A cannon in an embrasure at the top of a castle wall. Several things sprang to mind for this week’s #writephoto from Kl Caley at New2Writing.com. I remembered my recent visit up the winding stair in the tower, and returned to my eccentric aunt. She could become one of my favourites 🙂 This one ran out to 1250 words. Enjoy!
Not everyone has an eccentric aunt, I’m sure. Although they may be more common than you’d think, since we tend not to admit to owning one.
Mine lives at the top of a narrow, winding staircase inside a damp stone tower. It’s a pretty apartment, with a fabulous view of the surrounding countryside, as well as one aspect inwards to the courtyard of the castle. The tower is one side of the gatehouse, and nobody ever believed me when we passed the end of the drive on the school bus, and I told my friends my aunt lived up there.
She still does, although now I drive up the drive. There’s still the climbing of the stairs and the eerie cobwebs and stuff, but you’ve probably heard of that.
She doesn’t get out much, so she usually sends me lists of shopping to acquire on her behalf.
Like this week:
- 17 kilos of marigold petals (best if you can get them delivered).
- 2 kilos of white mesembryanthum flowers. Must be white. No shades will do.
- Two chicken livers from the butchers, must be fresh but if he’s stuck I’ll accept his own ones from his freezer.
- 1 bottle red wine, preferably Shiraz.
- One dozen fresh farm eggs.
- 1 large sourdough loaf, but if you can’t get proper soughdough, a nice rye or mixed grain will have to do.
- 1 packet Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference ravioli or tortelloni with either ricotta and spinach, or three cheese filling. Actually, one of each if you can.
Well, most of this was fine, as we have some good shops in the high street, but the petals had me, and the florist, and even the undertaker, stumped.
“Any idea what she wants them for?” the undertaker asked.
“Probably to make decorations,” I replied, guessing wildly at something he wouldn’t get upset about.
I tracked down both petals at an online Hindu marketplace. ‘Ideal for Diwali and weddings’ the description said. That sounded like the right sort of thing to me, although Diwali had gone, and I couldn’t imagine my aunt being involved in any wedding preparations.
I arrived at the entrance to the tower just as a white van scattered the gravel as it performed a handbrake turn at the portcullis. I’d got everything except the petals in a backpack, as I knew from experience it was the best way to climb those stairs.
“Delivery for Madam Curioso,” the driver said.
“She lives up those stairs on the right. She doesn’t get out much, so don’t expect her to come down for whatever you’re delivering.”
He looked at the shipping instructions and groaned. He had to deliver them to her apartment door and get a signature. I’d made sure he wasn’t going to leave them at the bottom.
“Can you take them up?” he asked, a note of desperation creeping in.
“Sorry, I’m not allowed. Bad back,” I replied, hitching the backpack further up and grimacing. I set off up the left hand stairs. I knew the way across the top.
He made it up the stairs before I did, despite his grumblings. I could hear my aunt talking to him at the door as I let myself in from the balcony.
“What a wonderful young man, so fit, so helpful. Thank you so much, would you like to put them there, and the two big ones, here, thank you. Would you like a tip? Hold out your hand then… yes, you should avoid any gambling on moonless nights, and make sure to take your wife to that restaurant you both liked on her next birthday. Oh, and back Polly Pot in the Oaks. Good day.”
Deliveries with palmistry. He’d avoid the next drop to this address. Unless he won big at the next full moon.
“Here’s the rest, Auntie. What are you doing?”
“Lovely to see you, dear, and thank you too. Put the eggs with the flowers, and the rest on the counter. Which pasta would you prefer for lunch?”
It was mid-afternoon when we’d finished the pasta along with a nice glass of red wine.
“Now, I bet you’re wondering about the petals,” she said.
I raised an eyebrow at her.
“I’ve got a small demonstration for you, because you said you’d be away for Easter. The castle is having a joust and various other activities over the bank holiday, and I’ve made a small contribution to the festivities. Follow me.”
We went out onto the balcony, and climbed onto the edge of the roof, which was bordered by some heavy stone walls, with gaps every now and then. Nearly twenty of the gaps around the entire castle walls sported genuine eighteenth century cannons—all bar one, which was seventeenth century.
We stopped at one. “Thought we’d use this one, it’s more reliable.”
“As in, I’ve used this one before, and there are no birds nests in it or anything else untoward.”
“Okay.” As I said, eccentric. Just go with the flow.
For all she’s a little old lady, she’s got the strength of three navvies. She pulled on the cannon housing and the cannon rolled back as smooth as you like. She nipped around the front with her bag of supplies, pushed in a cotton sack filled with something like sand, unfolded her walking stick and pushed it down the muzzle, tapping it well back. Then she put in two more bags, and tapped them in too. Then she gave the cannon a heavy prod with her leg and it rolled back into place.
“Set the chucks on either side to hold the rebound,” she instructed me, so I put the two blocks of wood either side as instructed, while she fiddled with something on the top.
“Right, now you go back to the balcony, and I’ll follow in a minute.”
I reached the balcony and turned to watch her coming backwards towards me. As she arrived I saw a length of cord in her hand.
“Fuse?” I asked.
She nodded. “Now watch.”
She lit the fuse, I watched. I suppose it may have been a thirty second fuse, and she may have been counting, but she said ‘now’ a split second before the cannon went off.
Apart from a gentle ‘boom’, which startled the rooks cawingly out of the treetops, there was a shower of confetti-like material.
“Bird food,” she said, as the rooks swooped down into the grounds, followed by half the estate’s woodpigeons, a ton of starlings, and a few blackbirds and robins hoping to picking up something the others had missed.
“No evidence then?” I asked.
“Exactly. What boom? is my usual reply to anyone who comments, when I do a test run.”
“So what is the cannon going to do at Easter?”
“All the cannons will take a turn at scattering the petals over the merrymakers. It’s a sort of nod to the generic nature of what we call an Easter festival. I thought of it the other night.”
“I wish I could see it.” Why had I booked my holiday then anyway?
“I’ll take photo and send it to you.”
I nodded, then frowned. “How will you do that?”
“Oh, I have a new toy. I can email it to you, as well. That’ll be nice, won’t it?”
I was about to say if she now has internet capability, why does she send me these shopping lists? But then I thought better of it. Someone had to have the fun of keeping an eye on her, after all.
© J M Pett 2023
My guess is Alnwick castle, or one further north 🙂 KL Caley will tell all on Thursday of thereabouts, I expect!