Well Head by Steve Toase

well

1.
The spring blossomed in the middle of Jenny’s room, unfolding through the carpet, pooling water between the mattress and the single, sun faded, armchair. She thought about drinking the discoloured water, scooping it in two hands and sipping as much as her stomach could bear.

The smell clung to her fingers, stinking of Sunday school damnation and unclean fridges. She left the spring alone, babbling water across the dirt trodden carpet, washing over dropped rizzlas and scorch marks.

2.
Returning, Jenny found the hole bigger, circular. Mattress balanced on the edge as if vomiting into the well. She pulled the bed back and leant it against the wall. Reaching down she felt the walls, stone-lined and slick. Thick with algae that stuck to her fingers like foundation.

The room’s single bulb was too pale, unable to cast light to the water’s surface. With no pebbles she picked up a scratched CD, watching it cascade down the well until it clattered into the flat water below.

Using an old mug tied to a length of electrical flex she dipped into the sulphur water and pulled it up, hand over hand. The stench filled the room, leaching into her clothes and bedding. Clinging to the torn wallpaper. Tipping the water down the sink she watched it swill between unwashed plates.

3.
Pine needles in the tread of Jenny’s boots became dislodged and pierced the carpet. For a moment she smelt forests and untouched snow. She closed the door behind her. The stone of the well head crushed against her chair’s frayed upholstery. Welsh slate like broken teeth lined the roof, capped with a worn stone acorn. From inside came old songs about drowning whose tunes she did not recognise.

With no way to reach her bed she curled up by the door until the frost of the morning slid in through her open window and woke her from a fitful sleep.

4.
Crouched on the landing Jenny listened to her neighbour in the next room swear at someone long dead. Her door was gone. In its place large slabs of gritstone, arched at the top. The masonry blocked the gap completely. At chest height was a stone bowl, a single metal tap venting the breath of dead volcanoes. Beside a verdigris’d button a notice like a stolen road sign told her not to drink the water.

The healing of this town was not for her.

Well Head by Steve Toase

Cenotaph, Summer of 1995 by Becky Cherriman

The air effervesced with gossip and Newcastle Brown,
you were lying across me,
your head in the childless give of my tummy:
my hands were entangled in your braids, hash-numbed.
In those days it was possible to surrender to the sun
while above us the memorial loomed, tall and glittering,
grey-white as Edwardian dresses worn by ladies drinking Taylors,
as Harrogate skin, as the bones of those it remembers.

Cenotaph, Summer of 1995 by Becky Cherriman

I Grew Up In Harrogate by Richard Harries

I grew up in Harrogate
Affluent
My Dad was rich
A director of ICI
I went to Ashville College
A boarder
Though my home was in town I boarded

My mother died
Then within weeks a stepmother arrived
So fast
I was hurting still
Bewildered
Time passed
And I was not welcome home
Homeless in the holidays
So I went to friends
And relatives
Stayed with them

But then I left school
Grew up
Stayed with my sister for a while
But then
The time came to leave
Stand alone
Dad was now in Belgium
I was not welcome
Got jobs
In bars and hotels

Moved into a bed sit
On Stray Rein
It was dirty
Lonely
Awful
An old woman rented a room
Not a home to me
Not allowed to see her telly
Or sit and speak with her

Her dog shit in the bath
For which she charged ten shillings extra
The bath, not the faeces
She was not surprised by this
When I complained
The final straw
Was when she made me a coffee
(breakfast was included )
There was a dead spider floating on the top
She neither saw it
Nor cared

I gave notice and she tried to screw me
For an extra months rent
Even though
she knew I had nothing
And worked in a bar

It was a dreadful start
To my life as an adult
I left school looking to the future
Excited
Then this
I grew up in Harrogate

You can watch Richard read his poems about homelessness and bedsitland in Harrogate here

Richard Harries, ‘The Bard of Withernsea’ lived in Harrogate, Leeds and now in Withernsea. A performance poet, he has a one-man show around East Yorkshire, in cafes, charity events, older persons homes and at Holiday camps to children. His poems are varied including comedy, anecdotal life stories, children’s poems and historical ones.

I Grew Up In Harrogate by Richard Harries

Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman

Haunt 2

It is 1995, a Saturday afternoon, and tonight Fern and her friends will head to Leeds to a club. The chapter opens with the group sprawled out in a self-contained flat in Harrogate.

There are never fewer than three people here, even when we’re asleep. Me and Sean might be the only ones on the tenancy agreement but James, being homeless, is here all the time. He said it’d be temporary but he’s been here for, let me think…it must be over a month now. I watch him, slouching on his elbows on the floor. He sees me looking. He’s got bad red eye – must be really caned. I don’t think he’s even started trying to find somewhere yet. I could mind but James is fairly innocuous – good word that: having little or no adverse or harmful effect – a Lou word. Besides, I like it, have always had people around me.

The only downer about it is that me and Sean can’t fully go for it when we’re having sex. When he first moved in, James dropped some sarky hints about moans and groans and strange rustling in the night. Funnily enough he’s gone fairly quiet on the subject since Sean told him we had to do it sometime and that if he didn’t like it, he could find a higher class of hotel. Truth is, Sean buzzes off having someone in the room. I’ll be trying to be as quiet as possible and he will suddenly thrust really deep inside me so I gasp. Bastard. Still, I suppose having an audience is better than there being no performance at all…

Anyway, what was I thinking about? Oh yeah, all the people coming round the flat. Cheltenham Mount is definitely the place to be in Harrogate. The problem is, it’s getting to the stage where me and Sean have very little control over who comes round. People who’ve been to a party here or who’ve been round with a mate once get to thinking they’re welcome every day and start bringing ‘just one or two’ friends around to score. Lately it’s got a bit much.

Can I have a bath?” James asks. The stereo’s halfway through Dougal’s Love Of My Life, which I hadn’t even noticed coming on. Must be all the smoke in the air.

Yah man, go for it,” Sean tells him. “You know where the towel is.” The other one is going mouldy in the laundry basket.

We really do need some more towels,” I say. Two months on already and no one has actually managed to find the nearest launderette yet. If it’s absolutely urgent, I’ll go to my sister’s to do the washing but I really don’t want to see her, let alone crawl round, asking favours.

Nah, it’ll be right. We’ll just go to your Lotus’s,” Sean says brightly.

It will not be alright. I ..do… not.. want to go… to my sister’s just… to do some washing.”

She won’t mind.”

Evidently stoned or he’d have picked up on the tone in my voice.

Come off it Sean, you know how fucking superior she is.” I affect the mock upper-class voice my sister has adopted since she moved to Harrogate, “‘Well, if you had a job, you’d be able to pay for your own washing machine. You’re a clever young lady, Fern. How about some office work?” And then she would produce the local paper, dump the job page on my lap – so fucking predictable.

So. Just ignore her.”

Easy for him to say but there’s no point in trying to explain. He just doesn’t understand why I don’t want to have to answer to Lotus. It’s alright for him: he can lie his way out of awkward questions, will maintain till he’s blue-faced that he’s been to three interviews that very day but that there just aren’t enough full-time jobs to go round. That last bit is true, even in a wealthy small town like this. Personally, I would consider a job in which I was permitted to use my brain but unfortunately I don’t have the qualifications – the brains but not the qualifications. And I absolutely refuse to work in a dead end job. I don’t want to be anaesthetised by the system and neither do any of my friends. Won’t catch us being neatly-packaged by society. Not like my sister, a twenty four year old newly-wed who’s just bought her three bedroom semi, is working as a personal assistant to her husband – one of the directors of a small retail outlet – and is planning two point four children in the near future. I shudder. Besides, as I’ve told her over and over again, it’s not as if we don’t want to work; it’s a matter of principle. I mean what’s the point when there isn’t even a minimum wage? Anyway, the last time I went to see her, she whinged about me only coming round when I wanted something. There’s no way in the world I’m giving her more ammunition by asking if I can do my washing.

Do you want to go into town now?” I ask Dan, seeing the necessity of escaping before I start shouting at Sean or someone turns up and it becomes a major mission to leave.

Alright.” Dan launches himself off the sinky chair and pulls me up. Unlike Sean, he seems to have noticed me getting annoyed.

_________________

Me and Dan leave the flat and turn left up Cheltenham Parade. Dan stops at the nice bakery to buy a Cornish. I wait outside and a snooty old woman in a lavender coat uses her elbow to nudge me out of the way. This is what I fucking hate about Harrogate.

We walk on the road to pass the townie kids outside McDonalds. I’m wearing my jeans and Dan looks like an older version of them so we don’t get any comments today. They’re always giving James and Sean stick but it’s cheeky rather than aggressive; James and Sean either laugh or ignore it, depending on their mood.

On the grass near the cenotaph there is some kind of scuffle. Dan grabs my jacket with his fingers and pulls me closer so we can see. Some bloke is running after the scrawny Big Issue seller with the ripped-up trainers, the one who usually stands outside Woolies. He catches him, spins him round by the collar and swings. Looks twice the size and, even though we’re about fifty feet away, I can see how much the poor dude is shaking.

Shit, it’s Cafferty.” My hand goes to my mouth.

That’s not Cafferty, that’s…”

I take my eyes off them to look at Dan. “It’s Cafferty,” I repeat. “Who did you think it was?”

Nobody.” He flushes.

Look back and Cafferty’s still beating the faeces out of his latest victim. The man’s magazines are strewn all over the road and he’s not even trying to fight back. Cafferty is holding his collar with one hand so the poor bastard can’t fall to the floor. With it being Saturday, there are fuck loads of people about but that’s not stopping him. Then a siren starts up.

Tenancy Agreement, extract from Yellow Brick Roads, as yet unpublished novel by Becky Cherriman