The Legend of El Cobblo, Frome Cobble Wobble

I am sitting in the Fancy studio in Frome, on my own, I’ve just taken some Panadol Extra + Caffeine washed down with a free can of Red Bull. My legs are twitching and I’m feeling fantastic. Why? I’ve just ridden the 2nd Frome Cobble Wobble, and played host to a star of Mexican Wrestling. Here’s how it unfolded:

It was months since Andrew Denham of the Black Cannon Collective wandered into the Fancy Studio and commissioned the design and website for the 2nd Annual Cobble Wobble, all the preparation, the sketches, the artwork, the printing, the coding and the testing, all came into fruition for a few amazing hours today.

The Cobble Wobble is a hill sprint up a steep cobbled slope in Frome called St Catherine’s Hill. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a bastard of a hill. Even walking up it leaves me out of breath. So to ride a bike up it, whilst egged on by crowds who stand mere inches from the taped off edge of the course, would seem to be madness. When Nic, of Espace Solutions heard we were riding it, she simply said “The hill we walked up that nearly killed us? S**t!”

Myself and Matt Wellsted of Fancy, for some reason, told Andrew we would ride it. As the day loomed closer, we felt that perhaps it was a bit of a stupid thing to volunteer to do.

So we had a chat, and decided that we didn’t stand any chance competitively, but stood a good chance of entertaining the crowds if we did something a bit daft. To this end, Matt decided to dress up like the chap in the poster he created, and I decided to do it on my Brompton, dressed in a suit, and smoking a pipe.

Meanwhile, as builders of the website, we were contacted by the Mexican Wrestler El Cobblo, who travels the world entering cobbled hill sprints in memory of his brother Carlos, who tragically died of sheer knackeredness on a cobbled hill race in Mexico. He was looking for a base in Frome, and also it turns out, a bike, as his had a puncture and the seatpost was a bit squiffy. We extended the hand of hospitality to this great man and bid him join us on Sunday morning in our preparations.

Sunday morning dawned a bit grey, with the promise of rain. No matter, we assembled at the studio at 1pm to prepare. El Cobblo turned up, fully masked as usual and on checking out my Lemond Etape, deemed it worthy. He was amazed at the lightness, as his own bike is steel.

El Cobblo in the studio

El Cobblo, prior to the race in our studio

I suited up and prepared my tobacco, packing my pipe with some smooth shag. Matt slipped off to Live2Ride to get his fixed cog changed and El Cobblo and I rode to register.

El Cobblo and I ride to the registration point. El Cobblo delighted by the beeping of horns and waves he received.

El Cobblo and I ride to the registration point. El Cobblo delighted by the beeping of horns and waves he received.

Having given our names and collected our numbers, I took El Cobblo down to Live2Ride to meet up with Matt. El Cobblo chatted with his fans, telling children to eat more vegetables and meeting some of the opposition. Then we headed up the hill and waited in line for our turn on the Cobbles:

El Cobblo meets the Angel

Andrew Denham meets El Cobblo

At the Start of the Cobble Wobble

Gradually, we inched towards the Start. All to soon I was at the start line, I lit up the pipe, got it going and launched myself sedately up the hill. In my lowest gear, I spun the cranks wildly, tinging my bell. On approaching the corner where Stoney Street splits off I decided it might be quite funny to signal right. This was a bit of a mistake, the bike veered madly to the right and I thought I was going to spill all over the cobbles. Somehow I managed to stay upright and got the bike pointing in the right direction (up) again without putting a foot down. The crowd pressed in and clapped and cheered.

Your author on the Cobble Wobble

Your author on the Cobble Wobble, picture by Jez Cope

The smoke filled my lungs as the hill became steeper and steeper. Soon I had no oxygen left, just smoke, the pipe was running hot and my head felt lighter and lighter. As I approached the finish line I could hear the tannoy blaring that I was a proper ‘chap’, by then I was almost blacking out from oxygen starvation, but approaching a state of shamanic bliss. I aimed hard for the finish line and got over, only to find I still had to ride the exit shoot. I took the pipe out to do that and my head was swimming. There were pats on my back and even a hug from some fellow.

I looked behind me to see El Cobblo finishing, still on the bike and screaming to the sky that this was for his brother Carlos!

The press crowded round the mighty Mexican, he was interviewed for Red Bull TV, The local rag, bloggers. Parents pressed their kids forward for him to shake their hands. He beat his chest mightily, and spoke of his love for his late brother, the crowds wanted more, but I could see he was eager to leave.

We rode in silence away from the hordes, his cloak flowing behind him as the children who ran behind us dropped away, holding their knees and panting. El Cobblo did not look back, he raised one fist in salute, and I turned to see a small boy with his own fist raised in imitation, receding round the corner.

Back at the Old Church School, I asked El Cobblo if he was staying for the party. He shook his head, and said no, there is a race tomorrow in Spain that he must attend. He looked out over the rooftops of Frome, but I could see that his stare was thousands of miles and twenty six years away. We said our farewells, he shook my hand, thanked me for the use of my bike. And was away.

I raced back to see Matt start his run, as the first of the Fixie riders. The rain had started to come down, thinning the crowds and making the Cobbles slick and treacherous. He put in a hell of an effort and finished with a respectable time:

Matts race face

Matt's Race Face

Matt goes up

Matt goes up - encouraged by a man running alongside and shouting

Then, the elation. I got a t-shirt, some badges. The post-mortem of the rides, the times.

The whole day was superb, but it’s not over yet. As designers of the Cobble Wobble and website builders, we got free passes to the Red Bull party.

I’m off there now.

But, I will be thinking of El Cobblo, and his lonely quest.

Adios Amigo.

El Cobblo

PS: If anyone has any pictures – please let me know!

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm  Comments (4)  
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Old School Shorts – Cycling Short Film Special – Riding home on moonbeams

On the last Friday of every month, the studio where I work most of the week puts on a short film night. As we’re based at the Old Church School in Frome, we call it Old School Shorts. With the Cobble Wobble looming close we though we’d ask the race organiser, Andrew Denham, to curate the event.

Andrew Denham is part of the Black Canon Collective – a group of mountain bikers who are often to be seen bombing around the forest at Longleat – sometimes dressed as superheroes – always with big grins on their faces.

Andrew chose the films for the middle section of the night. There were some crackers, from Minibike battles in Portland, to mad tricks on Scottish Streets. We managed to watch the brilliant RSA/Rapha film Two Broad Arrows by Adrian Moat (it’s no longer up on the Rapha site). As ever, we peppered the evening with music videos, vintage adverts, and amusing cat films. All projected up big on the wall of studio while we lounged around on sofas and swivel chairs, munching on pizza and nibbles and drinking beer.

Old School Shorts bicycle film night

All in all we had about an hour and half of films with two intervals. It was great to finally meet @westfieldwanderer from Radstock who I’ve been conversing with on Twitter for ages. We had a good chat about bicycle commuting, local hills and AtoB magazine.

Afterwards, Ed took some photos of the old bikes and parts that Andrew had collected to be donated for The Bristol Bike Project and we returned to the studio for music videos, Guess who games, more food and drink and good chat. People took turns on the VJ ing and we watched a myriad of films, from helmetcam madness, to Bats for Lashes videos via Vanilla Ice and Guns & Pork, my favourite part of the VJ section was a film of Andrew putting his shed up on his allotment.

Things wound up just after midnight, and I loaded up the Brompton for the ride home.The streets of Frome were doubly quiet, because I was suffering from a bit of a head cold, my hearing in my left ear had disappeared. As I’m half deaf in my right ear anyway, this meant that I could barely hear a thing. Not that there was much to hear, I didn’t see a single car moving until I left the town. I took it slowly through the streets, freewheeling wherever I could, and gently riding up the hills in the lowest gear.

On leaving the town I suddenly noticed the moon, not yet full, but incredibly bright. The wooded hill down to Oldford, normally a pitch-black potluck ride of guessing where the kerb might be, was transformed into a gently lit flight through a luminous forest. As I turned up the hill towards Beckington I pulled over to look out over the valley – gloriously rolled out before me in and picked out in sharp electric detail by the witchlight. The stark black of the distant hills, the sulphurous streetlamps of Frome itself, the deteriorating skeleton elms that lined the slope, all seemed so vibrant and hyper-real, and I was struck with an unsettling feeling that the same scene by daylight was not the true view, but merely a reflection of what I was seeing now.

I continued up the hill, my blocked up ears meant all I could hear was my own breath and the creaking of my jaw. I felt, rather than heard the steady trundling squeak of my faithful Brompton’s cranks as I spun the pedals. In the hedge to left there was a brilliant white blaze of light, as I inched closer it resolved into the shape of an old milestone. I had never noticed it before, despite passing it many, many times, yet here it was glowing fiercely under the lunar influence.

The air on the slope down into Beckington sucked the warmth from the bare skin of my arms, I had enough momentum to get halfway up the hill on the other side. Past the 24hr garage – devoid of customers, over the roundabout, devoid of traffic, past the place where the gypsies camp and hard left before the boundary stone. Ursa Major was a few degrees off horizontal, far to the West a few low and long clouds stretched themselves out above the land, the lights of a distant plane flickered on and off in the space between cloud and earth as it tracked towards the orange glow of Bristol. The lane was narrow, and the moon flung her beams directly over it from left to right, pools of moonlight settled on the tarmac, punctuating the ink-black shadows that leapt from the trees and hedges and hid the stones and cracks in the road. My Wheels seemed to find them without any trouble.

I felt I could ride on into the dawn, but the glamour of the moonlight would have worn off quickly, leaving me cold and tired to endure the long hour before daylight alone.

The village was still and silent, not even the blue flicker of a television set could be seen. The restored clock on top of the Cross Keys softly chimed one o’clock as I folded the Brompton, bid the moon a goodnight and closed the door.

Dusting off, tightening, oiling, riding

When Lucy’s mum decided, quite rightly, that the lean-to needed sorting out she attacked the job with gusto, pulling everything out, and sorting through the accumulated junk with a mind to a lot of it heading for the recycling centre. However, her eye was taken by the old red Richmond ladies bike I had picked up from an elderly neighbour for a tenner. This was a fine, if old, sit-up-and-beg roadster in good condition apart from a little rust on the back mudguard and rack, and a manky bell.

I said I’d clean it up if she wanted to give it a go. I dug out the size 14-16 spanners and set about tightening things up. The chain was foul, it looked like the dreaded 3in1 machine oil had been used to coat the links, which had then attracted every particle of soil and dust available until a greasy sludge hid the rivets. It took a good thirty minutes to get it down to bare metal. The chain itself was in pretty good condition, so a bit of dry lube later the links were purring over the sturmey archer 3 speed’s cog as I took a test ride to the garage. The brakes were not superb, neither were the tyres, but the creaking coming from the saddle was not unpleasant to listen to, although the saddle itself was nasty, plastic and unyielding.

I rode it back up the hill to the house, just in time to hand it over to Lucy’s mother who had come back to give it a go. It now lives at her house, which is immensely pleasing, otherwise the bike may have just turned into yet another of those bike refurb projects that I start but never finish.

bike and chainNext I turned my attention to my youngest son’s bike. This bicycle was the one our eldest learned to ride on, but now he has his BMX. Our youngest taught himself how to ride in an afternoon, with a little help from his grandfather. The bike itself has been a little neglected, and in true first bike style had been left out in all weathers. But it’s very robust, so with more tightening, pulling the wheel back to tighten the chain, and some oil (this time on a pretty rusty chain) it was hammering round the park and the grandparent’s drive again with all the grace of a bespoke racer. Sort of.

Both my full-size bikes need some attention – a snapped spoke on the Lemond and a slight buckle on the MTB. The Brompton is still working though, and I’ve been using it on the occasional commute to Frome.When I find the time, I’ll get those repaired. The Nocturnal riding season is upon us!

Published in: on June 6, 2010 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I been riding – just not blogging

Hello to all. I am somewhat behind in the blogging side of things though I have been getting in a few rides, despite the weather.

First I took my car for its MOT and service – electing to use the Brompton to get back to the studio rather than a borrowed car.It was a good opportunity to use the little stretch of cycle path between Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge. In common with many cycle paths this is a really nice smooth path that unfortunately dumps you back into traffic at the exact point where a cycle path would be most useful. Still it made for a pleasant ride up the hill.

SDC16705

The Brompton is getting on a bit now. The folding pedal is starting to get a bit of rust on it, and there are some squeaks as I’m riding along.

Interestingly, if my Lemond Etape squeaks I’ll be trying to get it fixed within minutes of a rogue noise being detected. the slightest knock, grind, or high pitched emission from that bike is enough to have me out of the saddle and on the verge anxiously examining the cranks. With the Brompton I don’t mind at all, indeed it’s quite pleasant to have a squeak coming out as the Brompton trundles along the back lanes. The Brompton is a beautiful bike for Slow Cycling, although it can race along at 17-18mph with a bit of effort,  but then, why would you want to?

Salisbury bike lanes, a study

As I had yet again left it too late to get my car tax done in time, I decided to ride my Brompton into Trowbridge and take the train to Salisbury. The morning was wreathed in mist as I hurtled down the A361, surrounded by the terrifying thunder of huge trucks squeezing past me. It barely took me any time at all to reach Southwick, but I came up short against the big dip in the road. I still arrived at the station with ten minutes to spare, enough time to note that the price of a ticket had gone up by 30% again.

On arrival at Salisbury, rather than shoot up Fisherton Street I took some of the little bike lanes on the Avon Cycleway, come let us ride them together:

I like this bit with the complex sluice and weir, that chap is about to ride over the little bridge

I like this bit with the complex sluice and weir, that chap is about to ride over the little bridge

I'm still following him, now we weave right.

We're still following him, now we weave right.

They've generously carved out some of the carpark for us here.

They've generously carved out some of the carpark for us here. Nice to see the double yellow lines

Now we're being taken out to Castle Street, the lane gets smaller and there are cars sharing the road

Now we're being taken out to Castle Street, the lane gets smaller and there are cars sharing the road with us. Careful.

Oh a nice orange shopper on Scots Lane! Check out those whitewall tyres

Oh, let us stop to admire a nice orange shopper on Scots Lane! Check out those whitewall tyres

Ah this is more like it, later on, heading down the nice stretch by Waitrose, the river on the right.

Ah this is more like it, later on, heading down the nice stretch by Waitrose, the river on the right.

Not really the sort of riding that builds up the strength in preparation for the continental ride.

France and Belgium 4-7 April

we’ll be setting off at 0530 in the morning. We’re driving to Dover in the scout minibus. Loading the bikes onto the ferry to Dunkirk. We’re riding from Dunkirk to Ypres, then next day we’re going to head down into France towards The Somme. We’ve no idea how far we’ll get, but on Monday evening we need to be in Amiens to catch a train to Boulogne Sur Mer. Tuesday morning will see us riding along the coast to Callais and the ferry to Dover.

Oh yeah, and we’re camping!

I might try and do bits of bloggin while I’m over there if I can find some wifi. Otherwise, if you are so inclined, please keep updated with my Twitterfeed http://twitter.com/ghostorchid though again, I’m not sure how much tweeting I’ll be doing.

Wish me luck!

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Brompton through Bristol

Sorry for the prolonged absence. More work. I now have a new office which has made me more efficient during the day, leaving my evenings free for blogging and other activities, and hopefully giving me more time to cycle.

That last post about cycling in Bristol? I’m pleased to say that the Brompton handled beautifully despite the sheer weight of the animation cel boxes I was carrying in the front bag. The hardest part of the journey was manhandling bike and bag up the steps of Bristol Temple Meads station. The ride to Tom’s house was easy, he lives only just off the Bristol/Bath cycle path. I was waylaid en route when I discovered the pasty emporium ensconced in the archway of a railway bridge, but soon I was weaving my way through the construction traffic towards the bike path. This is a weird area, gleaming new apartments sit amongst decaying scrap yards and builders yards. Here and there are forgotten scrublands, even a lost orchard which in the autumn spilled urban apples onto the pavement. Cobbles give way to tarmac, old tramlines and back again to cobbles sometimes in the space of a few meters. Freestanding walls were once knaves of churches or red brick warehouses, now standing stark against the sky, a facade on a movie-set for a film never to be made.

Into Easton where we were filming. The streets are a mishmash of cultures, East meets West; bollards and houses painted in vibrant colours, the local pub rubs shoulders with sikh temples and fish markets.

When I rode back to the station, dusk was falling fast. Cycling over Temple Quay Bridge was a brief but magical experience as it was lit up from underneath. It hung in the gloaming, floating like an apparition amidst the deprivation and grime-caked hoardings,  a bridge between old and new Bristol.

As it then led me to the station, it was a fitting end to the ride.

bristol bridge temple quay

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 10:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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Live blogging on the way to Bristol

Blogging this live on my way to Bristol for a days filming with Tom Stubbs. I’m afraid I drove the five miles to the station as it will be dark when I come home and I have no lights for the Brompton. I’m going to be using a little bit of the Bristol to bath cycle path and I’m carrying two boxes of animation cell for Tom to deal with as he sees fit. Handling may well be compromised.

The day looks fine, though it is bitterly cold and we’re filming outside. I’m just enjoying the view as the train wends its way through the valley and into Bath.

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cycling into some Headspace

Sometimes all I need is a really small ride to sort my head out. I’ve been really busy for the last few months and up until now, I’d managed to convince myself that I had no time to cycle, telling myself that time spent riding would be time wasted. How wrong I was. My work suffers greatly if I just leap right in and do the first thing that comes into my head. I am one of those unlucky people who’s first idea is rarely the best. Working to a brief or series of briefs, as I do, can feel like very reactionary work. It’s easy to slip into a mindset of just working through one thing after another, to get things done. This will often involve a state of stress, a feeling of time slipping away, and a mind not fully in the moment, but worrying about what’s going to come next.

By taking a short bike ride, I get the oxygen flowing, I move into a rhythm, and more importantly I am restricted from acting on the first idea I come up with. In a twenty minute bike ride I will have come up with five or six different ways of dealing with a brief, and probably a strategy or an angle for how I will execute the work. This means that I am able to make decisons based on ideals rather than anxieties (something I think politicians should consider).

So on Friday, though the weather was looking a little uncertain of what it might do, I pulled out the Brompton from the workshop and rode to the local garage for a passable latte. I say passable, but this is rural Somerset so what’s passable out here would be considered a travesty in the city. I cycled extra gently out of the village as the rear tyre was feeling a little soft and Mike still had my pump. The wind was making a great show of gusting about, throwing casual lumps of freezing air this way and that. As I eased up the old forgotten coach road into Beckington a fresh newspaper skittered past me and down the hill, smacking into a skeletal dead elm where it flapped manically and loudly against the sky.

The Ghost Road up to Beckington

The Ghost Road up to Beckington

At the garage I folded the bike and left it in front of the kindling wood while I went inside for the coffee. Two workmen in what were once bright yellow jackets stood at the machine stamping the cold out of their boots. As they picked the paper cups from the nozzle, they cupped them in their grimy frozen hands and hunched themselves over the steaming beverages as if to pull the heat from the coffees. One of them had lost the skin on the knuckles of his left hand, whether from the skin splitting in the cold or an unfortunate shovel accident I couldn’t say.

I lidded the coffee and paid up, storing the cup upright in one of the compartments of my Brompton bag that could have been tailor made for slipping in a tall latte and transfering to a chosen destination with minimal spillage.

The wind was behind me now and the road home was easy riding. freewheeling through the semi-flooded lanes, I had plenty of ideas as to how I was going to tackle the brief. In fact I became slightly too euphoric and was in danger of stretching the ride out further. But no, I had work to do so I resisted, then cycled for home and within five minutes I was at my desk working and sipping away.

I think I’ve made a convincing case as to why I should be riding during the working day, I therefore rest my case.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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In a Cycling Utopia, pedestrians and cyclists get on just fine (and you can cycle on water)

At the beginning of September, Lucy and I spent a long weekend at our local Center Parcs (Longleat). It’s like living in some sort of cycling utopia! A forest environment, a mere handful of vehicles on the road, masses of bikes, loads of bicycle parking, special bike trails and paths.

If you read the popular press these days, you will learn that cyclists are a menace in pedestrianised areas, that they don’t use their bells, that they cycle too close to people, that they cycle too fast, that they appear out of nowhere. If you unquestioningly take the opinion pages of the papers as gospel truth, you may well believe that it’s a wonder that there aren’t horrific casualties every single day that pedestrians and cyclists go near each other, I guess it’s a miracle that there are only a handful of cyclist on pedestrian deaths/serious injuries every year. We must have been VERY LUCKY to get away with it!

What’s curious about Center Parcs is that cyclists and pedestrians mix completely and thoroughly, yet I heard not one bad word exchanged betwixt the two camps. Even though cyclists were weaving through pedestrians strung out over the routes. Even though there were queues to get through gates. Even though at various times cyclists and pedestrians would have to give way to one another in an environment that was not heavily regulated. The difference is in the expectation, you come to Center Parcs knowing full well that there will be shared-use paths with bikes. There are few clear definitions like ‘pavement’ and ‘road’, so somehow cyclists are prepared to meet with pedestrians and vise-versa.

It rained a lot on the first day, which I actually found quite pleasant in the forest. I was reminded of my favourite sequence in the film My Neighbor Totoro, where the Totoro is delighted by the sound of the rain dripping from the trees onto his borrowed umbrella. To live amongst trees is a special thing indeed.


Some pics:

Lucy took her Diamondback MTB and I took my Brompton, but when it comes to being on the water, you need a specialist machine:

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

It was a surprisingly smooth ride – moving downwind anyway.

To the Maen Mawr and Cerrig Duon; Dusk riding a deserted valley road in South Wales

I made this ride at the beginning of August when we went to South Wales, but it has taken me this long to put it together and load it up. I smuggled the Brompton in under the luggage in the boot of the car, and one evening I walked it up the steep stone chipping track of the cottage where we stayed, out of the farm gates and turned the bike up-valley on a deserted unclassified road. The dusk was slowly gathering over the mountainside as the sun dipped beyond the horizon. The river Tawe, freshly sprung from the mountain and not yet the torrent that rages over the rocks two miles seaward, rushed past playing sweet, watery music as it danced from pool to pool, this was the only sound in the valley. Sheep moved slowly out of the way as I eased the Brompton over the crest of the hill. At a small gravel layby I folded the bike up then carried it down to the water’s edge, following the river toward its source, looking for a safe and easy place to cross. Eventually I elected to wade through where it widened slightly, the current was not too strong, but the water was freezing, a shock to the system as it numbed me from my feet to the knees. I scrambled up the bank, immediately my sodden trousers and trainers felt incredibly warm in contrast to the chill of the river. As I followed the tracks of a sheep trail I could see the standing stone known as the Maen Mawr appearing on the horizon ahead of me. When I reached the plateau on which the stone stands, I put down the Brompton and walked round the attendant circle, Cerrig Duon. This is a small circle, the largest stone being only about two foot in height, curiously it’s not actually a circle, more of an egg shape. What most people don’t realise about this site, is that there is an avenue of small stones nearby with the flat sides of the stones all aligned in one direction. With the flat plateau, the large stone, the circle and the avenue, it’s actually a significant complex, carefully aligned north to south (or south to north) and set up for processional ritual. The view down the valley toward Dan yr Orgof and Craig Y Nos was spectacular, a few lights glowed gently, marking out the country park buildings. Back the other way the sun had solidly set, but strangely left two areas of glowing golden light on the horizon due to the nature of the mountain, the effect in the sky was quite magical. I wondered if this was significant to the builders of the complex?

As the darkness raced silently over the mountain, the dew settled gently on the spiky grass and the sound of the river became clearer and sharper. A soft mist appeared above the river, even in the 21st century, the atmosphere became liminal, other worlds felt close by, within easy reach.

This was not at all unpleasant or eerie, I felt very comfortable there, but with the light disappearing I thought it best to wade back over the river and head for the road. By the time I reached the track there was no light to guide me in save starlight, and the warm glow of the cottage windows where the moths battered softly against the panes, the whisper of their wings audible against the ubiquitous piping music of water over stone.

Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 11:29 pm  Comments (4)  
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