Author Topic: A lifetime on the towpath  (Read 2622 times)

Offline pete.r.

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A lifetime on the towpath
« on: February 24, 2014, 05:40:17 PM »
A story in four parts


Dora Slugger and Ron were in the barn mucking out. Ron was sat on a bale of hay, strumming his
guitar, more like mucking about. Dora and Slugger were sweeping and shovelling away,
"Reckon I'd have made a good pop star" said Ron, "What do you think Dora?"
"No" she replied, "You're not putting enough energy into it, there's not enough movement (Throwing
a hint to Ron to get on with some work).
"I'll show you how it's done" said Slugger, and he picked up his brush and began playing it Air Guitar
style, moving round  with a speed that belied his years. "Watcha think Ron" he said. "Nah, replied
Ron, "You've got your right hand all wrong, it's in the wrong position."
"Ow's that then Ron " said Slugger. "Well", he replied, "It's holding the brushes bristles, they're all
covered in horse poo."
"Oh gawd" said Slugger, "What a mess." He dropped the brush and wiped his hand in some straw.
Suddenly a mouse ran out, disturbed by Slugger.
"AAARRGH" Shrieked Ron, jumping up and down.
"Ere Ron, that's brilliant" said Slugger. "You look just like a pop star now. You should be on
"Opportunity Knocks."

In through the door came the Colonel. "Is everything alright" he said, "What's that shouting, whats.....
Good Lord, why's Ron standing on top of that bale of hay brandishing his guitar above his head as
if he's about to bludgeon someone to death."
"Oh, er, morning Colonel" said Ron, a stupid smile on his face.
"Oh don't mind him, it's only a mouse he's seen" said Slugger. "Mind you it's the fastest he's moved
all week."
"Yes well yes,that I can well believe" the Colonel replied. "Good job it wasn't a rat. Actually," he said
"Rats are underrated. Just check your dictionary." He walked out, a mischevious glint in his eye.
"Ere, don't forget to ring Rentokil" shouted Ron, his eyes surveying the floor. Dora smiled.

"Oh Slugger" she said, "Your hand, what a mess."
"Don't suppose you've got a tissue on you Miss" said Slugger.
Ron climbed back down and started strumming his guitar, suddenly he burst into song.

"Sluggers worked really hard today,
Earning every penny.
But if he's making sandwiches for tea,
Tell him you don't want any."

Ron grinned. Slugger put his hand out as if asking for a handshake. Steve rushed into the barn.
"Dora" he shouted, "There's a man in the yard with a soldier wants to see you urgently."
"Blimey" said Ron, "That was quick, thought they'd just put mousetraps down, didn't realise they'd
send a sniper."
"No you don't understand" said Steve, "The mans got a horse called Soldier with him, he needs our
"Tell him I'll be there in a few seconds" Dora replied, handing Slugger a pretty cotton handkerchief
with a nice floral design in the corner. It smelt nice, but wasn't to be for much longer.
"I'll give it you back when I've finished with it" said Slugger.
"Er, no, you can keep it" Dora replied, "I've got plenty."

Dora went into the yard, there was a man with a fairly large heavy black horse with a white blaze,
the man had dirty clothes on and looked rather swarthy. "Hello" he said, "My name's Norman Slack,
everyone calls me by my nickname, "Nutty". I work on my barge delivering coal, or I used to, I've
just retired. This here is Soldier, my barge horse, I've nowhere to keep him now, could you take him
in for me and give him a good home. He's worked hard all his life and deserves looking after now."
"Of course" said Dora, "He's lovely, come on Soldier, we've got a spare stable."

Later on back in the house, the Colonel had gone for a lie down.
Ron was sat in his chair, reading his newspaper. He had a pair of spectacles on, he actually looked
quite intelligent.
"You'll cop it if the Colonel sees you in his chair reading his paper" said Slugger.
"I don't think he'll see me " said Ron."
"What makes you say that" said Dora.
"Because I'm wearing his glasses" said Ron.

"Here's an interesting bit in the paper" said Ron, putting on a posh voice. "In the motoring section
it says that every two hours someone puts the wrong fuel in their car."
"Blimey," said Slugger, "Didn't realise there was that many women drivers about. "Ouch" he said
as Dora threw the book she was reading at him and knocked his hat off.

"Another interesting bit here from the Foreign Correspondent. He says why did the Japanese
Kamakaze pilots wear helmets."
"Probably in case they told their missus about women Kamakaze pilots driving" said Slugger rubbing
his head.
"Ere. this papers rubbish" said Ron throwing it on the floor, "There's no cartoon strips in it, it's only
fit for wrapping fish and chips in and for hanging on the toilet door when you want to wipe your "Arsenal won yesterday I see" said Slugger, looking at the sports headlines on the back page.

That evening Steve was having his supper, Slugger had done baked beans on toast, a huge pile of beans.
"Want some?" said Slugger to Ron and Dora. "No" they both said, peering over at Sluggers hand
which did actually look nice and clean again.
"They're fantastic" said Steve,"They've got a rather unusual taste. I think Slugger must have put
some herbs in them or something.
Ron gave a sickly smile. Dora just felt sickly.
"Anyhow" said Steve, shovelling the last spoonful in his mouth, "I'm off now to give Alex a gallop,
shouldn't be too long if the winds behind me" he said.
"Shouldn't think that'll be a problem" said Ron, judging by all the beans you've just eaten.

To be continued.......

Cut out the strong to help the weak

Offline pete.r.

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Re: A lifetime on the towpath
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2014, 02:14:58 PM »

It'd now been several days since Soldier had arrived at Follyfoot. Dora was worried he wasn't eating
properly and seemed unhappy in his stable and in the yard.
"Think I'll take him out for a walk" said Dora to her uncle, "Get him some exercise."
"Good idea" said the Colonel, "He's always been used to walking a lot, pulling Nutty's barge."

But Soldier didn't seem happy going out of the farm onto the road, he seemed nervous. Then when
Dora turned off onto a footpath everything changed. He whinnied, threw his head up and down
and trotted beautifully.
"Ah thats it" said Dora, "You've always been used to walking on a narrow towpath Soldier of course."

Dora headed straight for the canal. As soon as they got there Soldier nodded his head and looked
around inquisitively at everything. He was much happier. They walked for a while, Soldier was
loving it. Eventually they came to another canal barge, full of tree trunks, the owner was cutting
them into logs, he didn't look very happy.
"Are you alright" said Dora to the man. "No" he replied, "I sell firewood, been doing it for years. My
names William Beaver, "Woody" I'm known as, my old horse Atlas died last week, bless him, miss
him so much. Can't seem to find another one, horses that pull barges are a rarity now you know."
"I think I can help you there" said Dora," I run Follyfoot, a home for unwanted horses, this here is
Soldier, he was brought to the farm a few days ago, he's spent all his life pulling a coal barge. His
owners retired now, but he's not settling in at the farm, he needs to be back on the towpath.
Perhaps he could take the place of Atlas and pull your barge, he's very strong and fit."

Woody looked Dora in the eyes. "Alright" he said. "Shall we say twenty pounds?"
"Twenty pounds" said Dora, that'll be great, I can buy a lot of hay with that."
"No" replied Woody, "You give me twenty pounds."
"What" exclaimed Dora.
"I'm taking him off your hands" he replied, "Saving you food and leaving you with an extra stable for
another horse."
Dora looked in her purse, there was just twenty pounds left. "There you are" she said.
"Ta" said Woody,". I'll see how he goes for a few days. Follyfoot you're from you say. I'll be in touch
if there's any problem."

Dora returned home, and explained to the others what had happened.
"Oh no" said Steve. "Whats up?" said Dora.
"Well, while you were out that Nutty Slack bloke came round. Said to tell you Dora that in the
excitement of you taking Soldier in, he forgot to tell you that the reason he retired was because
Soldier was poorly, he couldn't pull the barge very well. The vet said if he carried on working Soldier
wouldn't last long, he'd die."
"Oh no" said Dora. "Right I'll go straight back on Copper, I must stop Woody using Soldier" she said.

Suddenly there was a scream from the outside toilet, the door burst open and Ron came running out,
hastily pulling his jeans up with one hand whilst holding onto his comic with the other.
"What on earth's going on" said Dora.
"Dunno" said Steve, "Unless its something to do with that toy mouse I hid amongst the toilet paper."
(Slugger had told Steve how Ron was scared of mice).
"Oh Steve" said Dora, "Thats really naughty of you."
"I know" said Steve as they watched Ron flee the toilet as if being chased by a Grizzly Bear.
They couldn't control themselves and fell about laughing.
"My stomach hurts" said Dora.
"Not as much as his" said Steve as Ron crashed in an undignified heap on the ground, got up and then
went down again.

Suddenly Dora remembered about Soldier. "I have to go" she said, pulling herself together.
Within half an hour Dora was back at Woody's barge. Soldier was feeding in his nose bag.
Dora explained to Woody what had happened.
"Well" he replied, "I'll need compensation. I've got to find another horse now. Very difficult to do. Shall
we say another twenty pounds."
Dora looked in her purse, there was nothing left.
"I'll have to bring it you tomorrow" she said.
"Make sure you do" said Woody, running his fingers along a sharp bow saw.

Dora left hurriedly with Soldier and took him back to Follyfoot again, once he left the canal he wasn't
happy. He wouldn't settle in his stable again.
Dora was standing against the lightning tree.
"Are you alright girl?" said Slugger as he walked past.
"Oh Slugger" said Dora, "I'm so worried. I just don't know what to do with him" she said, glancing at
Soldiers stable, his sad head hanging over his stable door.
"Yeah I know, he's a real problem that one" said Slugger, looking over towards Ron who was slouched
over a pitchfork, skiving.
"I don't think he'll ever do another hard day's work again" said Dora.
"You're right there girl" said Slugger, "Ere, would you like me to have a quiet word in his ear?"
"No" smiled Dora," I don't think that would make any difference."
"Yeah, you could be right" said Slugger.

"Slugger" shouted Steve from the door, "There's a horrible smell coming from the kitchen, not sure if
it's the stew you're cooking or your underpants drying in front of the fire."
"Oh gawd" Slugger replied, "Could be either of them. Or both. Must dash."

Dora put her arms around the lightning tree and closed her eyes.
"Please" she said, if ever I needed a miracle, I need one now. For Soldiers sake."

To be continued............

Cut out the strong to help the weak

Offline pete.r.

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Re: A lifetime on the towpath
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2014, 03:49:45 PM »

Next morning Ron was early for work," Blimey" said Slugger, "Ave the clocks gone forward and we
forgot to alter 'em."
"Either that or he's wet the bed" said Steve.
"Mornin all" said Ron," Any breakfast left Slugs."
"He must have a twin brother" replied Steve. "Don't be rotten" said Dora, "Well done Ron."
Steve looked out of the window. "Where's your bike Ron?" he said. "And why's Nutty Slack in the yard?"
"My bike broke down last night" said Ron. "Piston broke."
"Yeah, I know that feeling" said Slugger.
"Yes, well" said Ron",Anyhow I set off on foot for work this morning and Nutty stopped and gave me a lift."
"That explains why you've got coal dust all over your breakfast" replied Slugger.
"Funny that" said Ron, "It's improved the taste."

Dora went out into the yard."Hello Nutty" said Dora."Hello" he replied."Just calling to see how old
Soldiers doing." Dora explained what had hapened.
"Oh dear" said Nutty. "Dora, I've a terrible confession to make. Soldier isn't ill, I just said that because,
well because I felt so bad after retiring and having to give him up. I thought people would think bad
of me so I made that story up to make me feel better, but now I don't, I feel worse. Soldier spent a
lifetime on the towpath. Imagine that, twenty years walking up and down a track barely eight feet
wide every day, pulling thirty tons of coal. But he loved it, it was in his blood. I'm sorry, I didn't mean
to make you cry Dora" said Nutty.

"No, I'm crying because I'm so happy" she replied."It means Soldier can carry on working. Oh wonderful
news, thank you Nutty, thank you." Dora gave him a big hug. She rushed over to the lightning tree
and gave that a hug too, "Thank you" she said, "Thank you for that miracle, its just what I needed."
"Don't suppose there's any more hugs going begging" said Ron, opening his sooty black hands and arms
wide and closing his eyes. "Course there is" said Slugger, and he rushed over and gave him a big hug
and planted a kiss on his cheek, leaving a mark where the coal dust had been.
"Ere' Gerroff shouted Ron," You're all bristly, it's like being manhandled by a yardbrush."
"How would you know" said Steve, "You've not been near one for weeks."

"Right" said Dora, "I'm taking Soldier back to Woody's now, will you come back with me Steve to help?
Oh, and I need to take another twenty pounds."
"What!" said Steve," another twenty pounds."
"Yeah" said Ron rubbing his cheek with his arm. "I know this Woody bloke, very cute with money. And
when you get there it'll be another twenty. Mind if I come too?"
"Of course not" replied Dora.

They soon arrived back at the barge. Dora told Woody what had happened. "Course I can take him back"
he said, "But It'll cost you another twenty pounds. You keep messing me about."
"Thought so," said Ron, "These all your tree trunks then?"
"Yeah of course" Woody replied.
"Bought of a reputable firm were they?" asked Ron. "Here's the receipt" said Woody.
"Yes" said Ron," That receipts for all these nicely sawn off tree trunks on the bottom, but the ones on
the top have been roughly hacked off, look" and he looked inside the cabin where he could see his large
bow saw. "And it's funny" said Ron, "A lot of trees have gone missing from Copse Wood lately. I think
the police will be very interested."
Woody went quiet.
"Let's say Dora's first £20 back, forget the second £20, plus another £20 to keep me quiet. Thats £40
you owe Dora."
Woody took a wad of notes out of his back pocket and paid Dora the forty pounds.
"Who says money doesn't grow on trees" exclaimed Steve.
"And if I hear of you chopping trees down again illegally, you'll be for the chop" said Ron.

"Ron" said Dora, "Will Soldier be alright, working with Woody?"
"He may be a bit of a fiddler on the side, but he's worked with horses all his life" said Ron. "He looks
after them. He knows they're his livelyhood. He'll be fine."

The three friends set off back home along the towpath, then turned round to see the bright orange
sun setting above the canal, the barge sillhouetted against it, the sky a beautiful pattern of orange and
red hues reflecting in the water below. It was a wonderful sight.

Suddenly the bright orange sun turned black. But there were no clouds in the sky. A spiral of rich dark
smoke bellowed into the sky.
"Somethings wrong" said Dora, "We have to go back." As they neared the barge, there was a pungent
smell of wood burning, hot ashes darting into the air, thick black smoke choking the atmosphere.
"It's Soidiers stable, look," said Dora. His stable, which was near to the barge, was ablaze, a bright red
inferno that contrasted with the dusky smoke.
"Soldiers in there" shouted Woody, "He's in the stable."
"Quick Steve and Ron" yelled Dora, "We've got to save him."

Dora ran towards the blazing stable bit the intense heat and the smoke drove her back. Ron put his
neckerchief over his mouth and nose but he, too, couldn't get near.
"We've got to do something" shouted Dora, "Soldiers in there."
"We can't" said Steve dragging her back and away from danger.
Just then a fire engine and ambulance and two police cars arrived, someone had seen the fire and phoned
for help.
Dora was hysterical. The police and ambulancemen carried her into the ambulance.
"Right" said one. "I'll give her an injection now to calm her."
"No!" shouted Dora, "Soldier, someone help Soldier. Please."
Dora felt the needle go into her arm, then she felt her eyes closing, she felt sleepy.
"Right let's get her to hospital" she heard someone say.
Then she slipped into unconsciousness.

To be continued............

Cut out the strong to help the weak

Offline pete.r.

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Re: A lifetime on the towpath
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2014, 12:55:32 PM »

Dora opened her eyes. She was in hospital. She didn't know how long she'd been there. Minutes, hours,
days. She looked round. She saw a face, it was a face she knew. It was Steve.
"Dora's come round" he said. "Where am I?" asked Dora.
"You're in Leeds Royal Infirmary" he said. Ron Slugger and the Colonel were standing round her bed.
Callie and Hazel were looking after Follyfoot.
"How do you feel Dora?" said Steve.
"I've a headache" replied Dora."That's due to the concussion you suffered" said the Colonel.
"Concussion, what concussion?" said Dora.
"Well" said Slugger, "You remember you were in the barn with me and Ron. Ron was playing his guitar
and I pretended my brush was a guitar."
"Yes" said Dora," And there was a mouse, Ron was frightened of it."

"There wern't no mouse" said Ron," And if there waas I'm not frightened of 'em. "I've seen 'undreds in
the barn over the years. Once, I was sitting eating me cheese sandwiches, and one sat in front of me.
I threw it a bit, it just sniffed at it and walked away disgusted. Can't say I blame 'im though. Slugger
made 'em."
"Ere, don't be cheeky" said Slugger, "Otherwise you'll end up in an 'ospital bed."
"And then there were the canal barges pulled by horses" said Dora."
"Hasn't been any canal barges pulled by horses round here since 1960" said the Colonel.
"But there was Nutty Slack the coalman and Woody Beaver the logman" said Dora.

"Ey, thats a good 'un" said Ron," Nutty Slack the coalman."
"Yeah, and Woody Beaver the logman" said Slugger. "You'll be telling us next there was a Mr Battenberg
the baker."

"I'm confused" said Dora.
"You were in the barn with me and Ron as I was saying" continued Slugger. "I was prancing around
pretending my brush was a guitar. I slipped on some 'orse muck and the brush shot forward and 'it
you on the 'ead, knocking you out. We sent for an ambulance and they brought you here. You've been
here a few hours."
"The concussion probably brought on hallunciations" said a doctor.

Dora closed her eyes. "So there was no barge horse called Soldier" she said, thankfully.
"Soldier you say" said the Colonel, "That name rings a bell. Yes, there was a barge horse called Soldier.
Pulled a barge for years. Tragic really."
"Tragic?" replied Dora.
"Well yes," Answered the Colonel. "He spent a lifetime on the towpath. Then suddenly one night his
stable inexplicably caught fire. Yes, about 1950 it must have been. No-one ever found out what
happened. Some say it was an accident, others say it was vandals, others say his owner had an argument
with another barge man, poor animal perished in the fire, suffered a terrible death......Dora, you're
crying" said the Colonel, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you, it was a long time ago."

"No it's not your fault Uncle" said Dora. "Just before I regained consciousness I had a dream. I was there.
I saw Soldier suffering in the fire in his stable. I felt his pain, I'm still feeling it now."
Two nurses rushed in and pulled the curtains round. "You'll have to leave" one said while we calm her down.
"There's a waiting room outside."

In the waiting room the Colonel looked at his Hunter's pocket watch. Steve stared blankly at the wall.
Slugger folded his arms. Ron took out his handkerchief and blew his nose, it was a real snorter, it
sounded like the foghorn of the Q.E.2. The "Quiet Please" sign on the wall shook and almost fell off.
Slugger looked towards him and then turned away, rolling his eyes.

A nurse popped her head around the door. "Dora's calmed down now" she said,"If you could go home
now and come back tomorrow she'll probably be able to go home then. Oh and I must apologise" she said,
"There must be a fault in the Tanoy system between reception and this waiting room. I heard a strange
loud booming noise coming from this room, you could hear it halfway down the corridor, sounded like
the mating call of The Great Blue Whale, must have deafened you. I'll get maintenance to sort it out."
The nurse disappeared.

"How did she know?" said the Colonel.
"Well' she just told us" said Ron, she heard me halfway down the corridor."
"No, not that, you bumbling buffoon" said the Colonel. "I mean Dora. How did Dora know? How could
Dora have had that dream. This all happened years before she was even born. And I never ever
mentioned it to her."
"Dunno" said Steve. "Unless......" He paused..... "Unless Dora saw it all in a previous life."
There was a long silence.

"Crikey" said the Colonel.
"Suffering Suffragettes" said Slugger.
"Ruddy 'ell" said Ron.

"No, forget I said that" said Steve, "It was a stupid thing to say. Don't know why that came into my head."
He took the Land Rover ignition keys out of his pocket. "Time we went home" he said.
The four friends left the waiting room and went down a long corridor, passing a sign that said "WARD 3. BRAIN SCANNER ROOM"
"Ere" said Ron, "In a past life you might've been a brain surgeon Slugs."
"Well it wouldn't have been any good you coming to see him Ron" said the Colonel, "He'd never have
found yours."
They headed down the corridor and towards the large exit door.
"Ey Ron," said Slugger, as they disappeared through the door, "You might've even done a decent days work
in your past life."
"Yeah, and you might've even cooked a decent breakfast in yours" replied Ron.

And as they waited to pull out of the car park onto the road two lorries went by.

One said "Nutty Slack and Son. Coalmen since 1945."

And the other said "Woody Beaver and Co. Delivering Firewood For Nearly Half A Century."

                                             THE END

Cut out the strong to help the weak