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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by tom mcmullen

I still can’t believe she’s gone.

Dolores - full of her usual mischief, fun and vitality (!)...before the tragic accident.

We escaped last week. After wasting an hour driving around, we arrived at the quaint town of Hemlock: the sun riding high in the noon sky. Overwhelmed by the plethora of fish and chip shops on parade: twelve in all, and not a deli bar in sight.

Bikers were in evidence: fat, hairy, bald, bikers. Muscly midults with the occasional moll clad in small leathers. They, and the amusement arcades, gave the whole spa a distinctly ‘Brighton Beach in the days of the Mods and Rockers’ feeling. All we were missing was a hurtled half-full bottle of beer or urine, bunch of candyfloss, stick of rock, and a coast full of pebbles.

Dolores spotted the café standing in a limestone precipice formation, a Master Cutler’s afterthought attached to the long defunct lead mining museum. The forlorn faces of the staff stared at us through visors, facemasks, as we held our NHS app to the QR code. The weakest string on my mask broke. I tried to hold my face together, failed. We were forced to give our particulars.

Unusually, for Hemlock, it wasn’t raining. Mindful of the higher risk of infection indoors, we seized our orange-flavoured J20’s, unwrapped cleft tumblers, and ‘huge-but-healthy’ pre-heated carb dishes, and waltzed outside. The sun glinted in my recovering right eye, yielding a pronounced squint on my part. I donned my Ray Bans. From what I could make out thru the steamed lens, there were three round wicker tables, three chairs apiece, spaced equidistantly at one metre.

Bikers were in evidence: fat, hairy, bald bikers. I was beginning to wonder whether I should have asked Jo, my barber, to shave my head before setting out. Was ‘big, fat, hairy, and bald’ the classic stereotype in terms of midult masculinity here in The Midlands?

Three men were conversing in classic Sheffield. Since Tony won the Election for Labour, I’ve always regarded Sheffield as Up North. A fourth man, an easy-rider type resembling a middle-aged Mohican (bald but for his crimson cock’s crest), drew up in front of us in a souped-up 2,000 horsepower road beast! He climbed off, pouted his chest at Dolores, made a withdrawal from the cash dispenser mounted on the café wall, waved at her, then shot off leaving us to cough n sputter in his plume of black exhaust.

The frigid, fragile, fretting, fraught-looking, woman with auburn tresses, freckles, and a powder-puff complexion on table two decided to go inside, preferring the dingy gloom to the unrelenting glary sunshine. The tortuously high UV level irradiated her exposed pate a devilish puce.

Anyways, gorged to satisfaction, Dolores and I left the visor-heads to clear and ventured into town, riverside, to spot bridges over the river. We found an eighteenth-century iron footbridge draped with an enormous Thank You NHS banner. Downstream, we saw an anchored, blue rowing boat bearing an ominous sign:

Turn Your Boat Around - Now!

The only other bridge, a road bridge to Peak Rail’s Hemlock station, Lover’s Walk, and The Heights, was a bridge too far. Our hearts pounding with exhilaration, we left town, avoiding an empty orange bus bound for Whelper, and trudged uphill to the only residence in The Peaks and Dales with its own unheated outdoor swimming pool.

As tempting as Pullover’s World seemed, we desisted from taking a ride, and ambled up the steep hill to the hotel, a white-washed block with mock-Georgian façades. There was a grubby, cylindrical, steel ashtray at the entrance. Our decontamination commenced in the small ante-room abutting Reception. We were met by a sign reminding us to wear our mask in all public areas except when eating, four QR codes, three bottles of sanitiser, and two masks. No bin. Going with the flow, we held our NHS apps to the QR code. Nothing happened. The strings on my mask broke. I tried to hold my face together, but failed. We proceeded to Reception to give our particulars.

The team of three gave us a warm welcome, smiling at us thru their masks. I knew they were smiling; I saw their fabric furrow and pout as they inhaled and exhaled. Dinner was fully booked for our entire stay. Dolores and I knew, then, that we would have to venture into Hemlock after dark, chancing our luck with Covid-19 in the inviting, local hostelries.

We were issued with a Continental Breakfast Booking Form with the option of ordering the same set selection for three days. I ticked heavy-bowel granola, a decision I later came to regret. We were told to stay in annexe room 62 overlooking the open-air swimming pool.

Due to the pandemic, the housekeeping team – an amiable Polish youth in black marching uniform and mask – would not be able to service our room until after our departure, save for a regulation bag-drop every afternoon. I established that ‘bag-drop’ consisted of a foot towel, hand towel, two bath towels, two coffee tubes, two teabags, four sugar sachets, and four sterilized milk jiggers. To our horror, Dolores and I realized we would have to endure three nights nocturnal activity without a change of bed linen!

When we entered cell 62, we found dirty coffee mugs from the previous occupants on the vanity shelf. Dolores saw the pool: a hunky male lifeguard, happy women in bathing hats and leotards grinding their way up and down their lanes, an incongruous sixteen-foot-tall chromium plated lookout seat. All we needed to film Jaws 5: The Outdoor Pool Massacre was a monstrous Great White. She stripped on the spot, squeezed into her pink swimsuit, grabbed her blue dolphin beach towel, and hared off in the direction of the pool, only to discover that guests are banned from swimming until 4pm. 

Dusk fell as she slept off the blood-chilling effects of a swim in the ice-cold outdoor pool on that unseasonably chilly day in October. I stood gazing at my reflection in the smeared glass, fearful for our safety in Hemlock after nightfall. The thought of those fattening fish and chips, endless mask requirements, my failed NHS app. Nevertheless, we dressed up, like a couple of debs hunting at a society ball. My tanned winklepickers felt taut against my toes. My thick woolly rambling socks were not suited to dining out.

We left cell 62, peering cautiously left and right, to make sure the stark grey corridor was clear. Not a living soul! It was dangerous to negotiate six flights of steps and multiple fire doors. Instead, I forced open the rear corridor fire door and jammed it ajar with a handy orange and white traffic cone, ensuring our safe way back inside after curfew. From there it was a brisk downhill stroll, kicking aside crisp fallen leaves, sodden discarded masks, to the bus stop.

It started to drizzle so we paused under the shelter while we donned masks. The Inn was directly opposite. An empty orange bus bound for Whelper pulled in obscuring our view of the gaily lit pub. The driver shrugged his shoulders, closed the door, and pulled off. I would never see him again. Why was life like that? Ever passing shadows in the twilight?

Dolores took my arm. Together we crossed the deserted street to the Inn. We were politely told by a five-foot dwarf with curly black hair and green eyes that there was No Room at the Inn. If we would like to step into the warm, log in with our NHS apps, and wait? The string on my mask broke leaving its drape swinging pendulously from my left ear. Our apps failed. We were forced to sign our lives away. Ever tried to write your name and number left-handed, on a flimsy sheet of paper, on a slippery table, while holding a mask over your face?

Presently, we were shown to a table by the roaring fireside. Hearts warm, spirits saturated with Malbec and Sauvignon, we settled and ordered. I requested Crispy Fried Malay King Prawn with Pungent Chilli Sauce and Freshly-Picked Dandelion Leaves to start. Dolores desisted, preferring the main. She had this irritating habit of not ordering a starter, cleverly stealing mine!

Our thoughts turned to tomorrow’s forecast rain, the four-mile rugged hill trek: taking in Bedsore, Catsworth, and The Valley on the wettest afternoon imaginable.


We arrived masked in the decon zone outside the busy Breakfast Room, swabbed, sanitized, and asserted our right to a nine o’clock sitting. We were duly seated, served the entire meal on a huge carborundum-grey salver, and only permitted to communicate with other guests using approved hand signals. We were left feeling barely refreshed, hardly ready for the challenging day ahead.

It was raining when we pootled over a sheep grid into the vast one hundred-acre expanse of Catsworth. I was relieved to return to the wild. It was with a sense of excitement and trepidation that we berthed our motorcycle and sidecar in the pre-booked clinker car park opposite the estate garden centre. Dolores clambered out to change.

Have you wondered what it feels like to dress with one hand? Well, I did, courtesy of Jo’s magnificently crafted gilded black slip-on branded hiking shoes. If only I’d remembered my thick textured wool rambling socks, I wouldn’t have caught athlete’s foot just outside the pretty village of Bedsore. The clouds parted momentarily. I opted for my comfy green-trim-black wool fleece with broken zippers. Dolores settled for her showerproof anorak, waterproof walkers.

We turned right out of the car park, following the lane as it wended thru hills and fields, ignoring paths off. The sky clouded. Eventually, the lane narrowed, and became uneven. There was a group of Sloane’s, guffawing, jawing, accompanied by beagles and, would you believe, a fat corgi? I demanded that they stand aside and let us experienced ramblers thru. The sky darkened. We followed a lane through a delightful cluster of stone cottages. The lane narrowed. It became awkward to walk over the irregular rock formations jutting out of the path. I feared a twisted ankle. Dolores, bless her, ploughed on regardless until we reached a field gate.

History will recall how we braved the driving, pouring, rain to trek the Peaks and Valley with only sheep for company. There were marvellous views over the river, but I couldn’t see them. My distance glasses were steamed, running with sweat and rainwater. Panic set in. We kept getting lost! I think we walked the length of a sunken pig-ditch at one point. We passed down a steep, bumpy incline full of fairy knolls, and raised molehills. Through soaking wet tufts of long grass. By woodland! I kept my eyes open: for red deer, fallow deer, plenty of marauding sheep, as we wandered through the wilderness. They just turned and ran away.

Saturation point was reached by the river, a mile and a half from our car. There was deer poo everywhere. I hopped from foot-to-foot to avoid treading in it, still spoiling my shoes. I now have calves of steel! My fleece was sodden sponge. Half-blind, I couldn’t see where we were going.

Thankfully, Dolores stored the viewranger ™ Waypoints route in her flimsy A4 plastic wallet. Not that that helped a jot when the chips were down. After the broad set of steps, a mile across open parkland in blinding, driving rain, we came across a fork in the path. The path forked four ways. Which way? For the first time, I noticed that Dolores’s anorak was only lightly-shower proof. She was soaked, too, to the skin! The light was fading fast. Now what?!

On our last day, we held hands in a cable car as it bumped and swayed precariously along the cable towards The Heights. The car stopped with a jolt. We hung, suspended, over the town, the river, the A6, the railway line to Whelper. We reached our Final Destination! The Heights were nowhere to be seen. Dolores let go of my hand.

‘Very good, love. Back, now,’ she murmured in a scared-stiff, shaking voice.

It wasn't until our cable car ground to a halt hundreds of feet above the Peaks and Dales that I realized she was terrified of heights. Dolores removed her glasses, went to remove her mask….

I cried out loud, ‘Leave it on, love! Leave it on, love! Leave…it on!’

She stood wobbling, reaching for me. I heard a blood-curdling screeching sound. The next car along vanished. The last thing I remember is the cable lashing out at her the cruel metallic whip, our car, falling, falling, crashing, shattering, into tiny shards of glass, steel splinters, as she hit the rocky ground.

I still can’t believe she’s gone.

Submitted: March 24, 2023

© Copyright 2023 h-j furl. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:


John Grim

A wonderful piece of chaotic (on purpose) prose. You are a master (or dare I say, mistress) of the descriptive. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every word.

Fri, March 24th, 2023 4:11pm


Thank you so much! Back Now is actually based on a real holiday - fortunately one with a happier ending! Harriet

Fri, March 24th, 2023 1:59pm

tom mcmullen

Funny! Fine piece of writing h j, No QR code on me!

Wed, March 29th, 2023 10:17pm


So I gather! Get well soon, Tom. xx

Thu, March 30th, 2023 6:28am

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