Day 6.1: The Quarry Man of Myddle

The Gods are urinating (1) this morning, and the sprogs are engrossed in YouTube. A day indoors at The Red Lion’s Lodge?

This isn’t really so bad.

The luxury leather sofas are more comfortable, by far, than my cheap and many-year’s old Homebase efforts back in Suffolk. I pick up some reading material, force the sprogs to shuffle along, and attempt to zone out from the excitable voices of Pokémon gamers and Barbie doll house builders.

I flick through a tourist pack containing details of local walks, and consider pulling over the cow-skin pouffe, to rest my weary feet a while – but the voice of Richard Gough destroys the moment:

Prise yourself off that sofa! It might be a bit wet outside, but I didn’t painstakingly detail every single cottage, grand hall and farm in Myddle, for bits of my DNA to live on and then to do nothing! Get your genes on out of there!

Gough does have point, I guess, but I did the Gough walk experience on my last visit, and there’s no way Sprog 2 will be up for a tramp through a load of squelchy quagmires! Memories flood back of a slightly smaller and younger Sprog 2, objecting to the feel of scratchy long grass on his bare legs, and settling himself down for the duration in the middle of one of Farmer Evans’ (2) fields.

Any normal mother might at that point have attempted to shift their child. But, it’s no easy feat to offer an almost-teenage lump a piggy back through miles of farmland, so I considered my options:

1) Give him a piggy back anyway and put up with the ensuing back pains and knee strain on the basis that the short-term gain in tonnage would be a quick win for shedding my belly flab.

2) Leave him in the middle of the field and report to Farmer Evans to claim payment for my Sprog’s usefulness as a thunder-farting scarecrow.

3) Go for a compromise, move on with Sprog 2, and park our own butts, out of sight in the next field.

After opting for 3, our rest was short-lived. No sooner had we placed ourselves in situ to do a study of the Salopian field mice, than Sprog 3 decided to make a reappearance.

No, there’s no way I’ll ever persuade him to …

‘Right, off your bums, everyone! We’re going out!’

‘In minute, when I’ve …’

‘And we’re going out NOW!’

Two hours later, we exit The Lodge. None of us can face a trek across boggy fields, so we take to the road. On foot.

Hence, I’m more than put out to find that Scoggan’s hole, the cave I trekked across fields and high-jumped over electric fences to find, on my last visit to Myddle (3), is only just up the road a bit and round the corner! Little did Sprog 2 realise that he faced his worst fears – of an itchy grass attack – needlessly. All the time, Scoggan was just …

‘Mum?’

Spurred on by a sudden loss of hearing, I march on up the tarmacked road.

‘MUM?’

‘Er …. yes?’

‘Isn’t that that cave we saw last time, the one that we …’

Hearing loss.

‘MUM, MUM, MUM!!!???’

Complete hearing loss.

Oh.

‘So, where’s this Scoggan’s cave that you kept going on about?’

Advice. If you decide to go on holiday without your other half on the one occasion, but take him with you on a return visit, prime him first. Make sure that he knows what is and what is not an acceptable question to ask, when you revisit the old haunts.

‘That’s it!’ shouts Sprog 2. ‘It’s right there, fenced in at the back of that garden next to us! And, last time, she made us walk for miles to get here! MUM?’

I leave Hubby to investigate Scoggan’s hole, and make a run for it ……..

**************************************************************************

The strain across the back of my middle-aged knees is horrendous. When making a run for it, it’s probably best to keep on the flat, rather than to go jogging on uphill past a sign that very clearly states ‘Danger – steep drops ahead!’ Still, there’s no chance of a quick disappearance by descent over a cliff edge because, I only advance about five metres before I have to pause for a long pit-stop. I regain my balance and posture by bracing my hands behind my back and lurching forward, before making a further advance. Slowly does it. Stop. Reposition. Advance. Stop. Reposition. Advance. Stop.

I reach the top and look back. Was my journey by foot any better than a trip out via my Dacia Sandero? For the first time, I start to feel some empathy with my poor wee car. It can hardly help it if it starts, stutters and stalls all of the time. Really, it can lay all of the blame for it’s feeble state of physical fitness at the foot of it’s mistress.

Hoping that my brakes are in sound working order, I peer over the precipice. Something clicks into place and it’s not either of my knees. I’m overlooking the vast pit of an old quarry. In my head, I click through the Censuses, on Ancestry.com, until I’m back in Myddle in 1851. Didn’t Great-Great Grandfather, Joe Cool, live at some number-or-other ‘Near the Quarry’? And wasn’t he a stonemason and quarry man? Is this where he lived and worked? In a pit, widowed, responsible for five children and a niece, and for bringing in enough money to keep everyone alive? How did he get by from day to day? Did he actually live in a house, or just some kind of make-shift shack nestled up against the quarry walls? Fired up by my profound, Am I standing in the very spot he lived in? thought, I turn detective.

Forgetting all about the warning sign, I edge my way down into the quarry.

Turns out, the descent is a more than dodgy for one such as I, with my arthritic toes and gammy knees (nothing to do with my doomed-to-failure childhood ballerina ambitions), so I make use of my derriere and slide down the refreshingly soggy carpets of leaves on my padded parts.

Plonk down, prise up, phut, phut, phut. Plonk down, prise up, phut, phut, phut. Plonk down, prise up, phut, phut, phut. Final phut. Peruse.

It’s all very orange, brown and kind of dead down here. But, pushing such thoughts aside, instead I see:

Numerous lean-to shacks, propped up by the quarry walls and by each other. Orange-faced sprogs huddled up to each other, and teenage girls with eyes as old as my seventy-something-year-old mother’s, peering out of glassless windows, in the vain hope that their fathers and uncles might deign to bring their earnings home that evening, rather than heading straight out into the village of Myddle and proceeding onwards to The Red Lion. The young sprogs are silent, not even bothering to cry out in protest at the rumblings of their empty bellies. A young lad, judging by his small, skinny form, perhaps about twelve years old, eventually tumbles into one of the shacks. 
“Dad’s gone to quench his thirst,” he says.”But, it’s okay, I’ve earned a few pence, enough for the wee bairn’s milk. Send one the little ones to fetch it from Missus Evans (4)! I’m getting some kip!’

Unfortunately, I haven’t inherited my maternal Great-Something-Grandmother’s gifts for spiritualism, and none of the ghosts I attempt to conjure up actually materialise. Instead, I hunt around for some evidence to support my hallucinations.

Bingo.

I find several holes in the quarry walls, that look like they once held the beams of wooden structures, the beams that held up the draughty shells of quarry worker’s make-do abodes – holes that sucked up the smile of my Great-Something-Aunt Cool, as she found herself tending her flock of four young siblings and a niece, following the early death of my Great-Great-Grandmother Cool.

“Mum! Mum! MUM! Where are you?”

“Down here!”

“Down where?”

“Here!”

“You mean, up there?”

I look down from a room-sized platform, dug into the quarry wall, which sucked me up via it’s beam holes.

 

 

The sprogs are standing down below, looking up at me. At last, I have a stage of my own, complete with audience for trying out one of my gags on. I launch into my ‘Ancient Teacher’s’ song (5).

“SHUT UP! You’ve got poo all over your trousers and we want to back to The Lodge!”

“But, this is a lodge. This is where Great-Great ….”

“SHUT UP!”

I realise that the moment, if ever there was on, is lost. Time to disappoint the baying crowd and abandon my stage.

“The thing is – that I’m not sure how to get back down from here. Any ideas?”

“Jump!”

I jump. My toes protest.

“And the other thing is, how do we get back up there?” I point up to the cliff top, at the edge of which is a small pin-man hovering. Hubby.

“That’s easy. You go back up the way we came down. Follow us!”

I do what I am told and, much to my disgust, find that the route by which I am taken is an easy ascent of gentle slopes. Much longer than the route by which I descended, granted, but by far and away the most sensible of the options. Sprogs, never do as the mother does, and always – always – take heed of yourselves!

And the view from the top, now that I’m no longer on the run, seems worth all the effort, when I find myself looking down upon the rooftop of a still-inhabited cave house.

Could this be the very same ‘House in the Rock’, built against the ‘chilly and damp’ quarried rock face, once dwelt in by Jessie King, the little girl with the plaited yellow hair, who had ‘bacon’ stitched ‘inside her chemise’ and ‘across her chest to protect her from the cold’? Is this the house written about by cousin Helen Ebrey (6) in her bestseller?

**********************************************************************

Showered and free of the brown stuff, I settle back down where the day started, my backside comfortably ensconced in an accommodating leather sofa. What was it really like to be a quarry-man’s child? Perhaps Google can help. I open my laptop.

“Mum! Close that laptop! We want to go shopping!”

On a wet day, what else can one do, but resign oneself to afternoon tea at Tesco?

I pick up my Motorola and, after a half-hour wait whilst it decides whether it wants to be kicked into action or not, I arrange to meet Uncle Cool and his guest, my Mother, at Telford’s hotspot.

The Quarry Man can wait. An almost dead memory of a song comes into my head and I launch into my second doomed performance of the day:

“Don’t meet the Quarry Man!” in my best Richard de Burgh voice.

“SHUT UP!”

“If you are going to sing, at least get the words right!” advises my very helpful (if somewhat pedantic) Hubby. “That song’s about a Ferry Man!”

I process the tip, and realise that he is right. As always.

“DON’T MEET THE QUARRY MAN!”

“SHUT UP!”

Point taken.

Copyright of text and photographs owned by Jay Cool, April 2018.

Footnotes


(1) In Roman times, Gods were believed to have the same essential requirements as us mere mortals but, being a rule unto themselves, thought it was okay to urinate at any time and in any place they fancied. And it appears, judging by today’s miserable weather, that the inventions of Thomas Brightfield, Sir John Harington, and Thomas Crapper, as they attempted to make their marks on the timeline of progress with regards to privacy and the flushing toilet, were completely lost on those above. At this point, excuse me, whilst I make a quick request to Cloacena, the goddess of the common sewer. ‘Please, dear Cloacena, consider the River Severn to be the sewer, and allow it to overflow enough to make it to Myddle, so that the ensuing waters will flush away the odours of Crepitus, the god of convenience. Amen.

(3) Read all about my first visit to Scoggan’s cave!

(2) I have, of course, got no idea of the name of the actual farmer, but thought I’d plug the author Roger Evans’, diaries about his life as a Shropshire farmer. In return, Farmer Evans, I must insist that you promote my blog posts! The Salopian family supports it’s own, and I have lots of incidences of the surname Evans in my family tree; that, and the fact that we are both writers of wit and genius, should be enough of a coupling to bring in dosh a plenty to feed the souls of every single one of the 48823 relatives currently residing on my family tree!

(4) A plug for Roger Evans’ Great-Something-Grandmother!

(5) Jay Cool practising for a Britain’s Got Talent audition!

(6) The first cousin of the husband of my Great Aunt, published a memoir about her childhood in Myddle.

Bibliography

 
Ebrey, Helen, ‘Myddle: The Life and Times of a Shropshire farmworker’s daughter 1911-1928’ (Merlin Unwin, 2016).
Evans, Roger, ‘Fifty Bales of Hay’ (Merlin Unwin Books, 2016).
Horan, Julie L., ‘An Uninhibited History of the Toilet’ (Robson Books, 1998).

Other sources of useful information:

Ancestry.co.uk
FamilySearch.com
FindMyPast.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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