This week at Easton Farm Park I attempted my first blue cheese. Within my project I have in mind recreating the ‘missing’ Suffolk cheeses but also developing some of my own. This includes creating a blue to be called Navy Surplus – for those that have been following the timeline, the joke will be that the cheese that was not going to the navy turned into blue cheese but was actually rather good! I thought I would start with a stilton style cheese, a steep learning curve, but all very relaxed. It seems that with Stilton you do something, not much, once an hour – and with a lovely sunny day I was able to sit and write in the intervals, when I wasn’t talking to people.
The talking was fantastic too, long conversations with people about cheese and cheese making. One lady who spent part of her childhood making cheese near Newmarket has me very excited, for two reasons the first was her amazing reaction when we lifted the lid on the pot where the curds and whey were forming. You could see the response as the hairs stood up on her arms and the memories came flooding back. The second was that suddenly she could describe the method (thought only part of it) that her uncle had used to make cheese. So now I want to investigate that method further.
The bit of writing I did was to finish of the Toby’s Walk story having decided it did not fit the criteria for the short story competition. Driving past Toby’s Walks today I noticed that the signs are no longer on the main A12, so I don’t know if they are still accessible to the public or not. The story of Toby’s Walk dates back to 1750, yet all the themes still resonate today.
Staggering out of The Crown, I could hear more insults being sent spluttering in my direction.
“You’re not welcome!”
“Mind Old Shuck doesn’t get you!”
“Wait till ‘Sir Robert’ gets to hear of it!”
I didn’t care; couldn’t care, it was as much as I, Tobias Gill, Toby, Black Tob, could do to make one foot land reliably in front of the other without falling flat on my already squashed nose or tumble into a ditch. They were all fools and ne’er-do-wells anyhow. They knew I was a sop when it came to drink and it humoured them to watch me reach my melting point; as my dark exterior began to burnish with sweat, my muscles annealing as they reacted to the jibes. Then the inevitable would happen; some comment, a dig about the Dragoons being away from home and on the take, or on the make. One too many asking if their daughter or sister was safe with Black Tob around and then I would fly. Spitting venom, lashing out at the first person to nudge, trip or just look at me.
Any pub, any town, village or hamlet, ‘Black Tob’ arrived and with news of how to make my knuckles glint, the pub doors would open and urge me in. A few pints later the same doors would sway open again, I would be jettisoned out, normally with a landlord’s hobnail boot firmly applied to my backside.
That evening, eyes had been on me since I arrived. Anne’s eyes; green and bloodshot with the grit of dust and fireplaces cleaned and stoked in her long days at work. I saw her as she peered in through the smoke smeared glass of the back bar window. She’d probably heard tales of Sir Robert’s men, there was plenty to talk about. We were hated by many for our government work, controlling smuggling; the locals rang rings round us most of the time with false trails leading to ambushes. Every now and then we, Sir Robert’s men, would get the upper hand and when we did it was my job to drum the victory home. She was awestruck. I was unusual for these parts, muscular, black skinned and tall; so tall she couldn’t see my face clearly from her angle as I swaggered back and forth to the bar. She knew that going into the pub would lead to trouble but her cousin Simeon kept bringing her out jugs of weak ale, the price was a kiss, easy to give, easy to receive.
Eventually I’d taken the swipe, the boot, the fall and was attempting the stagger back – to where – I wasn’t even sure. Up the hill from the Blythe, along the lane that would take me to the corner of the woodland on the route back to site where the rest of the Dragoons were camped. As I left Anne came out from the back of the pub, shuffling her skirts, dragging their sodden hems in the sandy track as she too stumbled up the path. My stride was long but so full of meanders that she kept pace with me easily. Her eyes wide in the low light, she watched as I flopped and fell into the hedge, clawing at it like a blanket, trying to settle myself down to sleep. She caught up with me.
“Here, let me help you,” she said holding out her hand to me. I grabbed it gratefully, tugging at her arm, nearly pulling her over as I reached up. We carried on walking alongside one another, occasionally bumping into each other, regaining an ever smaller gap each time we did. By the time we reached the copse we had our arms around each other’s waists, providing physical support and encouragement. The ground was soft and sandy, as Anne moved towards the tallest of the trees her foot struck a raised root and she stumbled, pulling me down on top of her.
That’s it, all I remember from the night before.
As the sun rose out on the coast, a thin mist veiled everything, I woke feeling the dew on my skin and clothes. I wasn’t sure where I was, or how I came to be there, but that wasn’t an unusual sensation, many mornings were like this, dimly attempting to put together the fragments.
A drink, several drinks.
A boot, some shouting, a girl.
A girl, a girl. A girl called.
Can’t have been of much consequence.
Then as I attempted to raise myself up I felt fabric. Unfamiliar fabric. Not the fabric of my own clothes. Quite different. I stretched further. A body, soft and cold.
Finally the jolt of energy that was needed to wake my body kicked in and thoughts came rushing to my brain.
The girl. Was this her?
Why was she cold?
I felt her face. Cold.
I struggled to undo some of her clothes to feel her body. Cold.
I pulled up her sodden skirts to feel her thighs. Cold.
I rolled back on the ground, looking up to the sky, “Christ, what ha….”
Before I could finish men appeared from all directions. Voices raised, cudgels to hand, with a stumbling and crashing of broken branches, bracken and gorse being brushed aside; before I knew it I was gathered up, arms behind my back and a cloth tied across my mouth. I was being pushed forward into the face of Sir Robert Rich.
“I didn’t do it!” was about the only thing I said.
I pleaded, begged, asked for deliverance. I asked them to drag me behind a mail coach swearing I’d still not change my plea.
I no more raped and killed Anne than I would rape and kill my own mother.
Eat your picnic, take your stroll, walk your dog.
Just take a while to breathe in the air, can you feel us here, Anne and I? The problem is, if I’m honest, as much as we’ve both discussed it, neither of us can, hand on heart, remember what happened after we fell. That Anne was dead and I was hanged, back at this spot a few weeks later can not be denied. Whether I was hanged here through prejudice, my own guilt, the guilt of others or fear is for you to judge.
I am innocent!
Breathe in the air.
Release my spirit; I will continue to walk here, forever, but can you?