A fly in the ointment – Joyce Janes

Tissington trail opened 1899  between London – Manchester closed 1954

Open between Ashbourne and Buxton until closed fully 1967 (partially 1963)


It was the first time Joe’s parents had allowed him to travel alone.  His father put him on the train with strict instructions to behave himself and give up his seat if it was needed.

Ridiculous thought Joe.  He knew from past visits the line between Manchester and the little station at Thorpe was never busy this early in the day.

Joe counted passengers as he walked past each of the dimly lit carriages.  Eight people on the whole train and that included himself.  Give up his seat indeed.

He saw Dennis eyes closed nestled down in a corner.  Should he go and join the old man or carry on to the next carriage.

Too late, Dennis opened his eyes, recognised Joe and waved.  The boy smiled in return pulled open the carriage door and stepped in.

‘I knew to look out for you, your Granny told me you were coming up from Manchester,’ he smiled and patted the seat next to him and Joe sat down.

‘She said you would be on this train, told me in no uncertain terms, you’ll be facing a fate worse than death Dennis Baker if you let anything happen to my grandson while he is on that great iron monstrosity.’

Joe laughed that sounded just like Granny and he could picture her, finger waving, threatening Dennis.

Joe looked at the old man and wondered why he put up with her.

Dennis smiled ‘she’s a wonderful woman your Granny, wonderful.’

Granny and Dennis were neighbours and since granddad died the old man had made it his business to do everything he possibly could to help her.  As far as Joe could see Granny didn’t appreciate him at all but still the old man adored her.

‘A fool and his money are soon parted,’ she told Dennis when he brought her 3 chickens.

‘No lass fresh eggs, you’ll have them every day.

It was the same when he took her flowers from the hothouse at Ilam Hall she accused him of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Dennis mended her gate he laughed and told her ‘a stitch in time Jenny, a stitch in time.’

‘Codswollop,’ was all she said as she slammed the door in his face.

Dennis was never upset by anything she said he took every slight with a shrug of the shoulders and a chuckle.

‘Grand woman she is, remarkable,’ Dennis insisted.

Granny had been born in Ilam and her parents before her, so had Dennis.  As a girl Jenny had played in the grounds of the hall whilst her father, who was Head Gardener, worked tirelessly to keep the lawns, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens immaculate for the wealthy businessman who lived there.  Any chance she got Jenny would help her father.

She loved Ilam.

Joe knew all this because when he stayed with her they would walk the paths and fields around the village as she told him tales of her childhood.

As they strode out along Paradise Walk she would talk of her youth.

‘It wasn’t work you know,’ she said, ‘it was a labour of love.’

She would smile and Granny changed and became Jenny the young girl and Joe knew she was back there thinking of Harry, Joe’s grandfather.

Harry was apprenticed to the gardener and at first not a very good one.

Granny would chuckle as she told Joe stories of that time.

She told him how once Harry had slipped whilst clearing weed from the lake and almost drowned.  Her father had to jump in to rescue the boy.  When father came home dripping from head to foot he was cursing his young apprentice.

It was after that incident that Jenny with her soft heart had first noticed the trainee.  Harry had already seen her and in no time they were stepping out together.

Jenny told him to shape up and knuckle down and he did.

They married and the couple lived with her parents until they were given a house on the estate.

The owner of the hall decided to transform the village by building ornate chalet type houses, a style used in Alpine regions.

No one was wholeheartedly behind the changes and as building progressed the folly of this scheme caused much amusement around the village but amid much grumbling from residents the houses were eventually complete.

The new village had a strange appearance unlike anywhere else in the area.

Estate workers moved in and the old cottages were demolished.  Once established the tenants had to agree they were grateful for the warmth and comfort these modern houses provided.

Jenny and Harry were given one of the best surrounded on three sides with level gardens.  Jenny decided she must be the luckiest woman alive when they moved in and Harry was given the job of Head Gardener replacing her father when he became too old to work.

‘My cup runneth over,’ she told Joe.

Granny talked like that, in riddles.  Joe didn’t know what she was on about most of the time but it didn’t matter he liked it, no one else he knew said things like she did.  She made him laugh, he decided a long time ago that Granny was very wise, well she must be to know all the sayings, she had one for every occasion.

‘Eee you’re a sight for sore eyes,’ she said as Joe walked up the path.

As she dragged him inside and closed the door Joe caught a glimpse of Dennis raising his hand to wave.

‘What have you got against Dennis Granny?’  he asked her.  All she did was click her teeth and whisper ‘you reap what you sow.’

Riddles thought Joe shaking his head.

One day Granny took him on her special walk.  Ilam Hall had acres of grounds and was famous in the area for its beauty.

Granny was smiling and enjoying the outing when Dennis appeared in the distance.

‘Oh no, it’s that fly in the ointment.’

Joe looked up then realised that in her haste to escape her friendly neighbour she had fallen, landed badly twisted her leg underneath her.

Her cry of pain alarmed Dennis and he came running to them.

‘Look after her I will go and raise the alarm,’ he said as he hurried off to the hall.

‘It’s an ill wind that brought him along here,’ she grumbled.

‘Why don’t you like him he is so kind and he thinks the world of you?’

‘Oh lad,’ she paused for a long time, ‘your Granddad saved Dennis from the tree when it fell, he saved that idiot but my Harry died.  I can never forgive that man.’

‘But Granny that was such a long time ago, Dennis couldn’t have known that would happen and he does so much to help you.’

An ambulance arrived and despite her grumbling and arguing Granny was taken to hospital where she had to remain for some days.

‘No worries the lad can stay with me till you get back,’ Dennis told her.

It was on the first evening that Dennis talked to Joe about his grandfather.

‘We were best friends it broke my heart you know, when the accident happened. I was felling the tree and Harry changed his mind, took over sent me off to fetch another saw.  I didn’t see what happened he was dead when I got back.  Terrible it was terrible day for us all.’

Joe stared at the old man ‘but she thinks it was your fault Dennis, she blames you.’

The next day when he visited the hospital Joe told Granny what Dennis had said.  At first she didn’t believe him said Dennis had always been a bad apple.

Later that night as she lay awake her thoughts full of the events of years before she realised that it was true.  She knew how Harry would always insist he knew best, bossing everyone and being in charge and she realised what Joe told her was true, it wasn’t Dennis’s fault, none of it.

The next day when her grandson appeared she smiled.

‘Joe, I think I have been a very silly woman.’

The boy smiled at her ‘Dennis is outside shall I ask him to come in?’

‘Yes, perhaps we can be friends after all I mustn’t let the sun go down on my wrath for one more day.’

Smiling Joe shook his head, there she goes again he thought as he went to collect Dennis.


Joyce Janes writer for children




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