stevie Carroll was nourished by a diet of drama and science fiction from the BBC and ITV, and a diverse range of books, most notably Diane Wynne-Jones and The Women's Press, from the only library in the valley. After this came a university education in Scotland, while writing mostly non-fiction for underground bisexual publications under various aliases, before creativity was stifled by a decade of day-jobs. Now based in West Yorkshire, Stevie has rediscovered the joys of writing fiction, managing to combine thoughts of science fiction, fantasy and mysteries with a day-job in the pharmaceuticals industry and far too many voluntary posts working with young people, with animals and in local politics. Stevie's short story, 'The Monitors', in Noble Romance's Echoes of Possibilities, was longlisted by the 2010 Tiptree Awards jury. Other short stories have appeared in the anthologies British Flash and Tea and Crumpet, while Stevie's first solo collection A Series of Ordinary Adventures was published by Candlemark and Gleam in May 2012. Stevie has a LiveJournal for writing updates, and is in the process of building a website.

8 responses »

  1. I had some great times, quite a few years back, in Hebden Bridge and I know it’s a great centre of alternative culture as well as being described by some sources as the ‘lesbian capital of the UK’ (in a BBC report, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16962898). I’m usually an afficionado of ‘alternative’ culture(s) of all sorts, but I could never quite put my finger on why I never warmed to the place! Maybe it was just down to meeting a few pagans for whom The Only Way Is Wicca…

    Oh, and if there’s anyone left who doesn’t know it, Sylvia Plath is buried in Heptonstall, a small village which is virtually an adjunct of Hebden Bridge.

    Finally – liked the extract, a great sense of place and the personal histories of the characters there, and it’s all done with just a few light touches.

  2. Hebden Bridge is a great place – although my husband knows it better as he spent quite a number of months working as a pharmacist on and off there when he was a relief. Today was my day for actually seeing the torch in person – in City park in Bradford. I do love the countryside round there – and indeed round here in general – people at times do not realise quite how much wonderful places there are within easy reach….

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