Thursday Doors – Haven

img_4972I’ve been posting in Thursday Doors for a while now. Some weeks the doors have been grand, entrances to cathedrals or palaces. Other weeks they’ve been more humble, just like my door this week.

Yet a door, no matter the size or shape, represents possibility. None of us know what lies behind until we choose to open the door and enter. There’s a reason that Let’s Make A Deal, with prizes hidden behind doors 1, 2 and 3, is such an enduring pop culture icon. The idea of doors representing choice, a metaphor for change, is a powerful one. Doors often feature in fairytales, either with a caution that they are not to be opened (usually disobeyed), or as pathways to a quest, representing levels of wisdom or challenge. Spirits in haunted houses are said to wander through doors no longer there, perhaps symbolic of their status as lost souls.

And this little blue door, with its welcoming light, seems to represent a haven. Doesn’t it look welcoming, with the tiled path and the little arch, the plants and the golden light beyond? On a cold dark light it’s almost a beacon, a promise of respite for a weary traveller. This is not my front door – in fact, I have no idea who lives here. But it’s nice to think that, hopefully, they feel happiness when they see their front door, a feeling that they are home.

This was my entry to Thursday Doors, via Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

A Trip Through The Old Town, Hemel Hempstead

IMG_2175Today’s post is a weekend wander around Hemel Hempstead. There is a reason for this – last week, on my Thursday Doors post, roughseasinthemed asked if I could post some pictures of the Old Town area, as I had mentioned that improvements had recently been undertaken. Apparently their partner used to live here, and was curious to see what had been done. So here we are.

IMG_2163Hemel Hempstead Old Town has buildings dating back to the 1500s, though it is believed there has been settlement here since Roman times. Henry VIII used to rampage his way through here, and had a hunting lodge nearby, plus there are rumours of secret tunnels and trysts with Anne Boleyn. He is reputed, as is Anne, to haunt at least one building in the Old Town.

IMG_2180The Old Town has a mix of architectural styles, from half-timbered Tudor buildings,

IMG_2173to Georgian shops and apartments,

IMG_2164to the Victorian splendour of the rebuilt Corn Market, home to my Thursday door.

IMG_2194There are old carriageways leading to hidden courtyards,

IMG_2195Where the gates have been open so long, flowers grow around them.

IMG_2151The improvements took place a couple of years ago and are still ongoing. A rather nice set of gates was installed, one with an image of the church steeple, the other with the old Town Hall.

IMG_2176New paving and parking bays were laid, adding to the appeal of the streetscape.

IMG_2160The building covered in scaffolding was, until recently, a rather unattractive late 70s/early 80s edifice in dark red brick, a bit of an eyesore when compared to the other architecture in the area. It has now been painted off-white and is undergoing other renovations, no doubt trying to make it more sympathetic to the area.

IMG_2155This building is still a mystery, though a small plaque on the front door reads ‘Bank’. It is no longer a bank, and the tattered curtains and peeling woodwork add to the air of intrigue.

IMG_2170This is a small parking area overlooking the Norman church and graveyard. When it was being repaved, an underground chamber was discovered. Perhaps a remnant of the rumoured tunnels?

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I’ll finish with a view over Gadebridge Park, which runs behind the Old Town. Apparently ghostly galloping can be heard there at night – at one time, the Park was private land belonging to a large house (now gone). The owner of the house was a military veterinarian and he used the land to rehabilitate injured cavalry horses, so was somewhat ahead of his time. Apparently the horses lived out their days in peace and tranquility but, every so often, would make formation and charge down the field, as though reliving their battle days. So perhaps it is their hooves that people hear…

Thanks for taking a trip around the Old Town with me. Happy weekend, everyone!

#writephoto – Spiral

Sue's Spiral Stair

This morning I woke to the internet being down. Completely off. A recorded announcement from my supplier when I called them assured me an ‘engineer was working to fix the problem,’ which seemed fairly typical.

I use the internet most days, obviously, doing research and reading blogs, catching up on posts I’ve missed and posting work of my own. I’d planned to post a response to Sue’s photo prompt today plus do a few other things, but there I was, cut off.

And you know what? It was not a bad thing. In fact, it reminded me to focus on something I’ve been working on this year – the idea of bringing more balance back into my life. And so I pottered about, looking after family, moving through the day without the nagging feeling that I needed to keep checking this and checking that, a burden I hadn’t realised I’d been carrying lifted.

And then we came back online. My daughter, who’d been horrified when I informed her we had no internet, heaved a sigh of relief (she’s a bit under the weather today, so playing outside wasn’t on the agenda). My husband was able to watch the Aussie Rules football game. And I headed back into blogland, though a little more mindfully than before.

And so here is my response to Sue’s spiral staircase photo. I actually wrote two small stories, each around the 100 word mark. Both stories feature children and, even though I didn’t set out to do so, I think they might be linked. They are also quite dark, which seems to be a thing for me of late. I think as writers we need to sometimes let ourselves go into the darkness, so our books hold both light and shade. Sue wrote a post touching on that the other week, as well. Right. Enough waffling. Here we go:

Freedom.

She could feel its kiss whenever she passed the small window, a glimpse of blue and green, misted fields in early light.

Then her gaze turned upwards, the bucket heavy in her small hands, dripping on the worn stones.

And so she went, day in and day out, cleaning her lady’s chamber. The fields turned from green to gold as water dripped and dust rose, swirling to lie thick on the wooden floor, no matter how she shuttered the windows against it.

But one day, when ice silvered her bucket and the fields beyond, she did not wake, the deep frost taking her as she slept.

Free once more.

——-

‘Come on then!’ He clattered up the old stone stairs, his feet the last thing visible as he rounded the curve. ‘Scaredy cat!’

The words floated down and she frowned, clenching her small fists. ‘Am not!’ She could hear his laughter, faint, the sound of his feet receding. ‘Hmmph!’

She started to climb. Haunted tower or no, she’d see who the scaredy cat was when they got to the top. Then the screaming began, and she grinned. Serve him right, she thought, remembering the dead rat she’d hung there earlier that day.

Then the screaming stopped. And she saw his feet again.

Dangling.

The Turning Of The Year

It’s Thursday, which usually means a door. But it’s also New Year’s Eve, and a chance to look back over the past year.

2015 has been an extraordinary year for me, both in life and in blogging. I published the first two books in my Ambeth series, visited Spain, Andorra, Canada and the US, welcomed a new sister-in-law and nephew and underwent life changing surgery, among other things.

I also took a chance and attended the first Blogger’s Bash in London, and I’m so glad I did! I met so many wonderful bloggers, all of whom were as lovely in person as they appeared on their blogs. And, since then, my blog has grown in leaps and bounds as I discovered more lovely blogging people and they discovered me.

My report came through from WordPress yesterday – you know the one I mean 🙂 I won’t publish it here, but I will share my top five posts for the year. And here they are:

Ghosts of My Grandfather

This post was one of those ones which I wasn’t sure about sharing. It felt very personal, plus I wasn’t sure if people would think I was a bit mad, with my orbs and ghostly figures. How wrong I was! It was my most popular post of the year 🙂

The Gratitude Challenge

This post was a challenge set by blogger Dee, to write about something for which I’m grateful. If I remember correctly, I wrote this very quickly and in one sitting, and certainly didn’t expect it to have the response it did! Another thing to be grateful for.

Birthday

This post was not to celebrate my own birthday, but rather my first blogiversary. So it was nice to see so many people come along to celebrate with me 🙂

Before You Publish

This post came about through a link posted by The Story Reading Ape, about a blogger who was fined for using images without permission. I used to work in advertising negotiating image usage rights, so I was aware of the pitfalls in sharing work and decided to write a post about it. Once again, a surprising response!

Night Scribbles

This post rounded out my top five, and was a musing on the way that ideas which come to us in the middle of the night can appear quite silly in the morning, just dream ravings. It seemed to strike a chord with quite a few of you 😉

Looking back at my top five for the year, I think the main lesson I’ve learned is that I just need to post whatever comes to mind, for it is often those posts I don’t think will do so well that resonate the most. That, and the fact that I’m part of a wonderful community of bloggers – thanks to all of you for reading and sharing this year!

And here is my door, because it is Thursday, after all 🙂

IMG_2036

I’ve chosen a doorway, rather than a door (though I assume a door may have hung here many centuries ago). It seemed appropriate, on the turning of the year, to consider the idea that we stand at the threshold of a new year and all it brings.

This door is from Criccieth Castle in North Wales. The castle is 12th century and ruined now, but has a rich and varied history, as well as a beautiful setting, looking across the bay to mountains. It’s one of my favourite places in the world.

And with that I will finish by wishing you a Happy New Year! See you in 2016…

A Question Of Orbs

A few weeks ago, Hugh over at Hugh’s Views and News posted an image he had taken on the beach which featured a strange glowing orb. We ended up having a conversation in the comment section, as I had also blogged about a photograph in which I’d captured some unexplained phenomenon. I mentioned I had a few other shots in which these ‘orbs’ had shown up, and promised to do a post. So here it is.

I took these images at Warwick Castle about five years ago when the Castle was all decked out for Christmas, so they are very timely. Warwick Castle is the ancient seat of the Earls of Warwick and has a building history spanning almost a thousand years, from the original Norman motte and bailey to the Victorian renovations done when Lady Warwick was a favourite of the Prince of Wales, who often visited.

The first image is taken inside the Great Hall, which, as you can see, was set up for a Christmas function. As you can also see, there are loads of orbs in this image, including a tiny one way up high, and another hovering like a bauble at the lower right of the Christmas tree. There is also a cluster of orbs running along the left side of the image. Perhaps a ghostly party going on? Or just a dusty old castle?

Warwick Castle Great Hall

This second image was taken in one of the drawing rooms, renovated in Victorian times but dating back several centuries earlier. In this image there are two visible orbs, one at the base of the wall sconce, the other by the curtain tie-back on the right.

Warwick Castle Drawing Room

And just for comparison, here is a shot I took just a few minutes later in the room next door – the Gift Room. As you can see, the lighting is similar, but there are no orbs. So I guess I can dismiss dust on the lens?

Warwick Castle Gift Room

All the photos were taking using a digital camera within a single half hour period. So I leave them here without any further comment. Looking forward to hearing yours 🙂

An Observation – Part 6 – Heart Shaped Garden

Heide I - Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - Nick Carson

Heide I – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Nick Carson

Miss Three and I were at the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne, spending the day there with my mother-in-law, her sister and two other friends. Madam had already charmed everyone at lunch in the cafe, pretending to take our ‘orders’ at the table, charging us all exorbitant prices:

‘Really? A hundred dollars for coffee and cake? It must be good.’

After lunch she wandered with us through the concrete cool of the mid century modernist house called Heide II, once home to artists John and Sunday Reed, lolling on the couches where they had once sat and looking with a child’s eye at the paintings on the rough textured walls, bright arcs of colour and light.

Then we went to the original timber clad farmhouse, Heide I. The rooms were filled with paintings and photographs documenting that golden time when Heide was a hotbed of art and love and friendship, legendary names reclined in sunny group shots, laughing on the green lawns.

Miss Three became tired of it all, not being able to touch anything. She wanted to go outside and I obliged – after all, she had been so very good all day. So out we went, leaving our group behind as we stepped into the walled garden surrounding the house to find ourselves alone. Miss Three chased after butterflies then became entranced by the heart shaped flowerbed on the lawn, created by Sunday after the end of her love affair with Sidney Nolan. I watched as Miss Three danced around the heart, pink skirts blowing, small arms stretched out.

All at once it was as if time slowed and shifted, and it was as though Sunday stood near me, her presence as strong as the scent of roses tumbling over the high brick wall. I could feel her pleasure at seeing my daughter enjoying her garden, and hardly dared move or breathe, not wanting to break the spell sitting like a golden bell over us all.

Then a woman came through the arched opening in the wall, her expression disapproving as she looked at Miss Three who was stopped on the path, smelling a flower. ‘Excuse me,’ she said, moving abruptly past us before we really had a chance to step out of the way. And just like that, the spell was broken, the magic gone.

All except the memory. That remains.

Ghosts of My Grandfather

My grandfather died in his church.

For many years he was vicar there, the ancient village surrounding it dating back to the Domesday Book (and possibly beyond). It was the kind of place that had a castle once, but ‘Simon De Montfort and his crew tore it down.’ Where the old manor house had fallen prey to post war neglect, where another old home had an indelible bloodstain by the fireplace, relic of misdeeds long ago.

My grandfather was a wonderful vicar. At least, that’s how I remember him. He preached love and tolerance, filling the church with vegetables and fruit at harvest time, the scientist and historian in him acknowledging traditions older than his religion. On Sundays, after the service and Sunday School and dinner in the old Georgian vicarage, he would sit at his desk and prepare his notes for next week’s sermon while I danced around the small circular table at the centre of the room, French doors open to let in the scents and sounds of the garden beyond.

He died when I was only nine, struck down by a massive heart attack as he readied himself for service in the small vestry. He was carried out through the packed congregation (which included my grandmother) and, several days later, laid to rest in the churchyard nearby. I still miss him (as I do all my grandparents), and feel glad I had the chance to know him for a few short years at least.

We sometimes visit the village where he lived, though I haven’t been for a couple of years now. It still slumbers peacefully among the fields, the small stream where I used to play Poohsticks with my grandmother meandering through the main street past half timbered cottages and Georgian houses. It’s a beautiful place and not much changed since I was small.

About eight years ago we visited, taking my husband and baby daughter to the church where my parents were married and my brother and I christened, a carved wooden memorial chair marking my grandfather’s years of service there. It was an auspicious time for me – coming out of a difficult spell after the birth of my daughter and reconnecting with my past, the trip we made to visit family in the UK was life changing for many reasons.

And so I stood in my grandfather’s church and I remembered. Singing in the pews next to my grandmother. My very-small-at-the-time brother deciding one day that he would rather stand with Grandad in the pulpit than sit in the pew (nobody minded). Taking my basket of apples up to the altar at harvest time, so heavy I had to use both arms to carry it. Years and layers of time and memory weaving around me. And then something, I don’t know what, prompted me to take out my camera. I held it up and thought (again, I don’t know why), ‘Grandad, if you’d like to be in this picture, please do.’ Then I paused for a split second before pressing the shutter.

And this is the image that appeared:

Church Interior

I don’t know how you feel about the idea of an afterlife, or our loved ones coming to visit after they are gone. I have my own opinions but I won’t bore you with them today. However, this photo seemed quite special to me.

Do you see the two orbs? The big one is directly above my grandfather’s memorial chair, while another seems to be ascending the stair to the pulpit. (it’s on the bottom step)

Church face image

And then who is this peeping around the pillar? The chapel to the right is called the Lady Chapel, and houses two very old and worn burials of a knight and his lady, their names lost to time. Did one of them decide to come back and have their picture taken?

I should go back, I suppose, and take another photo from the same angle. It’s a very old building, after all. Dust, tricks of the light and worn marks on the stones can sometimes present images that seem other than they are. So I leave this with you without further comment, although I’d be interested to hear yours.