Today we published A brief History of Top o’ Town House, Dorchester. It is available at https://black-slash.co.uk/gallery/TOT%20Booklet%2027022021.pdf
Christmas Coals, by Danielle Wootton.
As days lose their shine, people snuggle tight, sitting around fires absorbing warmth through bright lights,
Pets rolling and sleeping in front of coals dotted with blue sapphire sparks,
Feet warming, faces glowing in front of a fire with everyone’s secrets. Past Christmas’s appear in one’s mind as mini-stories amongst the fire coals.
Everyone has a story whether joyful or sad, or affected by illness. All of us not left untouched by the power of Christmas past or present. Just stare into the coals for one’s fortune to be told. The coals drop suddenly through the grate, the burner blows and gasps as the wind whips down.
No one stirs while the fire bows and puffs,
The cat yawns, stretches out just a few minutes more before moving,
More coal is poured onto the fire, now it is too much for the black cat with emerald eyes, though he remembers a time when there was no place at the fire for him as he had no home, the long-haired cat rescued from the garden now loved like a prince remembers his lonely Christmas story living amongst the Badgers and pines,
He looks with love in eyes at his rescuer who is lost in the coals not well lacking energy for spirited festivities,
Nothing is perfect as Christmas always demands, but kindness over-rides real life imperfections damping Christmas.
Warmth and love is in the room not just from the coals.
This charming piece of prose was written by Danielle Wootton. It describes how Big Sid came into our lives and inspired our name: Black Slash! Read and enjoy.
Between the badgers fumbled a shape clothed in long black hair at first I thought maybe it was a totally black badger with no stripes. I was wrong it was a fluffy big black cat hungrily eating peanut butter sandwiches one warm night during May. At first I was shocked to see a cat so close to the badgers as normally only the foxes are brave enough. I rushed across the patio to get a better look this was my first view of Sidney, our Sid with his bright green eyes staring at me not scared, just tired.
The badgers ran off into the trees back to the field but the black cat remained I got a better look he was big yet thin, dull and hungry with fur missing on the one side. He didn’t let me get near but at that point I knew we were friends for life. He ran off in the same direction as the badgers once trod through the trees as I got nearer he poked his head out to give me the once over, curiosity got the better of the cat.
I ran back in the house and grabbed our cat Maisie’s food. Then I placed it near the opening in the trees then quickly retreating to a safe place to watch. Eventually a big black head peeped out from the conifers followed by the whole cat jumping on the food with vigour, such a hungry cat. I disappeared back in the house and brought out some more food, and milk. I left it on the patio I retreated again eventually the mess of black fluff worked his way to the food on the patio. Once all the food had disappeared so did he, without giving me a backward glance.
After that balmy spring day in May 2017 Sid appeared most days. I couldn’t get near to him for about three weeks – it was hard-work I never knew when he was going to appear so some days I went into a melt-down worrying that was he OK. One night he came running across the patio with a rabbit in his mouth and he then took great pleasure in eating the head in front of us.
I managed to get some worming tablets into him along-side a tablet to make his fleas jump off which made him hop about like a frog. He became greatly interested in the greenhouse so I made him a comfy bed up with blankets in a big old chair, he loved that especially as he could guard his bowls of food at the same time or chase off any cats who dared to enter his den. Once he had his own bed, he decided that I was a potential owner and friend in the making, he gave me a friendly nip to declare his intention and I had a tetanus injection to show my dedication.
I still couldn’t get near him he was scared but all the fur was starting to regrow into a long-crinkled mane, and he was looking healthier but still pretty wild in out look as the endless mice on the patio testified. All in all, a very handsome chap just a bit down and out.
Then he got bitten very badly by another cat on the bottom. This terrible incident meant that I had to get him into a cat cage and to the vets. Up until then I had not picked him up, he occasionally brushed past me but that was about it. I had named him Sidney (Sid) as it was easy to call but I did flirt with the names Wilf, and Howard. I had figured out weeks previously that he was a tom cat. He allowed me to pick him up with garden gloves on he cried in the cage all the way to the vets I had previously warned the vet that he might bite – instead he rolled over on his back with his legs in the air for a fuss.
Once he’d had his injections Sid was scanned for a chip – one was present. At that point both the vet and I looked crestfallen, me especially as Sid was becoming part of the family, Paul my partner and Maisie our 21-year-old tortoiseshell, although Maisie was quite immune to Sidney’s charms. On my way back home, I looked at Sid and said “don’t worry I am sure you can stay with us if you like.” The vet phoned the next day and said that the previous owners had relinquished Sid to us my heart leaped now Sid was formally ours. Although as far as Sid was concerned, we were still on probation …
As I am writing this account in 2019, I am amazed at the wonderful life and journey we have had with Sidney, “Our Sid”. He is one of the biggest cats I have ever seen his coat is long, luxurious with waves especially when he gets wet. He is never far from us he still hunts and explores our large garden but more as leisure activity now. He has a den on the top of the wood-store with his own carpet but what he loves the most is blankets, especially 100% wool ones. We call him “Blanket Sid”, every bed, sofa and chair has a blanket that Sid calls his own when he is not being cuddled and boy does he like being cuddled.
Oh, why is he also called “Black Slash”? – in part because he rushes around close to the ground darting between trees and house. He moves in great silence one never knows when he is behind us or where he is coming from. Sid is everywhere all the time. He has a great heart and when our old cat Maisie died in January 2018, he sat with her even though they were not friends as she lived upstairs and Sid down stairs. Apart from the times he would rush upstairs like a Black Slash…
This beautiful poem, titled “Time stands still” was written by Danielle Wootton after a visit to Etaples military cemetary in northern France, where her great grandfather, private William Horn was interred after he was killed there in the First World War, aged 32.
Time stands still for war graves covered in dust,
Surrounded by toiling gardeners not able to forget the bones beneath their feet,
Death fails to distinguish between national pride they are now soldier’s simply lying side-by-side,
Some made enemies in life for reasons not of their own,
Buried beneath headstones constructed from limestone brought as a memorial from home,
How the graves dazzle’s when the sun is out,
Looking all dressed up in their Sunday best here they wait in lines for people who may never come,
Other graves witness relative’s secrets untold to the living, The graves have no voice to care, they are at peace now,
Sorrow now rests with relatives who mourn a person they never knew but will never forget,
When the wind rustles through the graves shaking the trees, it is time for the relatives to leave, with their hearts on their sleeves,
The graves let out a sigh and yawn they can go back to sleep as their duty has
Time has stood still for the graves but not for us
Time Stands Still being read by Paul Kelly at Danny Boyle’s Pages of the Sea event in Weymouth in 2018.
In 2018 Dr Danielle Wootton was invited by the Daily Telegraph to participate in the work they were doing on the subject of people lost in World War One. Her story of her great grandfather, Private William Horn, became part of the article, which you can read here. She also took part in a touching video, which you can watch below.
The statue of King Alfred in Winchester
UPDATE: THE BOOK, KING ALFRED: A MAN ON THE MOVE is now published and is available through bookshops and Amazon, through the link here
My name is Dr Paul Kelly and I am writing a book on King Alfred the Great. The adventure started when I accompanied my partner to Winchester and found myself at the former site of Hyde Abbey, the last known location of King Alfred’s remains. I was struck by the absence of visitors. I have since been back a few times and it has been the same (except a few local residents, joggers and dog walkers). I am also a repeat visitor to Athelney, on the Somerset Levels, perhaps one of the most significant sites in English history. It is where King Alfred set up camp as a first step in wresting back his kingdom of Wessex from the Vikings. Usually it is just me and some sheep. So I started to develop an idea about a book that would raise the profile of these places and inspire people to visit and appreciate them. It soon started to grow into something bigger as I realised how much there was to learn and pass on. Despite trying to focus down on what really happened, I also came across numerous legends and mysteries surrounding King Alfred’s life and I decided to include these as well. There are quite a few books on King Alfred, but I feel that I have created something original. There will be a few ideas that are not particularly main stream, but I have followed the evidence, such as it is. The book is aimed at a general readership andI hope that it will be read by all those with an interest in King Alfred, the Anglo-Saxons, and English history in general. I have been writing a blog on King Alfred, which has much more information, and there is also a website for the book. There is even a Youtube channel!
This space is where the Black-Slash blog postings will appear.