Johnnersintheraw's Blog

June 28, 2010

WemittanceMan

A Man at the End of His Tether

My name is Woderwick.  Woderick Wevewel Wamsbothewam-ffenugweek minow, but you can call me Woddy if it’s easiew fow you to wemembew, ow, if that’s too hawd to handle, ‘Minow’.  Aftew all, that was what they called me at school (my fathew having been ‘Majow’) and I am used to it.  So let’s just leave it at ‘Minow’, shall we?

The stwange but twue stowy I am about to welate to you began when I was in my twenty-fouwth yeaw, which would make it thiwty-eight yeaws ago. And it stawted in much the usual way, wather like this:

I had been sent down fwom univewsity aftew the fouwth accusation of  mowal tuwpitude had been lodged against me by the Seniow Weader at my college.  My own deaw fathew’s pewsonal intewvention, fow once, was to no avail, and I was sent down in disgwace to the manow of my gwandmothew,  Dame Wanunculus Epifania Wamsbothewam, the Dowagew Mawchiness of Willewiwe, at Willewiwe Gwange, in the fuwthest most desolate weaches of Cumbwia.  I was to wemain there undew the wedoubtable watch of my gwandmothew, my fathew having wefused to see me, until such time as a decision had been made wegawding my futuwe. Except fow my grwandmothew’s corncwake voice, which was an instwument honed by yeaws of calling dogs and in bellowing to hew sewvents (fow she had a distain for pulling bell cowds and pwefewwed shouting up and down the back staiws) and hew insistance in my joining hew evewy mowning at five shawp as she touwed hew estate in hew ancient miniatuwe Victowia, pulled as it had been fow yeaws by a Welch Mountain Pony named Fwederwick  (named aftew anothew disweputable gingew-headed disgwace to his univewsity, hew late husband, the fouwteenth Mawquis).

It was not altogethew an agweeable time fow a young chap like me, fow I had been accustomed to dwinking and whowing and cawwying on with evewy jackenapes in the vicinity of Oxfowd (having been pweviously banned fwom the pwecicts of Cambwidge, my family’s pwefewwed univewsity).  All those joys puwsured by me wewe stwictly off-limits.  Even my daily pwedawn mastuwbationawy exewcises that had kept me healthy and vibwant since the age of thwee wewe fowbidden me, and to ensuwe I didn’t polish my sausage woll at any time – not even when I was in despewate stwaights – fouwteen guwkhas fwom my gwandfathw’s old wegiment were assigned to watch me like a hawk to make suwe thewe was no fowbidden movement in my nethew wegions at any time ow any place at any houw of the day or night.  Not even in the bath was I spawed, for even thewe two guwkhas in Scuba geaw wewe vigilantly watching for any undewwater shennanigans.  And fowget about any othew pursuits which had made by life so vibwant and wowthwhile.  I was to leawn discipline.  I was to pay the pipew fow all the fwivolity of the pwevious six yeaws.  In othew wowds, no swells down fow the weekend; no wevellwy in the hewbacious bowdews;  no fwesh young things swilling mawtinis in the awbowetum;  no midnight swims in  the wiver; no gangbangs in the owangewy.  In fact, no pleasuwe at all.  I was to leawn how to behave.  And at the age of fouw and twenty, behaving is the last thing a chap wants to do.  These were diwe times!

Aftew six months and one week and a day of playing bwidge with my gwandmothew, plus the unmawwied sistew of the vicaw, who was the pwesident of the Women’s Institute and a secwet dwinker, and with my spotty vewy gingew cousin Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg  Wiwwible, who was thwee eaws youngew than I, nevew washed undew his awmpits or his pwivate pawts, and who was as bowing as a sowbet of  puwéed pawsnips sewved with pwunes and fwothy massewated wutabegas, I stawted to see spots befowe my eyes.  Aftew six months and thwee weeks and thwee days of these daily bwidge games, I felt myself tuwning into an even mowe intolewable vewsion of Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg than even the owiginal Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg had managed to tuwn into.  Fow unlike him, who had settled fow being an intolwerant nincompoop, I was evolving into an intolewant nincompoor with psychopathic anti-social tendencies.  Plus I was becoming even mowe gingew than he.

Aftew six months and thwee weeks and thiwteen days, I had my fiwst vision of killing a pewfect stwanger.  He was a man I had seen only once waiting fow a twain at Willewiwe-Undew-Hadwian’s Wall, a  village so small that to weach it one had to disembawk the London –  Bewwick expwess at Gweatew Cumbwia Halting and flag down the weekly community bus, pwoviding it wasn’t in one of its moods and hadn’t bwoken down.  Othewwise you had to walk.  Unless of course you had called ahead and Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg was sent to fetch you in the vewy old and cwanky Wovew.

As fow Willwwiwe-Undew-Hadwian’s Wall itself, it had two public houses – neithew of which sewved real ale – a tiny shop which wouldn’t sell condoms  (condoms wewe blamed fow the unstoppable decline in the population of the village), a mobile post office which set up business fow an houw evewy week and a mobile libwawy that came once a fowtnight, but only if the libwawian – a comely lass named Sewena Wivewidge – had wemembewed to stop dwinking eawly enough the night befowe so that in the mowning she could wemembew whewe she had pawked the mobile libwawy.  Poor Sewena.  Life and stwaight gin had not been kind to hew.  Sad, that, because in hew bettew days she’d been the best lay nowth of the Home Counties.  But that was befowe she’d taken to stashing bottles of bwandy up hew peawly gates, aftew which she couldn’t be satisfied with anything smallew than a howse. A shame, that was.

Fowtunately fow my sanity and the state of my despewately wampant and stawving manhood, the unmawwied sistew of the vicar, whose name was Mawjowie Marrow Wawwaway,  was bound to tuwn up at least once evewy week (on the one day hew companion Hilawy was obliged to go into town to exchange hew libwawy books and was not awound to inspect deaw Mawjowie’s handbag for the odd bottles of gin and vewmouth), as dwunk as a lowd.   How blessed wewe those days of wespite, when aftew the second wubbew, the othews had ajouwned to the awbowitum for tea and hewwings on bwown bwead and miniatuwe squawes of fwuit cake with mawzipan, Mawjorie and I would make a fuwtive dash to the solawium at the end of the wose twellis and pawtake of her mawtinis and of each othew until pwecisely quawtw past fouw when the thiwd of the fouw wubbews was due to stawt.

Unfowtunately fow hew, Mawjorie was send away to a sanitawium fow the incuwably incuwable exactly thwee months aftew I awwived at my gwandmothew’s.  Unfowtunately fow me, she took hew bottles of gin and vewmouth with hew – on the instwuctions of Doctow Merridew MacGwuthew, hew attending physician who had sectioned hew.  I still miss Mawjorie, and I think of hew evewy time I get weally howny and dunk my knob in a vat of gin.  Which is my secwet vice and fetish of choice.

When last I heawd, Mawjorie had wun away with a contowtionist fwom Cawdiff and was telling fowtunes undewneath the Blackpool Towew.

Aftew Mawjorie was sent away I was hoping the daily bwidge games would stop.  But nevew feaw.  My gwandmothew always had resewves lined up.  In this case, her elder sister Elfwieda Hewbewt-Wawabit, who was so fewosicous she made my gwandmothew look like the owiginal goodtime giwl.

It was Gweat Aunt Elfwieda Hewbewt-Wawabit who fiwst came up with the idea of sending me away as a wemittance man.  To one of those lessew known little countwies in South Amewica that no one has evew heawd of.  Like Pawaguay, only not Pawaguay, if you know what I mean.

San Cwistobal de la Madwe de los Angeles Negwos de Solidad de Misewicowdia de los Andes, or as it was mowe commonly known, La Wepublica de Misewicowdia, was nested in a valley in the Andes between Pewu and Bwasil.  It was totally pwotected on all sides by the inpenewable mountains, and could only be appwoached by a single tweachewous woad fwom Pewu. A woad which wound thwough the secwet encampment of ‘The Shining Path’.  Misewicowdia had nevew appeawed on a map since its founding in the yeaw sixteen hundwed seventy-thwee by the notowious conquistadow, Genewal Infewmidad de Wamsbothewam, the second Mawquis of Willewiwe, whose own gweat gwandfathew had given half his fowtune to King Fewrdinand of Awagon aftew he had got lost in the night and had mistaken a Queen Isabella of Castile fow a sewving wench,  an encountew which had wesulted in a bouncing baby giwl, best known to histowy as Cathewine of Awagon.  Because of the lawgess of the bwibe, all was fowgiven, for it meant that Fewdinand and Isabella could fulfill theiw ambitions of conquewing the new wowld without having to spend any money of theiw own.  As fow Cathewine of Awagon, who cawed who hew weal fathew was, fow she had alweady been shipped to England as a baby-bwide to The Pwince of Wales, Awthuw, and neithew Fewdinand nor Isabella thought he would evew know the diffewence.

But, unfowtunately for Pwince Arthuw,  he did, having shawed a bed an fouw dozen wenches and thiwty-thwee twubadows with the effewvescent Mawquis of Willewiwe duwing the midnight wevelwy following the cowonation of Awthuw’s fathew, Henwy VII, aftew he had slaughtewed the wightful king, the beautiful Wichard III and stolen the cwown fow himself.  And since Cathewine of Awagon had an uncommonly long nose that twisted upwawd at a wakish angle – a nose unique to only one family, that of the Wamsbothewams – one look was enought fow Pwince Awthuw to tumble to the fact that, faw fwom being the daughew of the King of Spain, Cathewine was not only a Wamsbothewam, but a bastawd Wamsbothewam at that.  Poow Awthuw.   He was a sensitive soul.  So saddened was he that on the vewy day of his discovewy he dwopped down dead from an incuwable ague and nevew wecovewed.  And the bastawd Cathewine was fowced to mawwy Awthuw’s youngew bwother, the futuwe Henwy VIII.  And the west, as they say, is histowy. 

San Cwistobal de la Madwe de los Angeles Negwos de Solidad de Misewicordia de los Andes had fowever wemained a tweasuwed outpost of the Wamsbothewam family, and even aftew thwee dozen insuwwections and wevolutions had massacwed no fewew than thiwty-thwee of theiw bwightest and ablest scions (as well as fouwteen of theiw dimmest and incompetant mowons), the family still wetained a choke hold on the tiny wepubluc – with no fewew than sixteen of the twenty-thwee ministwees pewmenantly administewed by cousins no mowe than thwice removed.  Even duwing the dawkest of the dawk times the family wetained a splendid palace in the most beautiful gawden in the capitol city of Willewiwe. And this was when even to be wumouwed to be a Wamsbothewam cousin fouw-times wemoved was sufficient gwounds fow a splendid execution in the Plaza Pwincipal de Misewicordia, weplete with shewwy and fwesh Mewengue touwtes (the pwincipal delicacy of the countwy) and a twenty-fouw gun salute to be fiwed similtaneously with the hapless head being lopped off and used as the ball in a celabwatowy game of thwee hundwed a side wugby.

The vewy aftewnoon the evew-vigilant Elfwieda Hewbewt-Wawabit, the tuwmigant eldew sistew of my gweat gwandmothew –  my gweat aunt – cast a gimlet eye on my quaking pewsonage and cast me adwift into the futuwe she had chosen fow me, I had unfwtunately commited a minow faux-pas.  Not that I had seen anything weally wwong with my plan of action, but as gweat aunt Elfwieda pointed out to all and sundwy, she was the favouwite mistwess of the Chief Constable of the county, and he always followed hew advice.  To whit,  I had lain in wait behind the dainty wose twellis on the nowthbound platfowm of Gweatew Cumbwia Halting Station and had pounced upon the unwitting pewfect stwanger about whom I had been dweaming night and day fow over six months, and had blugeoned him to a pulp with the pwized vegetable mawwow gwown by my spotty vewy gingew cousin Mawtin Abewcwombie Bwittlingbuwg  Wiwwible in his specially designed cucumbew fwame set in a pwotected awea between by gwandmothew’s owangery and her pwivate folly whewe she kept hew secwet collection of stuffed gowillas – a collection that was compwised of neawly two-thiwds of the entiwe mountain gowilla populaion of Wwanda.  As she liked to say, “They would have died soonew ow latew.  It might as well have been soonew.”

Unfowtunately, although I pewsonally found my actions both amusing and iwonic – fow as it tuwned out the pewfect stwangew was at the time coming down with la fluxion de la poitwine and found he  had lost his taste fow the chawwed and shwivelled game pie with Cumbewland sauce he had owdewed in the station canteen –  my gweat aunt Elfwieda was appalled.  “No gwand nephew of mine is pewmitted to bludgeon a man to a pulp just as he is about to pawtake of one of my succulant pies!  Why, I shot the gwouse myself, and half of the best eawth of Cumbwia went into making my delicious Cumbewland Sauce!” And that was when she fixed hew gimlet eye on me and pwonouced sentence.

“YOU!” she woawed at me, her mighty shelf of a bosom heaving and vibwating like contwalto’s uvula, “Awe banished to Willewiwe.  You shall hencefowth be a wemittance man, and shall spend the west of youw days dwunk and desolute in the undusted salons of the palace of owr illustwious foewbeawews.  You shall weaw unlaundewed white linen suits and youw hair shall be fouled with cobwebs and gwease! And you shall develop a speech impediment! Nevew against shall you be able to pwonouce youw ‘aws’.”

Thewe and then my gweat aunt Elfwieda looked down hew mighty beak of a nose and hew quivewing noswils flawed like the steed of Alexandew when the gweat golden empewow was about to slay thwee hundwed thousand men who stood between him and the next new howizon he was about to conquew.  “Be Gone, and nevew darken my tweshold again!” she declaimed in tones of fiwe and bwimstone.  I depawted hew pwivate mowning dwawing room all a twemble and feeling the doom-laden cuwse upon my once-pwoud shouldews.

And because whatevew gweat aunt Elfwieda commanded became the lawr of the land, the next mowning, at the unGodly houw of fouw o’clock – I found meself standing, togethew with my twaps and the wecipe fow the patented potcheen I would be dwinking fow the wemaindew of my life in Misewicowdia, on the docks of the Wamsbothewam Twamp Steamship Company’s scuttling bewth in Livewpool.  I was to be the only passengew on the mouldering ‘SS Bwuja del Maw de los Besos del Diablo’, whose cawgo was to be a consignment of wotting bweadfruit which had been shipped fwom the Pitcaiwn Islands and which no one had wemembewed to off-load, twelve vintage iwonclad Panhawds fow the pewsonal use of the latest and most useless Pwesident, Genewalissimo Fwancisco Mawia Cawlos Wamsbothewam Wamsbothewam de Wamsbothewam, and twenty-three viwgin whowes fwom the whowehouse of Madame LaFragwiletti’s ‘No Deposit No Weturn Mail-Owdew Viwgin Whowe Bowdello’ in the Hampstead Gawden Subuwb end of Goldew’s Gween.  Just downwind of the cwematowium.

It goes without saying that I thought my luck was changing!  Twenty-three viwgin whowes fow a jouwney lasting twenty-thwee days.  But no such luck, fow I was piped aboawd by my gwandmothew’s bwothew Wothewidge Wembewtp Willewiwe, the bawking-mad twin of gweat aunt Elfwieda.  Aftew stowing my luggage in my statewoom – which was located in a stawboawd aft hold undew the cwews’ head – he invited me to take a touw of the wepellant and stinking vessel.  It goes without saying I did not demuwe, fow I had it in mind to leawn whewe the twenty-thwee viwgin whowes had been housed.

Much to my chagwin I discovewed that faw fwom changing, my luck was taking a fwee-fall.  Into Hades. It had been had enough to have been billetted under the watewfall of diarrhoea of the pewmenantly afflicted membews of the cwew – all of whom suffewed from the incuwable cholewa they had contwacted duwing the gweat cholewa epidemic of 1923 – but I was now about to discovew my second great disapppointment of the day.

With a fanfawe blown fwom a twumpet he had concealed about his pewson (in a place I had been too much of a gentleman to look) he thwew open a mighty doow and ushewed me into a lavishly appointed and fuwnished bedwoom.  And thewe, to my uttew amazement, stacked in wows like so much cowd wood, wewe the twenty-thwee viwgin whowes, all bedecked in exotic owiental finewy.  And thowoughly dead and depawted.

Befowe I could wecovew my senses and ask my gweat uncle Wothewidge if the comely withewed viwgin whowes had been taken in a flood of desire ow pewhaps aftew a suwfeit of awsenic, he waised his fingew to his lips and owdewed my to keep silent.  “They awe cheapew this way,” he whispewed, “And El Pwesidente doesn’t know the diffewence.”

Gweat uncle Wothewidge then assigned me a task.  Duwing the voyage I was to twy out each of the wizened and withewed and desiccated viwgin whowes exactly thiwteen times.  And at the end of the voyage, I was to complete a wepowt indicating which one of the comely viwgins was the most desiweable, the most pliant and the fweshest smelling.

I will pass over the following twenty-thwee days, only to mention that the winnew by faw was (or had been befowe hew death in the yeaw of our Lowd 1769) a cewtain Mawia Esmewelda Mewwiweathew Bawwsotow, who had been bown in Stweatham Common undew a pawk bench dedicated to the admiwal of the fleet.  At the age of thwee yeaws and fouw months, the beautiful Mawia Esmewelda had alweady been elevated to numbew fouwteen in the list of favouwites of the Empwow of a gweat asian countwy, the name of which – even today – stwikes feaw in the heawt of faint-heawted mowtals.

While I have had bettew, I have also had wowse.  And at least she wefwained from wunning hew fingewnails up and down my spine and singing the Hallelujah Chowus at an inoppowtune moment and leaving me embawwassed.

The day I awwived in Willewiwe, I was moved into my villa on the bad end of town, next to the abattoiw and the pig fewtilizew factowy.

I am still hewe.  Nobody evew wwites to me.  No one will invite me to dinnew. No one even knows my name.  It has been so long since anybody has called me anything, that I cannot even wemembew it myself.

I am, simply put, the old dissolute dwunk in the tweadbawe stained and gweasy and stinking once-white linen suit.  I am the poow soul who wandews awound Willewiwe’s dawker and mowe desolate stweets talking to myself in accents sounding vewy much like my gweat aunt Elfwieda, and sleeping most nights in one guttew or anothew.  Dogs uwinate on me and defecate on my head when I am sleeping, and fewal cats battle it out fow suwpwemacy on my uptuwed face.  No touwists evew thwow me any of their spawe change, fow no touwists evew come to La Misewicowdia.

Last night for the fiwst time I dweamed of Cumbwia, and of the nowthbound platfowm of Gweatew Cumbwia Halting Station.  Befowe me stood the shade of the pewfect stwangew whom I had bludgeoned to a pulp with the vegetable mawwow.

He came fowawd and intwoduced himself.  He extended his hand, and just fow a moment I thought he was going to fowgive me.  Was my luck finally going to change aftew so many yeaws?  Was I going to be weleased fwom this cuwse and this misewable life?

It was then I encountewed my thiwd disappointment of the day – the fiwst being when I woke up to yet anothew day in the guttew and the second being when El Pwesidente’s favouwite fighting cockeral sliced off my nose with his wighthand spuw.  The pewfect stwangew, whom I had so gwievously wwonged all those many yeaws befowe, mewely unzipped his flies and pissed on my haiw.

Howevew, that was not his final wowd.  As he was about to disappeaw back into the ethew whence he had come, he looked down his ghostly pewfect strangew’s nose at me and muttewed, “So sowwy, old man. My mistake. Could you diwect me to the palace of Woderick Wevewel Wamsbothewam-ffenugweek minow? I wish to fowgive him fow beating me to a pulp with a vegetable mawwow…”

But befowe I could gathew my wits about me and cwy out, “I am he! I am the wwetched Woderick Wevewel Wamsbothewam-ffenugweek minow,” he intewwupted me.

“I am t-t-t-t-ewwib-b-b-bly sh-sh-sh-showwy, b-b-b-b-ut I c-c-c-c-annot u-u-u-u-nd-d-d-d-ewst-t-t-t-and a wow-ow-ow-ow-d you awe sh-sh-sh-sh-aying.  You m-m-m-m-ust d-d-d-d-o s-s-s-s-om-m-m-m-eth-th-th-th-ing about y-y-y-y-ouw sh-sh-sh-shpeech imp-p-p-p-ed-d-d-d-d-im-m-m-m-ent.”

 And with that, the pewfect stwangew vanished back into the ether, and he nevew came back.  And now I’ll nevew be fowgiven, and I’ll be hewe fowevew.

 

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June 8, 2010

MySisterEileen

Diary of a Mangy Hare named Pad as Re-Written by Bernard the Goose

Eyev bin axt tae riot hey feeiou tinz aboot meye sister Eileen.  Eye axt Bernard da Guuz tae hep mee bud hee sez fekkov heez god beddur tinz tae du. Leik shitin onder nu carz. Soz hear goze.  I eevun stowlt hey dikchuneiry fae da liberry sowz eye whunut sound leik wonodam fekkin illitruditudes fae da udder seit uf da eylunt ware they fekks dere houn sheeps tae saev munny on da studfleas fae da coopt.  Meye nayme iz Pad ur Paddy iffa ewe leiks, witch iz – az ya  noze but probly  duzn –  wot dey kallz Padraig wen dey’s nowan ya all yer laef or wen dey’s fambly or wen dey’s so dronkt fae drinkn dey can’t be boddered tae call youz wot dey should be callin’ ya only dey cunt meyek demselves to rememblerait id.  Eyem sumteiumz wunderun wye da gut Lort boddered tae gaevt us wot dae callz hay Chrischun nayum t’all.  Itz not aziff noboddy rebembleraytz it, haccep perraps da Blessit Virgin wot prayz fer youz wen no one elze iz after doin’ it.  A bonny lass, dat Blessit Virgin.  I wundur wye shes nevvur god herseff merriet proppurin da Kirk?  Insted of geddin herseff nokkert up da wey shee didn’all. Mein ya, deirz somtin goin’ on dere wot doun smellz tu gud.  Meye sister Eileen god herseff hay bonz in da hovvun an du yu tink dey’d ledder bak intae Kirk?  Noooo.  Ezpeshllee hafter shee wentin god herseff pregnunt five yearz runnin’.  Somtin uvva rekurt eevun heir wares dey ushallee taiks adleest hey fiyeev mont whollydee buttween prigunansiez. Nodda whoor sheez haint, ad leezt nodso yewed nodiss – nod like Hagnuz Macilluddee overn da council hustaitz wot heps oud widda sheepdippin evur sprink an shee charjiz a shag per ewe and a snatch likk fer evertoo lambleez.

Eileen haz wot u callz a wonderin’ twat.  And twaznt by her owun doon.  Shee god wonna dem holez wot wanderz off by idseff wen sheez asleepin innur bed.  An dontell hur nuffin aboudit.  Not leikly. An cuz I seen hur peeza furry bit sneekin down da boreen aftern da gud Lardz all tukt up in bed and Eileen sheez never evvun oudda da house, eye bleevz ‘er. Nooo, meye sister Eileen waz wot yud callz a gud lass an never did tuk off nuffin wen shee wentae da set-dansun ad da Tree Blind Feckerz on da turd Sunndy uf evree mont  – Ride aftur da fella in da black dress wid da wite collar round iz neck gaved hur wot fer fur lettin Jimmy O’Grady pud is sausage roll up er gloreebee tae god tae keepid warm fer im tae eets afturn da udder mens wit di udder black dress sprinklz da peepuls wid wadder an dey all runz fae da Kirk haffor he axt dem fer munny fer da widdy MacFarlin overn da bat sait ov da eyelunt ware nobuddyz god shoos. 

Wot ayem sayin iz dat dey gotz das Kirk all wireed up wid wonna dem electricacal barbt wires sos wen Eileen triez tae sneek in aftur mass tae robbles sum beer munny fae da collecshun plait, shee getzer hare all perummt up in dem little curlz an shee doun even has tae go tae Muddur Sullivanz beeudee den hover beehine da pier wair ya gets da fairee tae go tae da udder side uf da sea onwotz callt da manelan.  Hackexcepp on da Lortz dae, wen da lad wot runz da ferree iz still inna ditch somewherez wiv won uf the choirboyz heez been heppin hisseff tu after da mannin da black dress (da won wot trowz da wadder springkutz on everbodeez heddz aftur trettenin gum wid da Faddur handa sun handa holeee spurt

Maebeez eyel be hafter haskin’ hymn da nex taeum  heye goaz tae Kirk wye dey doun led Eillen in da Kirk wen dey letz da Blessid Virgun laedee hin.  Afur hall, da Blessit Vurjin’s sun waz setch hey sorry sun uv hay bitch dat dey strungut im fae hay tree. Han dey still ledz er in han heevun maekz hey statoo uv hur an puds hey liddel bokkz unner id soz da owld widdeez can givez er munny soz shee wone hafta bee goin whoorin’ at da Tree Blind Feckers ever Sabbidy night. Laeukk meye sister Eileen duz. 

Eyebin tinkin eye shud ax da menz inda Kirk wid da bleck dressus anta wite collers wot dey hez agin Eileen. Bod mebee not.  Nowin howtingz bee workin eyeull only bee amakin tings hay hoel lodworsted fur owld Eileen.  Enwot widher bein’ noctd up agin wid a cupla twins, sheel nodbee wantin da fellas in da blackdressuz tae remembrate er.  Id wudnut did dem twinz o’hurs enny fayvurs iffn dey sendz er straytoffta tae da fiers o’hell, wudit?  Infack, dey juss mite mayk mee taix cair o’da wee fekkers.  Eyekin hartlee kin tice meyun houn shoos, led aloun skrub alodda shite oudda hey pyel o’nappies. 

Ennyweys, heye noze beddern tae ax da fellas in da black dresses fer enny fayvers. I tryut tae gown axt him sometin wun taeum.  Bud honlee whonst.  Heye woz hay wee ting – hardty big enuff fer hey poacher tae bodder wid.  Bud da fella in da black dressus hee tought I waz sunsorta rat an hee beated me wid a broom.  So hiffun mae sister Eileen sheel bee wuntun tae ged bakk intae da Kirk han eetz dem free wayfurz leiuk wot ewe eetz wid eiuz kreem honlee ewe godsta paez fur dem in da co-op shop widder  eyeuz kreem kornutz, sheeul haff tae bee bye herseff.  Sheez hay cheep byatch iz Eileen.  Shee cud saev hall sortza munnys bye byeun wayfurz bye da caisuz bud shee doun wanna be spendin da munny shee gedz fae da soshul.  Sheez allaz hexplaning tae mee dat shee neetz da dosh fur nu close tae ware wen shee seez da mans inda blakk dressus.  Shee doun noz wich wonna dem iz da faddur hov er twinz han shee wonz tae luk bonny fur bod o’dem.  Wich eye kin hunnerstant.  Heveree slag neetz tae no ware tae spredda budder on da bred.  Heevun iffn shee dowen no whoz god da rite bred.  Hor hinnd dis case da rite wotzit.  Eileen sez shee preyz tu da Blesst Vurjin dat da faddur iz da short prees on accowntae him havin hey peenucles da sighez o da Sinnandrewzdae haggus han sheez god too boyz innur bump thad shee once tae givez hem hevury advantayge hin leyeuf.  Meye sister Eileenz after sellin dem offfur rent boyz han shee doun wandem tae taek aftur da udder prees da tallur faddur won on accown tae him hartlee avin nuddin aetall buttween is legs bud hare.  Fur hay hooer meye sister Eileen nose wod iz wot bud shee shuda thunk o’dat particyoularizt sittiashun afore shee wennen hopunt er legz tae da prees wid da wand uvva maoose.  Shudna shee.

Tangz uz happulink allovah da plaice sinz yisturdy.  Meye mam shee wentzun showert da wurl wid anoddur batch uf baybeez.  Han nowe heye godster shaerz mae roomwid anodder twenny fiev nu broddurs en sisters.  Eileenz seyez tae mee da girrelz haintso huggly ez da last lod wot wee soult tu da butcheroveron da manelan fur tree powns nyen pence per pown soz wee cud havvda ekstra munnies tae goes tae da set-dansin dat Sunndy nites ovur ad da nu Sivin Fat Hoorz fae da Bog Gedz tae Heven pob overrun da udder seit uv da heyelunt neer ware da widdy MacFarlin sheel bee kukin up summa dem moweldee tatties ansellz them tu da tooirits as trudichunnel heyelunt grub.  Dem tooirits buleevz henytink day duz.  Mae sister Eileen cellz her wanderink twat too hey busslode odimm evureee Sabbidee nide beehyuint da Tree Blayunt Fekkurs oud ware dey haztae goes tae smoak an emtlieez deyre bleddurs hafter drinkin’ too moch o dat tikk blakk beer wot dey callz Bowel Blaster. Coorz dey cannoo duz motch afturn hey cuppla dem Bowul Blesturz bud Eileen shee gets da munnys oudda dem ennywayz bye tellingum dey fekkt er ubwonseitendoundaudder on da weyz intae da pub onlee wid all da Bowal Blesseder dey cannoo remburait wot dere naimz iz motch less da seiz an smelly uv mae sister’s Eileenz twatole.  Sheed bee geddin richshe wud iffn ownleez she wudna keepz geddin moar baibees ever month or soz.  Ever pennee gouz tae neppies fur dem bratzo hurs.  Owenlee shee doun maikz er beybeez wares nuggun ate all.  Nod heevun wen shee clamez all dat muuny fae da soshul fur babbee fud hand nappeez han fur her nu connterry scepticles wot she fergits tae taik an cells em tae da prees tae pud inniz morning cawfee.  Witch iz wy he growun dem bigg duggz ware ushullee menz owenlee godzt hemply nipplezze en wye hiz wotzit haint hartlee dere adall.  Hee cannud unnerstan id bud meye sister Eileen wot nowz wotz wot tinkz itz funnee.  Han sheel still bee wundurin wye dey duzunt bee leddin herseff intae da Kirk.

Miy sister Eileen shee onest tae gouz tae beeutee skool han work fer owld Muddur Sulleevinz beeutee den ovvur en da udder seid uf da heyelund ware shee tinks noobuudy nowz hoo shee iz.  Wich owenlyn shewz wot a dumfek shee iz, cuz shee halwaiz wares hur nu pinnee da won wot seyz “Eileen Da Hair best blowjaps inda wurlt” ride hup onder bakk hinn neeongalaited leddurs.

Dis mournin me han owld Burnut da Guze haduz a reeal suriuz problumasticle sittooz wen we waz hichun hey rite onda traylur wot dey puts enbakko da cummoonidee buz tae kerry alla de shappin o da owld widdiez wen dey goze across da fairie tae da maneland hon turzdeez tae da supyrmarkut dey klalz Soopur-Seyev ur sommit leik dat.  O coarce de widdies gitz moasta dare fud ovur hat de co-opt wid dare munnie fae da soshul hen cooponz bud day lukz more posher iffn day getz evurtinkat Soupr-Seivorz soas wen dey goze tae da coopt hon da udder seit otoun neer da abber toiletz wae moasta my famblee hentzop wurkin dey leiks tae pot dare choppin in da purmananticle hevvydoodee choopun begs fae da Saloopur-Savior.  Soz dey evurbotee tinx deyz choppun leik da ryatch fokes fae da bikhowz.  Koorce evurbiddee gnowz dey steelz evurtank ennyweyz eevun da sheit dey gidz onndere sochul munny.

Me hen owld Burnurt da Gooce shed hourseffs hey reel circius diskushun hon da wey intae da toun.  Bernart wur allz wurreed bee hon akkownda his mam shee godsta jobb hat da Abbertoilet plaice wot iz abnut da honlee playce ware foaks leil hus wot haint binna skooel kan gits owerseffs a deesunt job wot eevun peiz hey cuppla pence spur pount.  Hey funee wey tae du biddyness bod az day seys munny iz munny nowadeyez.

Furstatall I axt im tae gose ovur da dis hear arkucul haboud Eileen heye bin ritun fur da coopts free weaklee nuslettur wots writ bye dosov us wot wurkz innda frondlion uf farmin.  Owld Burnart he tuk eot eye sed hant hee rerited hit in currek henglush. So naw yew nose whoo tae tank wen yew reedz dis han kin unnerstan hit.  Cuz bernurt hees bin livin hin bekk uv de shooel hen ee larnt reel gud by lissonink troo da windees.  Ennyways tank yew Bernert yooz a gud fren heven do yooz jessa stoopud dumprfekker uv a goose wot heint godda brane hacsepp hin is sfinktur hoel.

Ennyweyes heftur Bernart hee rerites hevurtin eye sais heevun do heye didnu tink heyud dun so bad az ee saiz heye dun, oui started intae talkun aboot his mam han how shee nevvur kompts hoam ennymore han eez afeart cheese runned off wid won odim travvler cokkrils wotz haftur bin gud ad sweetakkin de brichuz offn da laydees.  Han sumteims day cellz da laideez dey gitz incida da britches uv tae won odim ill eegul frintchiez wot duz allsorts odings tae da gooces din knowbuddy hevver ceez dem aggin.  Pursonabuloee heye tinkz deys entsup in dat dare Eegiptshun plaice heye keepz hereun aboot but heye doun reely nose wot it iz.  Doan sown neice tae me but wotdu heye nose.  Soze nodda gid owld Bernurred hall wurriedafiled heye didna sey nuttin aboot eegip oownlee dat hiz mam waz probabbably havin hersell a reel smashin teim.  Warevver sheel bea sentofftae.

Bud tingz doan allayz work oudfur da bessed espeshullee fur gooces han dokks.  Fur hon hour wey tae da aberytoydel da commoonidy buss id stopt infrun tuv da Souperymakut and wot duz yew nose but rite dare in da windy rite ware evurbuddy hincloodin hall de widdies hand me han Bernut han evun da Blesst Vurjin iffn sheed bin widdus honly shee wurnt cuz shee woz hanggin oot inda Kirk cowntin alla da munny sheez bin rraikin in dare woz da pooer owelt widdie Gooce.  Han da pooer owld muddur of Birnrut shee waznt lukin so gud.  Heye dint led owld Burnurd taek a skkond luk han tol im shee woz probiblee havin won ov dem bad deis wimmin gits fae teim tae teim evun gooce-wimmun.  Hen dat sourtae pacifuceitud owld Bernurt hen we deseededt tae luk hup meye sistur Elieen han teik her outta hear an gidz alltree uv us reeelly drunkipaitet hon Boowwul Blastur han sum odat cheeb hoamait wiskee dey cells hon da eyellun.  Honwly oui wonzna hon da eyelun bud onda manlan soze we hadda hole offa da gud stoff fae da shebeen hontil hanuddur teim.

Puer Bernut he tuk tae bein ehextreemnlee dipresscipaud hon haccownda is muddur bein hagun ap indae windee uf da Soupermarcut han ee wannut tae go bekk han rezcew her hans taikz er bekk tae da eyelun inwonna dem gif fud bagz yew steelz fur free in da liddel rakk owtsida da orflicentz.  Ee tunkt prappz hey liddel golt bag widv a ret ribbun wud bee naiz hon haccownda is mam allas lovvt dem colurz da bezt.  Han soz tae hoomur hisseff eye sat im dowun hinseid da Tree Jolly Rentboyz pob jezz him bekk uv da shob wid da durtee viddees hon da tobb shelfsez han eye brunkt imma bikglaz uv choklit han hasperugus wot iz da kynda dring dey leiks tae drinkun inda Tree Chollee Rentaobyz.  Han den heye tuk meseff orf tae da soupermarcud han axt da mannyjer abood a gooz inda windee heye sez id waz da muddur hova fren han ee wannit tae gaves id a proppur funyral ovvur onda heyelun wiv maebee da too menz wid da blekk dressies sayin olive dare gud wurts ovvur hur corpusclez.  Han den aldough heye wudna seiz nuffin tae Burnart onnaccownda da corpusculate bein is muddur han hall bod twean yew han me eyeud tuk owld Burnart intae da bekk rum wyul da menz inda blekk dressus hate owld Missus gooce fer dare tee. Han den dey wud giftus wid da chart remaynez in da golt gifted bag han we wud taik it doun da boreen han trow id inda waddur.  Han den weez cud ged drankz leik yer spozzt too wen yew muddur dyez hand is eeted by a prees.

Burnert han me god so dranked we fergetzt allbowd miy sister Eileen han heye nevvur sawed hur ennymores.

Oar mebee heye did honlee heye dint recogneize hur gud onaccownt uv olive uz harez luk alike eevun moorn gooces han we kunt telluz hupard nod eevun inda daelite.  Soyew cee id wudna dun know gud eevun tryun tae lukz fur hur onaccownda weed nevvur nowed wot we waz lukin fur.

Sum bunny heye waz fukkun hey fiw dais laedur wen heye ad eevun furgotz dat heye ad evur hadda sister namblet Eileen seid sheeud nowd hey hare wot waz a prastitutlee onda manelan wurkun inda hooorhowz jezz dounwinda da arbeetoyur han dat shee waz nod lukin tu gud onaccownda shee kepp onnhavin turdy or fordee babbees evur udder weeks.  Fur hey momuntz eye tought abowd goin tae luk dis hoor inda heyes hand axtin hur iffn shee waz mai sister or anoddur prostituticuleees bud den owld Birnurt ee axt me iffn wee woz goingtae went tae da pikchurz ware dey wiz showun da fillum abowd da were rabbit han wee deesidud dat iffn we wenda cee dis hoooor han shee waz mai sister Eileen weeud heftae taik hur tae da fillum wid oss.  Han Eileen shee allas dit tauk inda middle uv mooveez han ax wot waz goin hon han wot dey woz sayin onaacownd ohur beeun two laezee tae lissun hanso heye seiz tae Birnerd fekk hur wid a tyre eyeron ledda owld bich axt herseff iffn shee woz reeallee da reeul Eileen weez bin taukuin abowd han iffn shee iz shee cuntbye hur owen tikkut han sid way dowen infrond wid all da deff peeplees han me han Bernurt cunt sit indae bakk row han wach da fillum bye owurseffz.

Han so weedid.  Han den wee leff da cinenema urlee han wentz bakk taw da eyelunt hand god drunked at The Three Fekkerz hand avturwurdz wee woz wokun doun da boreen wen wot du yew nose but a grade big sputtz car runt uz overn.

Idz nodso badatall bein in hevvun.  Da fud iz gud anda girlz iz purdy han derez hey neic younk mens wid longhare henda beert wot stopz bye ever nouhanagin han passus da teim. De udder dais ee seiz ee sawd mai sister Eileen wich sirpeizt me a liddel onaccowend uv heye hadna hurt shee woz in heven espeshullee sinze shee woz never allout intae da Kirk.  Da fella wid da beert seyez sheez knot hegactully in heven but shee wurkz upstares fur the top menz han wen sheez wurkun fer dem deyz dae woz in hevvun.  Heye axtud hymn abood da BlessutVurjun hen ee seiz chee cumz evree toozdy fur lonch han chee seyez hallo hand id waz gud youz gotz yurseff intae hevvun allrite onaccownda yooz bein marturificaited han hall bye beeun runned ovvur bye da sportz kar.

Heye gotztae goes noo.  Heye wantae wadch da sunreiz wid Burnert da gooce han den iddel bee tyum tae went tae brekkfust han eye doan wantae bee lait on accownda idz da dae dey survz hare hand eyeum allaz hopin iddel bee hay owld fren or purhepz wonna mai sisterz han broddurs.  Nod my sister Eileen o’curse onaccownda cheese ubstares wid da bikk fokes han iz doin hallride fur herseff.  Wich iz gud han maikz mee feeul dat evertink woz wourt id.

                                             

June 4, 2010

MrPhlegm

The House on Wold Fen

Cyril Tode-Pipkin lived with his mummy but not with his daddy in a decaying house in the middle of a mist-enshrouded fen into which no sun, no happiness or even moonbeams ever shone.  His mummy was a very, very nice mummy as far as it went.  She had a faded peaches and cream complexion and no wart on the end of her nose.  She had gently waving auburn hair that sprung back exuberantly from a massively aristocratic and world-wear brow.  On the sides of her face were two shell-like ears, one the size of a rosebud in spring and the other the size of a clam.

His mummy wore silk tea gowns in shades of deepest purple when she wore clothes at all, except in the evenings when she would dress all in lace that was of a deeper black than black.  And when she wore this lace, as she always did when she dressed for dinner, she would over-layer it with shawls and capes and fur-lined rugs against the cold and damp, and against the howling winds that blasted through the ancient stone walls as if there were no walls at all. And on her hands would be black silk gloves.  Mummy had never been known to eat with her fingers.  She was a Wold, and eating with fingers was not very nice, or so she had been told.    

Cyril Tode-Pipkin thought the world of his mummy, for she was the only mummy he had ever known. But his mummy thought very little of him; in fact she would have been happier had he been born a baboon. And because of this she mourned day and night, and it was because of this she wore only lace and silk in the colours of death.  For from the moment of his birth, Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s mummy had been enshrouded in deepest mourning.  There was but  one piece of jewellery on her translucent white throat, and that was a locket of blackest black jet, a locket in which there was entombed a single strand of hair, a mysterious hair strangely like that of a baboon.

The mummy of little Cyril Tode-Pipkin had been brought up in a private zoo on the upside of Epsom Dows, a zoo in which lived the savage beasts her great-uncle had brought back from Dieppe.  Beasts that had gone down in a storm at sea in the Bay of Biscay, and which had been plucked from the depths more dead than alive.  And since these beasts had known death and yet were still alive, their souls were warped with the foul stench of hopelessness that made them more savage than usual.  They would stalk back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and their eyes they were empty and their fangs they always dripped blood.   

The thought that little Cyril Tode-Pipkin was her own tiny son and yet interested her less than even the fainted images of baboons in the Sunday Pictorials, filled his mummy’s throat with bile and her heart with an accountable feeling of noblesse oblige“If only,” she would snort, as he strode in his manful strides through the shadowy, dust-draped salons, “Cyril wasn’t so tall. For I could then bend him in two and paint his bottom bright blue, and stick him up on the wall between the lion and the Tanganikan kazoo.” But when she said this she did not smile; she merely shed a tear – a tear that mingled with the tears she had shed the moment before, and which trickled down her ravaged, mournful cheeks and then dropped from her chin on to the refuse-choked floor.  For the foul-smelling house on the Fen called Wode was never swept, nor were the brasses polished, nor was the piano tuned.  This was more suitable for a rotting house that was in mourning.

Cyril’s mummy, like all mummies whose sons disappoint, was unbearably weary.   Her favourite sport was to recline on her chaise and look out her window and sigh.  “Oh, Cyril,” she’d whine as she lay faintly supine, when he came to the table  to dine, “would you be a good sport and pass me the Port and then jump out your window at nine?” And then she would touch her eyes with her black-edged cambric lace handkerchief and wipe away yet another tear.

Every night, Cyril Tode-Pipkin, who loved his mummy more than he loved even the smell of salted sprats and of the beef kidney tea he so loved to drink, would hop out his window with glee. For he knew it was the only thing that would fill his mummy’s heart with happiness.  But what mummy had forgot (for the house it had damp rot) was that the third-floor nursery had now sunk was now almost level with the sea.

It was therefore with deepest disappointment and sorrow that she’d bid him, “Good Morn,” when she next saw his face the following afternoon just after three, for the fact he had survived and was still even slightly alive filled her heart with chagrin. And after he had finished his tea and had departed the room, she would pour herself ten fingers of gin, with just a soupçon of tonic. She would nibble abstractly a sliver of stilton and a chilled terrine of escargot and pickled pig’s trotter and flies. And as she supped, the mummy of young Cyril Tode-Pipkin would listen to the score of Medea whilst simultaneously reading the play by Shakespeare in which the queen is forced to eat her slain children. Mummy took great comfort in such consoling works, and she wondered why she had been born neither as Medea nor as the queen in Cymbeline.   

Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s daddy – who was a commodore and sailed the seven seas in his ketch – never ever came home, for he preferred just to roam from Brindisi to Johnny O’Groats and revelled in the company of whales and the ghosts of drowned seamen ensnared in their own web-like nets.  The name of his ketch was Suzella-The-Kvetch, and she was his favourite mistress by far – even though he had seven Virginias and one Flora Bird, and even one lad named The Gherkin.  Young Cyril Tode-Pipkin he did honour as his own and bestowed upon him his good name, but that was as far as it went.  For the night young Cyril had been conceived his daddy had been in Rio and his mummy with her lover in Ghent.  And Cyril Tode-Pipkin’s daddy had at least one good eye from which he could see, and he was no fool.  No, not he.

Wold Fen it was old, so very old indeed, that it was made almost entirely of bog, and when strangers did wander out into its wasteland – and if they did not at the time have a cold – as they sank without trace and without time to say grace, they would cry, “But this swamp it smells of nothing of mould!”

The storms what blew through Wold Fen had risen with the crucifixion of Christ and had never relented since then.  The fog it lay thick and on top of it a mist that was so impenetrable that no light had ever shone on the black foetid decay that was all there was to the land.  And it was in this bog, within the bleakest, most sullen trench in the centre, that rotting and foul Wode House had been built.  A house that was swathed in misery and guilt and despair and which had spawned seven Tode sons in seven generations.  Until now, that is.  Until the coming of little Cyril Tode-Pipkin, the spreckled ginger only misbegotten son of the last of the seven sons of the seven sons.  With little Cyril Tode-Pipkin the dynasty would end, and then at last Wold House could fall.

Eventually, as was only to be expected, so inconsolable had her mourning become that the weary sorrow-clenched mummy of Cyril Tode-Pipkin ceased coming down for breakfast entirely. And since Annie MacCree – her maid – had two bandy knees, and only one arm and one leg and a stump, she would carry the tray only as far as the trash (for she was unable to manage the stairs).  She would then return to the kitchen and lie to the cook – Ol’ Mrs Murgatroyd-the-Schnook – “I’ve come back with great sadness because my mistress did take my tray in a fury and did hurl it forthwith though the window and into the slime!”  

“Never you mind,” said the cook, “madam’s not feeling herself these days. But she’ll come round in time and will eat Bengers’ and lime, and will be back to her old self afore you know it! Now you forget about her – she’ll die if she chooses. But we are alive and we’ll serve steak pudding at five. And we shall be safe in our beds with the doors firmly locked, an hour and a half before nine.  

And so it went on.   Every morning, Gwladys Tode-Pipkin née Wold would ring her little bell and every morning she would wait, ‘till her mind got confused and she thought she had dined with the vicar and had supped on the feet of the Emir of Kuwait.  Until, at last – after twenty-seven weeks or so of waiting for food that never arrived – she faded away like a will o’the wisp, and her body it hovered and then was caught up in a breeze and glided out window and was never more seen – until the old Poacher O’Dell, who lived under the well, shot her down in mistake for a grouse. And then took for back to his shack for a tasty wee snack for himself and his mistress, hinky Bertha The Souse.

During this selfsame time of evil and dread, one name was carried by the vapours and did waft through the fen and through the house and through the hearts of all who were in it. “Beware Young Mr. Phlegm… for he will send you to hell… for the house, it is all but his… watch out for his smell and his white spreckled skin….and there’s no beard on the tip of his chin… beware his smile… beware his voice… beware his eyes, they are colder than ice … beware… beware… beware…”

Little Cyril Tode-Pipkin was bereft, and although he had not actually seen his mummy for two years and a day, he felt her absence quite sorely. “Oh, what should I do?” he said to his pet mouse, Lottie-Sue, who was actually less a rodent and more like a louse, “I’ve got no one to talk to but you!”

As if young Cyril Tode-Pipkin did not have enough troubles of his own, by now his dear daddy, Commodore Phipkin Tode-Pipkin (younger son of the Earl of Norsatch) had sent his regrets and a bill for the rent of Wode Fen and the house and the barn and the granary. For he was now on his uppers and so deeply in debt that in prison he would end all his days – simply because – in his ecstasy – he had forgotten to pay for his time night and day with a certain infamous Whore, Miss Fianulla O’Flannery.

And so it came to pass that little Cyril Tode-Pipkin lived with neither his mummy nor even his daddy in the slow-sinking manse in Wode Fen.  He was now completely alone, for even the cook – Ol’ Mrs Murgatroyd-the-Snook – had locked herself up in the  larder.  And as for the maid – young Miss Annie MacCree – she got married to a milk horse named MacFinkle.  And she went far away and was heard only to say, “Young Cyril’s got a glint in his eye that does not bode well for me.” And for that, ‘twas said she was not only fey but was almost impossibly psychical. But as it was, she quite liked dining on hay and sharing with her new spouse a Sunday dinner of bran mash and turnips and apples, as well as other delicacies much  more obscurely equinical.

One day, as Cyril – who by this time was much taller though not that much older in his head – was staring out the window at a passing gale – one that was threatening to take him and his clothes and even the old house clean away – when out of the corner of his eye he spied a mysterious and quite murksome form coming his way.  The form it did stagger and sway through the marshes, and it seemed – although in the murk it was not plain to see – that it was dressed up in a hat and a cape and in a duster from way down in the Antipodes.

And since young Cyril had never seen in his life a person who was neither mummy nor cook nor ill-tempered maid who had two bandy knees and one fewer legs than was normal, he went upstairs to the tower and his hid in a bower and prepared to bombard this strange man with flaming strawberry jam and toast burnt hard as a rock in a toaster.  From the battlements he looked down and then he did frown, for the stranger looked up and he waved.  “Hello, my good sir!” this stranger declaimed with a mischievous and mysterious grin.  And with that he did sweep off his hat and bow all the way to the ground.  “Oh, please, kind sir, I am cold and I’m damp.  All I ask is that you let me come in.”

“Be gone, my good man,” roared young Cyril, and he picked up the jam and he threw. “Next time I won’t miss, and you’ll burn up in a hiss, and I’ll roast you all up on a spit.”

“But my very good sir, what an excellent plan, may I come up and help you to carry it out?”

And young Cyril he thought and then he thought a while more, and then he called down to the man in a welcoming treble, “On, why the hell not,” after which he threw down the key to the stranger – the stranger who was all wrapped up in a Antipodean duster.

And the stranger came up, bringing his own tea and a cup, and the two chaps they sat down and waited.   And when the clock it stuck five, Cyril said, “What ho! Man alive!” my dinner’s at six and you’re still not on the spit, get down on your knees and repent.  But the stranger demurred, and in a nonce, he took out his sabre, and with this sabre he slew the young heir of both the Tode-Pipkins and of the Wolds.

In the winkling of an eye and in a flash as well, the stranger’s work was finished and done.  He said to the corpse, “Hip Hip Hurrah! At last that I am avenged!”  He boiled up some brine and some quite decent wine and threw young Cyril into the broth. And he boiled him away for two nights and a day, and sang to himself a sweet dirge, “My young man,” he did smirk, “you are such a foul jerk, and now at last you are slain!”

And the stranger took off his cape and his duster from the Antipodes and his gloves and his hat, and his nose and his ears and eyebrows, and what then remained was a pinkish white skin all over freckles and bits of red hair.  “You thought yourself clever, much smarter than I, but I have planned this revenge since my birth.”

And with that he danced and sang and his neck he did crane, ‘till his head did fall off with a snap.  And from out of his spine, all shiny with slime, grew a new head right up in its place.

This stranger now stood very still, and then his voice it did trill, and the stew he did eat all at once.

My name it is Cyril, young Cyril the Ginger, and I am the heir to his house.  You tried to kill me all off on the night of my birth, but my mummy she did hide me away.  I was raised up by my dad – and called simply ‘The Lad’ – and fought brave battles as Lieutenant Willy-The-Gherkin.”

And he picked from the broth the head of the imposter, and with his finger he dug out its brain and its heart and he said, “And you, my foul and now-vanquished enemy, were called by Old Scratch ‘the vile and evil Mr. Phlegm’, and you came up from regions of which only you know.  But now, my dear dead Mr. Phlegm, I shall eat up your all your last morsels. And then I shall open my bowels and send you back whence you came.  And that – as they say will be that, my dear dead departed and vanquished Mr. Phlegm.”

And after he had done and had washed out his plate, for his daddy had taught him so well, he roared, “My man, you old cur, to hell with you sir,” and with that he shat into the pot and then  cast the pot right out through the window and down into a bottomless pit between the butchery and the abattoir. And then he washed his hands and his face and he smiled at his image in the mirror.

And with that the sun shone and the old house was once again bathed in white light.  And in the garden there grew rare flowers red, yellow, gold, purple and blue, as well as roses the colour of rebirth. And all through Wold Fen, the songbirds did sing, and the deer they did cavort with the lions.  As they say – and yes, many things they do indeed say – that peace had finally been brought to this once ill-begotten land.

And then true Cyril came down from the bower in the tower, and softly knocked on his mummy’s door and he whispered.  “Sweet mummy it is I whom you loved, for I have finally come home and shall never desert  you again.”

And the door it swung open, and in the room did appear, a woman not nearly so weary.  “I thought you were lost and I would never set eyes on you again.”

As this true first-born son swept his mummy into his arms and embraced her as only a true son should embrace his mummy, she thought to herself that this true son did smell just like a true son should smell, and in her heart she rejoiced in the knowledge that, under his duster from the Antipodes, his bottom was as blue as the sky.  For, here at last, was her much-loved son, her brave and stalwart Cyril Tode-Pipkin.  She looked in his face, and with a smile filled with grace, she murmured, “Oh, how I have missed you, my sweet and my proud, oh, how I have missed you my son, by most beloved my most darling little baboon.”   

June 1, 2010

FloatYourBoat

My Seaworthless life with Ships and the Sea

Considering I do not come from a seafaring family and have never been particularly interested in nautical themes, there is a certain strand that weaves through my life, and it has to do with boats.  Big boats and little boats and salt boats and powerboats and punts.  And even the odd canoe and kayak thrown in for good measure, possibly to torment me.

For whatever reason – perhaps because nobody else in our landlocked family wanted it – my early years (right up until my father died) – were blessed by an ancient deep-water ocean-going ketch.  The vessel had been built some time before the last war, and of course she was built of timber and acres of brass fittings.  And when moored in her accustomed berth on the south coast, she was possibly the most beautiful and graceful old lady for miles around.

My father was very attached to her, and I believe before he married my mother he used to sail her regularly.  And because she was a deepwater craft built for the southern oceans, it did not occur to anyone to sail her down to the Mediterranean and tootle round the various islands and hop off every day or so to sample what local delicacies were on offer at watering holes and ports of call.

Not a bit of it.  She was, after all, over one hundred metres long from stem to stern.  She had her pride.  And wherever her skipper happened to be heading when he set sail, you’d better believe that before he knew it she would be in mid-Atlantic and Patagonia-bound.

In other words, she was not some millionaire’s plaything – not like those floating gold-plated palaces owned by Greek shipping tycoons or Middle Eastern potentates.  She was sea-worthy and – to put in bluntly – the other ones were fit only for a paddling pool.

For years she had shared a mooring with another vessel, this one belonging to our dentist.  Now don’t get excited.  He may have been a reasonably proficient dentist, and I believe he actually had a surgery in either Harley Street or somewhere just around the corner.  In other words, he had a good income, which meant he paid most of it to the government in taxes;  whatever was left over he used to support a wife and two sons – both of which were in good, if minor, public schools.  For his sins, this dentist also owned a couple of shares in one of my family’s no-hoper steeplechasers.  But that was all in good fun, and in any case, he always looked forward to watching me race.  As he put it, “One of these days, Minger’s going to knock out all of his teeth, and that will make up for the money I’ve lost on that bloody horse you made me buy.”  But you know what they say about wishes.  I never obliged.  And in the end he got so desperate that he bought a leg and a tail of another horse, this one even less athletic and more hopeless than the first.   But he never learned.  He was hoping, of course, he would live to see the day when I would finally pay off the mortgage of his dental surgery, but – alas – the only damage I ever did to myself was south of my neck.  My teeth – much to his chagrin – ended up the same old teeth as the ones I had started out with.

Anyway, back to his boat.  Unlike ours, which was built for racing and for braving the South Atlantic swells, his was the ultimate in pleasure palaces.  The fittings were, of course, gold, and while it had masts fore and aft it was powered by an ill-tempered coal-fired furnace – and because of that it had a small but elegant funnel – painted white with gold bands.  Needless to say, our lovely lady (who was of the old school and who believed no yacht would be caught dead with an engine) looked down her graceful bow at her neighbour – as if it was some sort of flash playboy from the lower end of the village who’d won the football pools.    

The dentist never took this beautiful monstrosity out to sea.  In fact, when his great uncle (whose yacht it had been and who had had it built to his own specification) set off on his very first sea voyage from Portsmouth  to Monte Carlo, the vessel proved to be so heavy that it wasted no time in sinking to the bottom of the harbour.  The team that salvaged it merely shook their heads and murmured, “We told him so.”

When our dentist inherited the craft he had immediately put it on the market.  But it seemed no one wanted to buy a yacht, no matter how beautiful it may have been, if it couldn’t stay afloat.  And so what he did was to hire a birth next to my father’s sleek utilitarian ocean-going thoroughbred.  And then he rented the pleasure palace out as a honeymoon retreat or for dirty weekends to other dentists that were looking to impress their latest chorus girls.

Eventually – after a few years had passed, came the day when our dentist faced the expense and inconvenience of putting his white elephant in dry dock in order to have its ‘bottom scraped’.  Or as the dentist liked to put it, “the bloody thing has got to have its teeth cleaned, and it’s not even on the National Health.”

But then came one of those miracles every one of us is always hoping for but rarely encounters.  A young man walked into the surgery and offered to take the yacht off the dentist’s hands.  It goes without saying that the dentist was flabbergasted.  I believe he even said, “You know, of course, that it will bloody well sink.”

But apparently, the young man knew all that.  He simply wanted it as a folly.  It was beautiful, he said.  And since he could afford it that was enough.  But there was a hitch.  It seemed he had an island in The Seychelles he wished to unload.  Would the dentist be interested in a swap?  The dentist asked him if this particular island had a fresh water supply, and if it was on the route of any of the mail boats.  “Yes,” replied the young man.  The upshot was that the dentist inspected the island – accompanied by a lawyer and the appropriate authorities – and he ended up with a tropical paradise of his own.  He loved it so much that he moved into a shack that was on a cove on the eastern side facing the Indian Ocean; and before the first year was out, he had planted gardens and built shelters for domestic livestock.  And from then on, the dentist spent at least three months of every year as a lotus-eater in paradise.  And our ketch?  It lost its companion.  However, because it had always had to work for its keep – yachts being the money-pits they are – it continued to spend every single month of the year under charter. Eventually, the boat proved to be so popular with the charter company’s clients that it was relocated to Ushuaia on the tip of Argentina, where it stayed for the rest of my father’s life.  And after he died, the charter company bought it.  And I believe it’s still in service – or perhaps even enjoying a happy retirement at the bottom of the South Atlantic.

But do you want to know something?  Not once in the entire time that we owned the ketch did I even once get to sail in her – not even round the harbour or over to the Isle of Wight.  We simply could not afford to have her around as a ‘kept woman’.  The slut had to earn her keep – and she did.  And besides, I had the horses.

So much for my history as a yachtsman.

And now we come to cargo vessels of the tramp-steamer variety, as well as to those that regularly sank.

My uncle, who had lived his entire adult life in Mexico and who was one of those ‘man’s men’ of which certain novelists used to be so enamoured, was incredibly fond of the rickety old steamers that sailed between the salt mines on Baja California and a port on the southern Sonora coast.  For years he had spent his annual monthly holidays shuttling back and forth, getting drunk as a skunk with the captains and crews and raising hell.  To claim that these vessels were ancient would be an understatement. In fact, they leaked like sieves and were in such disrepair that they sank like clockwork.  Of course, it goes without saying that God loves a good-natured drunk; and as proof of this, none of the crew-members on board – all of whom were smashed out of their minds – ever got drowned during any one of the sinkings.  They simply drifted ashore on a raft of booze and with the Blessings of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and had the vessels – which were actually converted coastal steamers – refloated.  Again and again and again.

Eventually, my uncle bought two of them.  His retirement was not too far off, and he had it in mind to spend the rest of his life transporting salt back and forth across the Sea of Cortes in these banged up and rusting little hulks.

Sadly, that never happened.  His health broke down and his doctor ordered him to give up drinking; for his family’s sake he did.  However, without the booze spurring him on, he simply was not the same. He lost his zest for life. In fact, he became quite boring and conservative.  And after a while even his wife and daughter regretted that he had followed his doctor’s orders.  For the fun had all but left him.  And as for my mother (who had loved him perhaps more than any other person), she was heard to mutter that dying in his bed was not what he had had in mind – even if it meant being surrounded by his family.  And that what would have pleased him most was to have kicked the bucket drinking mezcal with his compañeros while aboard one of his pinche little coal scuttles.

And the pinche little coal scuttles?  Well, they kept sailing back and forth and back and forth, same as always;  the skippers and crews continued to drink each other under the table, and the boats ended their days on the bottom of the Sea of Cortes.  They are now reefs for the fish and toys for the baby grey whales.

Then there were the proper freighters that sailed the China route from Liverpool to Hong Kong and back again.  They were, of course, part of a small fleet belonging to a shipping company; it just so happened that some of our cousins had won two of them in a wager.  And having gained at least partial control of them, they leased them back to the company in question.  Which means they did rather well for themselves.

Naturally, all this didn’t have anything to do with us.  However, after my brother was killed in a motoring accident and my mother was unable to mourn, my father rang the cousins in question and struck a deal.  At the time he had part-interest in a tiny, mosquito-infested island off the coast of Sweden (yes, another island) and he said he would lease this island to the cousins in return for a favour.  Simply put, he wanted free passage for himself and for my mother and for me on one of the freighters from Liverpool to Hong Kong.  Return.  And so a month or so later, there we were on the docks in Liverpool, complete with a great many trunks (including one for my schoolbooks).  The three of us – plus a tutor for me for the outward bound leg – set sail and didn’t return for eight months – give or take a week.  As for the tutor, she got herself a free trip to Hong Kong plus expenses for her return journey.  A return journey, I might add, that she never made, for she fell in love with one of the stewards, got married, and settled down in Kowloon.

Unfortunately, I simply didn’t pay much attention to that period in my life (partly because I was forced to study day and night if I didn’t want to be shipped back home).  I do recall certain ports, among them  Port Said, but the reason that particular one stands out in my mind is that because our vessel was flying the Union Jack and the Suez crisis was still fresh in everyone’s memories; none of us was allowed by the Egyptian authorities to go ashore.  And vendors were not permitted on board.  However, a Gully-Gully man (whose family had worked the ships for generations and who – I believe – even had a Greek passport) spent a few hours with us in the smoking room.  But other than the fact that he was wonderfully funny and that his close-up magic was better than any I have seen to this day, I cannot remember what any of his tricks were, nor can I recall any of his patter.

We did linger at least two weeks in Port Swettenham, not an unusual occurrence.  For the port was very narrow and only a certain number of leiters were allowed for the off-loading of cargo.  I remember spending a day or two swimming at the officers’ club, after which we (along with my bloody books) went to stay with an Irish rubber planter and his Malaysian wife at a plantation in Jahore.  It was simply enchanting.  Typically – because of the climate – most of the exterior walls of the house folded back like louvers so that the breezes could blow through.  And I also remember they had built a swimming pool in the middle of a stream.  Which meant it was icy and fresh and cured what ailed you.

We then rejoined the ship and sailed to Singapore (where I was taken to lunch with Charlie Chaplin – who was not very nice, but who might have been nicer if I had been even nicer to him) and then on to Manila.  We arrived in the Philippines at the tail-end of a typhoon, which as far as I was concerned was rather fun – because to disembark we had to go down a very small ladder and leap across the churning swells on to very small boats.  And after we were ashore, we were packed into an ancient Cadillac limousine and taken up to the rim of a volcano – where we were treated to a cock-fight and then got to eat the loser.  Those were the days, my friend.  But never mind; in the interim the volcano blew its top and buried at least one hundred thousand people. Revenge is sweet.

The highlights of the entire voyage (as far as I was concerned) were that I got to ‘ride out’ at stud farms in both Singapore and Honk Kong.  And since I hadn’t been near a horse for what seemed an eternity, it was bliss!

The return journey – all four months of it – seems to have been one solid monsoon from the first day until the last, and seemed to consist of one endless game of mah-jong.  At least, when I was released from my ‘penal’ study servitude.  At the time I remember thinking I would have been much happier staying in Switzerland.

What else was there in my seafaring life?  Well, when I was in my late teens and putting serious thought into the prospects of becoming either a jockey or a show-jumper, my parents arranged with an American-based trainer to take me on (on approval, as it were).  Even though I had already lived away from home a great deal due to the fact that I had gone to boarding school, they thought it would be a good idea for me to put distance between myself and the trainers I had previously worked with. For I had never been able to work in a really first-class operation, and a first-class operation is a whole new ball game.  So off I went, and sailed to New York on the old Queen Mary (the one that is now a hotel in Long Beach, California).  I had an amazing few months, during which time I got incredible fit – fitter that I had ever been before – and decided to hold off any ideas I might have had about turning pro for another two three years.  I was all too aware of my limitations, and if nothing else the life of a jockey makes an honest man out of you.  Anyway, nothing having been settle either here or there,  I sailed back to England (this time on the old Queen Elisabeth (not the QE2, which is currently in Dubai, but the glorious old lady who now lies at the bottom of Hong Kong harbour) and got on with my life.  And in the process, I grew up a lot. At least temporarily.

Let us skip forward a few thousand decades.  When I was on the island a few years ago, a friend of a friend asked me if I wanted to join him and a few other strange people and tootle round the Atlantic in a converted trawler.  Well, I thought, why the hell not.  After all, I had grown up with a yacht I was never allowed to sail on, so why not make up for it now.  And everything was fine and dandy for about a week and a half.  And then – wouldn’t you know it – the craft foundered.  And not only did it founder, but it chose to founder off the coast of a country off of which one would never wish to founder.  Needless to say, because we were all idiots and if nothing else, God seems to love idiots (as well as happy drunks), all of us floated to shore – cling to bits of the wreckage – but very much alive. And with the exception of a few scrapes and bruises and a painful concussion for me – no one was hurt.  However, we were rounded up by some very solemn-looking very, very young boys wielding very serious machine guns.  And after they’d ordered us about for a little while and blew up a tree with one of their grenades, we were taken to an accommodation that looked suspiciously like it had formerly been used for pigs.  And there we stayed.  And we were fed yams and glowered at by the increasingly venomous young boys with the machine guns and grenades. They seemed fixated with waving their weapons in our faces and with shouting increasingly un-politically-correct slogans and with ordering us to march back and forth for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, after which they took to fondling lengths of rope.  They would then sit on the ground and glower some more and – at odd intervals – shoot a few rounds at the shed where we slept and explode a grenade or two.  And this would continue with great monotony until the next day when it was time for them to start the cycle of yams and strangeness all over again. I might as well tell you now, that eventually they seemed to have gotten bored with simply unloading a magazine into an empty shed and blowing up chickens with grenades, and so they decided to see what would happen if they put us into the shed before shelling it with bullets.  And if that wasn’t enough to put us off our yams, their obsessive noose-making started to get up our noses – especially when they started using our necks to model their nooses, whilst simultaneously pointing to the nearest tree.  And spitting.  After a while we got religion; it wasn’t that we wanted be saved, but we wanted the boys simply to get on with it.  And we really started to dread the sight of yams.  I fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that at the very mention of yet another round of yams we would start to twitch, for the yams only heralded yet another afternoon in the pig pen. To this day, whenever I see a yam – even if it’s sautéed with ginger – I want to run for the hills.

Of course, because I am here and telling the story – I did not end my life there.  But the end was really rather an anti-climax. There was no rescue; no fight to the death; no histrionics! I mean, where was Vin Diesel when we needed him?  Where was Bruce Willis? All we got was the Woody Allen version!  In fact, it all ended with such a pathetic whimper that – had it been in a movie – it would have been laughed out of every theatre in every Cineplex in the world.  Even the climax of the Sound of Music was more nail-biting!  All that happened was that a couple of old men pulled up in three taxis.  They started yelling at the boys, who in turn simply dropped  their sub-machine guns and ran away into the bush.  The old men then proceeded to usher us into the taxis, and took us into town and gave us hotel rooms. With honest-to-goodness toilets, which almost even flushed!  And a meal without even a single yam.

And the first thing the next morning, they put us on a plane.  Not  a word was spoken.  It was almost as bizarre as a French film.

It goes without saying that since we were lost souls without passports or any other form of identification, there followed a great deal of humming and hawing, as well as interviews with a great many men and women in suits.  But eventually – I suppose because we had shown ourselves to be such complete imbeciles in the first place by tootling round the Atlantic in a leaky reconditioned trawler – they came to the conclusion that we had been kidnapped by aliens and that our brains had been replaced by those of Daffy Duck – and that talking to us was giving them a headache.  And so they send us home and told us not to do it again.  Just like they do on the M1 when you are stopped for exceeding the speed limit.

Oh, yes, there are one or two other boating adventures – my favourite of which involves a punt and a fiendishly attractive other person and a tomato sandwich thrown from a bridge – but I think you have had as much excitement as you can take for today.  Ciao.

May 30, 2010

BadSmells

What happens when God has too much time on His hands.

I am so sick and tired of smelly people.  I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive, and I’m certainly not discriminating against those who have a medical condition.  And I’m bloody well not complaining about anyone who is not in a position to wash.  For whatever reason.  But maybe I am.  I have lived in a lot of places on this benighted earth of ours, including many sinkholes where there has been practically no water to speak of, as well as in places where the only sources of water have been near open drains.  But you know something?  The fewer facilities people seem to have, the harder they work to keep themselves clean.  To put it this way, in most of the worst favelas in the world there is not a lot of body odour.  I am not generalising, I’m simply stating the reality as experienced through my own olfactory organs.

Now, I have crossed large tracks of desert by camel and on horseback, and few were the times when the Taureg or Bedouin guides were even as smelly as I.  They simply knew how to keep themselves clean.  And, yes, religion did have its part to play, for in their world-view a man must wash himself before each of the five daily prayers.  And if there is no water with which he can cleanse himself, he will use sand.  And the sand in the desert is nothing if not clean – for it is swept and polished by the winds ever moment of its life.  Remember this: O! Ye Westerners!  There is nothing dirty about dirt except what we ourselves put into it.  The rest is in our minds.

The Arab mania for personal hygiene  has not gone unnoticed by travellers over the centuries who have been ‘scandalised’ by the amount of water being ‘wasted’; to them survival was and is more important than having a clean bottom and well-trimmed toenails.  Call it a conflict of cultures.  For the guides to which I was referring – good Muslims all – it was to their God that they prayed, and it was for their God that that they washed themselves clean.  On the other hand, those being guided by these nomads of the desert had a completely opposite point of view.  To hell with how filthy you were; you needed the water for drinking.  And it was also for the animals that carried you.  But as far as the latter complaint was concerned, the guides would simply shrug their shoulders and look amused.  For God would take care of the camels and horses.  Hadn’t He provided wells in places no European could find but of which they themselves were aware.  And as for the survival of the guides themselves – and even for their European tourists (for that matter) – “Insh’Allah.”

It is very bizarre, is it not; two Gods who are supposedly one God, even though the fact that some people can’t get it through their thick heads that one of these one Gods – the one they call ‘Allah’ – is really the same God as the other God, the one they call ‘God’ – the only difference being that ‘Allah’ means ‘God’ in Arabic, whereas ‘God’ means ‘God’ in English.  But, of course, he’s called something else in Judaism, but since as far as I know it’s not a name that can be mentioned – or even written down where somebody can see what it is actually spelled like, I’m not going to get involved.  Let us just say that this third God, which is really the same one God as the other two Gods, is not called ‘Jehovah’.  It only sounds like it, which is why it is often written that way in certain Bibles that don’t spell anything the same way as other Bibles do.  It’s called doing your own thing.  And in the words of many a lawmaker in certain countries who has tried to have English declared the ‘official’ language, “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for us!”

Is it any wonder that God switches off his hearing aid when we talk to Him?  After all, with so many people yelling at Him and calling him so many different names, what is a God to do?  He gets even.

And do you want to know how he gets even?  Well, first of all He creates us in His own image, or He doesn’t in the two cases where He doesn’t have any image of Himself to use as a model – in which case, He doesn’t create us to look like anything at all.  In other words, in two out of the three cases, he wings it.  And when He doesn’t like the result, he invents the burkha.

So far, so good.  Are you still with me?

What He does next – in fact, I believe all three of Him does it – is to pronounced Himself satisfied.  Or at least He does in two out of the three cases, for in the third case he apparently got tired of repeating Himself and simply skipped all that redundant ‘patting Himself on the back’ nonsense and went straight to the meat of the matter.  You know, where He starts to lecture us on the fact that women were put on earth to be virgins forever and ever, or at least until a man chooses to get tired of little boys and decides  to marry them and take them home to keep house for his mother?  And to beat the carpets on the balcony and scrub the floors and hang out the wash?  And of course, having been de-virginised, the wife is no longer a virgin but only used merchandise, so she might as well do something to earn her keep by churning out at least one baby per week.  And if she cannot even manage that, then her poor husband will have to make do with marrying as many wives as there are stars in the sky. And he will continue on doing this until he has used up all the virgins on the planet.  And when they are all used up, and he still hasn’t had a really first-class de-virginising experience, he is forced to start marrying his brother’s widows.  After all, he knows his brother had forgotten to fill his Viagra prescription.  And hence, there’s a chance his brother’s wives might be virgins after all.  But, as even un-de-virginised de-virginised used virgins are wont to be, they are still like used cars. In other words, there’s dog shit on the retreads. This means they have betrayed him and he is, therefore, obliged to stone them for pretending to be virgins even though they were virgins but had been diddled once or twice by his brother before he had died of a surfeit of figs. For having once been diddled, these pseudo-virgins knew what the company of a man was like.  So he didn’t have a choice, did he?  It was stoning or nothing – after all, there is an ‘Only Virgins Allowed’ policy in heaven, and by this time she’s old enough to nag. Anyway, after he has finished with that task, he then proceeds to the widows and orphans of the village. Of course, most of those widows – based on the fact that they will have had children – will have been de-virginised at some point or other.  And by a man who was not he. Sadly, that will mean they are probably the most soiled of all de-virginised ex-virgins, and need to be stoned as well. Fortunately for him, the ten year old sons of the defiled, de-virginised widows (the ones who have just been stoned for not being virgins when they seduced him into marriage), will be virgins themselves. If you know what I mean.  And so, it will end happily for everyone.  As they say, “Amen.” And so endeth the first lesson, the one in which the third God who was the one God, skipped the part about being satisfied.

And now, let us proceed to the other two Gods who were the one God, but who had been satisfied.  On the whole, these two Gods of the one God felt they hadn’t done too bad a job. That is, considering the calibre of their workers and the fact that the clay that had been given  had already been used once in the studio of Michelangelo (and we all know what that means – it had been used for something quite different than that for which God had originally intended clay to be used).  However, in case of one of the Gods of the one God – the one who was camera shy like the one God of the one God who had glossed over the bit about being satisfied – He had decided in a fit of pique (possibly because His wife had slipped with her scissors and had not only rounded the edges of his beard but had chopped off His foreskin) that He wouldn’t use Himself as a model at all and instead, He would make His offspring in the image of something called an ‘Isaac’ (which was the name His had given to His pet baby goat).

Needless to say, this version of the story ended in guilt and in great gnashing of the teeth and rending of the hair.  For this particular one God of the one God had had a dream. Only, not having a picture of Himself to use as a reference, this particular God of the one God couldn’t be sure if it was about Himself or about someone else – perhaps even about a fourth God of the one God that nobody had heard about yet. And so He went over to the house of one of the many identical men with long beards (for those were before the days when Michelangelo was able to paint men with different faces).  He commanded this man with the beard to go out and sacrifice Isaac.  Little did he realise that the word ‘Isaac’ no longer meant ‘goat’, but instead was the name of the old man-with-the-beard’s first-born son. But being that the old man had had personal experience with what happens when you don’t do what any of the one Gods want you to do (after all, he had been in Sodom shopping for lentils and had had to flee for his life), he said, “Why the Hell not.  I’m only five thousand years old – I can always make another son.  And even a spare.” And so he grabbed his son by the scruff of the neck and took him up on top of a hill and tied him to a burning bush.  Now, because the burning bush cast the only light for miles around, this particular one God among the one God saw what the old man with the beard had done.  And he was annoyed. “Holy fuck,” he said. “Not only have I created a whole bunch of ugly people, but I have created the first idiot as well.” And so what He did was run up the hill after the old man with the beard, but He was too late.  For He had been wearing a pair of too-large Crocs and had gotten a thorn stuck between His rock and his hard place.  And since it hurt like Hell and He was forced to change out of His Crocs and into a pair of cheap Chinese flip-flops, he got to the burning bush just as the old man had sliced off Isaac’s head with a carving knife.  Now, God was not happy about this, and he said some very unkind words to the old man with a beard and ordered him and all his descendants to be bowed down with guilt and bad suffering and an eternity of eating matzoh-ball soup.  But then, after He had sent the old man with the beard away with his head cast down, and with the head of his son on his head – shining like a beacon in the darkness – this particular one God of the one God remembered that since nobody knew what anybody looked like – having been created in the image of Him that didn’t have a graven image, no one else would know the difference between a he-goat and the son of the old man with the beard.  So He pretended that the goat – who was still alive and munching happily on the burning bush – was really the son of the old man and that the son with the shining head was really the goat.  After all, they were both named Isaac.

And so this particular episode ended reasonably satisfactorily. Except of course, this one God of the only God had already told the old man with the beard to go forth and multiply and fill the earth with people with shame and guilt and misery in their hearts. And since the old man with the beard had already fulfilled his part of the bargain, this particular one God of the one God decided that – to make up for it – the least He could do was to make all His sons ‘doctors’.

Now, the third only God of the only God looked down on everything the parts of Himself had created and He was sore afraid.  And He decided that He did not want to make those particular mistakes again.

And so what He did was command that He should be visible after all.  Now, He really was quite an impressive-looking God – at least according to the preliminary sketches carried out by Michelangelo.

Anyway, unlike the other two Gods of the one God, this particular one God of the one God actually knew what He looked like. Therefore, He had it in mind to create some really great looking people.  No beards for a start.  And beautiful strong chins.  Long muscular necks.  Flashing eyes with long lashes.  And bodies so beautiful that this one God of the one God decided to invent the gym so that the beautiful bodies wouldn’t end up looking like the old man with the beard.  And He also commissioned Michelangelo to carve a statue of what the perfect man should look like.  Except, of course, when the statue was being delivered, one of the postal employees tried to push it through the letter box without waiting for the butler to answer the door.  Sadly, the original willy – which looked and sounded rather like a neon inflated pig’s bladder singing Verdi’s ‘Anvil Chorus’ – was knocked off and smashed to pieces.  And since Michelangelo’ assistant only had a teeny tiny piece of marble in his pocket, he glued it on in its place.

This particular God of the one God then sat down and had a good think. And what He came up with was this: since, in His estimation, He had done such a splendid job (even taking into account the ‘willy business’), why didn’t He relax and make life a whole lot easier for Himself by creating two more parts to Himself.  A son and a Holy Ghost.  After all, He was lonely, being the only God of the one God to have a face to look at. But then He started to worry and fret.  What if people – who after all had very small heads without very much room for actual brains – started to confuse Him with the other two Gods of the one God.

“I know!” he said. “I shall make all of us one Gods of the one God hate each other.  And since the people are as stupid as they are, they will forget that we are all the same God – only that one of us has an English name, one of us has an Arabic name, and one of us doesn’t have any name at all – and they will get down to the business of slaughtering each other. Possibly even until the end of time – which would save Us (the one God of the one God) from having to come up with any more stupid ideas.”

And it worked.  And that is why the world is as it is today.

But let’s get back to the question of cleanliness.  From the beginning all of the three Gods in the one God had difficulties when it came to His relationships with women.  After all, He may have been the one God in the one God (plus the Son and the Holy Ghost in one case) but He was still a man.  He suffered from erectile dysfunction.  He was obsessed with size (having had to altar his design specifications after the business with the statue of the ‘perfect man’).  He suffered from crotch rot.  He suffered from unsightly boils.  He suffered from halitosis.  He had corns from wearing ill-fitting Crocs.  He had liver spots.  And he had a much younger wife who was attractive to other Gods much more attractive than He. And He simply couldn’t take the embarrassment.  After all, what was the use of being the one God, if you were not perfect?  And the thing is, women were not afraid to tell Him He was not perfect!

He looked at His wife, who was busily peeling grapes for Adonis, and He said to Himself under His breath, “Party time is over!

He went straight into His study; He looked through His book of curses until He found just what He was looking for: a curse to end all curses.  And it was so nasty He simply called it The Curse.

And talking about bad smells, this piece is now at an end.

May 27, 2010

FaerieLights

Where now are the sweet, savage Beasties that lived within the Bogs?

I love the savage beasties that live among us and who we rarely see.  I love the vagrant spirits that drift round in the dark, and whisper thoughts and dreams and admonitions when the clocks strike two in the morning.  I love the wee people that dwell underneath the ancient floors and bang their drums and dance ‘til dawn, and play their pipes and make us mourn for those we have loved and lost.   I love the icy fingers that wake when it is cold and damp, and grab our toes and fingertips and make our skin turn raw and red.  I love the way some spirits waft from room to room like ancient beings who cannot remember where they left their glasses and are forced to return again and again and forever and ever, amen.

When I first lived on the island – a land where the ghosts had always run free – I was told (with some regret I might add) that nothing had been the same since the coming of electricity.  And these words were spoken by those who were old enough to remember, yet still young enough to tell the tale as if it had happened only the day before.  It seems that when they were young and even slightly older than young, and the houses and barns were still lit by lamps and the light of a candle, the bogs surrounding each and every hill and dale were alive with the faerie lights that used to glow and glimmer and sparkle in the gloom-laden mists.  And those were still the days when young and old alike went on weekly pilgrimages to the holy well that was in walking distance of their dwelling. Sundays were an official day, it goes without saying, but they never forgot birthdays or saint’s days or the anniversaries of their departed loved ones.  Nor did these people of the shadowy past neglect the graveyards, in particular those where the unbaptised and the stillborn were quietly laid to rest at midnight; and those among their surviving kin who still lived and who lingered on bereft, would secretly pray that their lost little ones would one day find their way into the light – and perhaps would grant them forgiveness.

And then came electricity, and with the coming of electricity the faerie lights were seen no more.  Or at least that is what everyone said.  What they did not say, however, and the reasons for this are plenty, was that – with the coming of electricity and progress – many of the bogs had been drained; the spirits who had loved and nourished – and some say, created, the land – were driven deeper, ever deeper underground.  And then, of course, the people dwelling beside the bogs – the farmers and the fishermen who had lived on that land since before the beginning of time – entered a new era.  They acquired money; they sent their children to school; they travelled abroad – but not only for the sake of survival, but because their eyes were now focussing outwards towards different horizons and new possibilities.  And even when the new and educated generation did not leave, but settled on their family’s ancient lands to run the farms and bring them into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, they tore down the time-worn traditional houses in which they had always lived.  So instead of warming themselves before their old nan’s turf-burning hearth and drinking tea with the old Border Collie sleeping under their feet, they built new houses –  more comfortable houses, more cheerful houses, more efficient houses, new houses with satellite dishes, five hundred channels, and with the Internet thrown in for free.  Modern houses wired for every eventuality – houses in which every member of their modern, twenty-first century families could happily forget the past.  And because they had taken to shining lights into the midnight skies outside these new houses of theirs, and because everyone else was doing the same thing, pretty soon there was no darkness left at all (and still less ‘stillness’ to be found) in which the ancient faeries – who had cared for the land for such a long time – could come out and dance and do all of the things faeries like to do when the lights go out and all of the people are safely tucked into their beds.

And as a consequence, on those cold dark nights, of which the island has so many, there is little phosphorescence left to gladden the heart, much less enough to frighten those loutish, whisky-drenched fools who are out and about when they have no right to be. And this makes the bog faeries very sad indeed.  For it has always been one of their tasks to hustle such craytures back to their hearths and homes and lay them safely in their beds – that they might sober up before the coming morn and live to drink again.

I pay no heed to ‘them wot scoffs’ at those faerie beings who used to rule supreme.  Just as I listen to the wind and check the sky for shooting stars and twinkling lights where no earthly twinkling light can possibly be.  And who gives a shite if someone more learned than I claims that what I see is but a satellite or a weather balloon or simply a visitor from the planet Zug?

To this latter group, those unhappy feckers who ne’er look down at what lives beneath their feet, but prefer to wait for some ‘never-will-come’ deliverance from beings from beyond the stars, I say this:  perhaps you are right, for what does one know?   And perhaps the moon is made of cheddar cheese of a far more authentic type than any made by Kraft, and perhaps the slurry pit is filled with chocolate dip?  I do not know. And no more do you.  The only things my eyes have seen during my nocturnal meanderings through the bogs – after all the electric lights have at last been extinguished and everyone else is fast asleep – are the myriad flickers coming from millions of glimmers from within the earth itself.  And the only whispers floating through my ears come from ancient voices that tell me true, that the earth is but a very miniscule place, smaller even than the smallest grain of sand in the universe.  And that our earth it is full, very full indeed, and over-brimming with souls large and small, living and dead.  There is no room for visitors from beyond the stars, much less for new immigrants, and neither is there a welcoming mat on which they can wipe their feet.  Besides, these voices say: what with the earth being so miniscule, no other beings can possibly find us.  For the earth is so very, very, very small – so very wee and peculiar to look at – that no matter how hard the aliens might search, all they will see is a large parking lot with a McDonalds at one end and a Pizza Hut at the other.  And with a discount mall in between.

So you see, my friends, there are bog lights and faerie lights, and they are there for all to see.  Simply turn off your televisions and shut your computers down and switch off your phones – if even for a minute. And then extinguish your lights and quietly walk round to the back of your house, to that part where nobody ever goes.  And look through the stillness and into the bog.  And there will be the lights, and they will be shining and sparkling, just the same as always – and they will be as plain and clear and bright as ever they were.  Only please remember to greet them with a heart-felt “Hello!” and to tell the spirits that you mean them no harm. And that way, when next the foul wintry winds sweep in and carry off the roofs, your house will be spared and kept safe and sound.  And not a single slate will be blown from your roof, nor will your chimney sway nor will your heart know fear.   For the faeries are in charge of this land of theirs, and they will gladly protect those who have remembered them, and who have greeted them with a heart-felt “Hello!” And – just occasionally – have left them a wee dram of whisky or a bottle of the thickest stout.

Although many islanders no longer speak of the faeries, or of the wells, or of those still-born infants whose bones still lie under the hill, they are never far from their minds when it comes to those traditions they cannot otherwise explain.  One of these concerns the eating of the tiny blackberries that grow wild upon the dry-stone walls. As berries go, these are the sweetest berries I have tasted for many a year, but nobody ever eats them. Of course, when I first moved there and the berries had ripened, I picked several small baskets for jam.  But then I was told – by one much younger than I – that the fruit on those brambles belonged to the faeries and would bring me ill-health and bad luck if I ate what had always been theirs.  Besides (my neighbour did add with a smile) the faeries they came and they spat (and often did shit) on the berries during the night. Just to turn them sour.  And so, of course, I did not demure.  And because I did not want to eat what was clearly not mine, I offered my jam and a loaf of brown bread to the little people in the bog.

Yet another wonderful phenomenon had to do with the way the glowering charcoal clouds that constantly hung low above our heads would only occasionally part. But when they did, through the gap where the clouds had been rent in twain, would stream a shaft of brilliant sunlight.  When, one day, when I happened to comment on this, and say how very lovely it was, I was told in tones most dark and obscure, to pray a novena starting that very day and to light a candle in the church.  For such breaks in the clouds were the divil’s own work, and as for those gaps, they let in all the evil humours from hell. And those very same gaps were the gaps through which your sinful soul would be spirited come the tolling of the funeral bell.  In other words, they let in the ‘bad’ air.

And do you want to know something?  I shall never scoff.  And I do not believe and I do not disbelieve.  After all, what does anyone know that I do not already know myself?  What difference does it make if I talk to the faeries after dark and give them all of my jam and brown bread?  You see, I know there is something there. What it may be is unknown to us all, and you may shrug it off with a grimace – and you may call it anything you like.  But, the fact that it is there and was there from the start, is quite good enough for me.

The house that I lived in was not all that old, but it still had plenty of creaks.  And since the land on which it was built lay with the bog on two sides and the sea on the others, I would lay awake at night and wonder what was going on that I was too deaf to hear and too blind to see.

And I thought of the old houses I had lived in before, with their squeaks and their rattles and their groans in the floor, and I thought what a wonderful world it would be, if only I could sharpen my ears and focus my eyes and fill my heart with delight.  And then because it was what I wanted to do, I would ask my doggie if she’d like to go out for a stroll, to wander down the boreen and to fill her lungs with the night.  And, of course, she would immediately perk up her ears and agree.  And I could see in her mind – my sweet little dog – that she hoped our walk might well coincide with a hunt for that old foe of hers, ol’ Misther Hedgehog.  And it might also include – if for only a glimpse – that illusive owld biddy, Missus Badger, who lived somewhere down below right next to the spring, and who never invited us in for tea.  So all it took was for my mouth to form the word doggie loved so dearly to hear. “Walk?” And she’d be off in a flash and would be standing next to the door, on a place right next to her leash. And if it was wet, as was sure it would be, it would be into our waxed Barbours for both her and for me. 

And then we would set off – and it would be perhaps all of two in the morning or so – and we’d walk side by side, in the damp still of the night.  And not a sound would we make, and no shadow would we miss, and we’d keep our ears pealed for a crackle or a sigh or for those tiny bells that we both hoped we would hear.

And when we got to the cliffs, to the rocks jutting out from the moor, we’d sit down or sometimes we’d lie back in sheer bliss, and I would think to myself as I looked up at the night and felt the rain on my face, where else could I go and where could I find a more cracking craic than this?

May 26, 2010

ElChapulin

The Mad and Mean Mexican Green Papagayo Machine

His name was El Chapulin Papagayo; at least that’s what he told me it was.  But what was I to know?  After all, I didn’t know who he was; as far as I was aware, I hadn’t even noticed him. And although I never told him so, I’d never given him a thought – much less a second thought.  But then again, it’s hard to think of someone when one hasn’t even heard of him.   I’m not even sure he had ever been where I was – much less in my field of vision – when I was somewhere and in the mood to notice things.  After all, my eyes can only notice those things that happen to be within a noticeable distance.  But if this Chapulin character did happen to be in the same place as my eyes, one possible reason why I hadn’t noticed him was that he had been lying low, sussing me out, and deciding if I might make a suitable pet for him to train.  I can hear him now:  would this human creature be the type who would buy him the sort of cage he wanted – a cage with plenty of roosting possibilities on top, and with plenty of room for his toys inside?  Would he be reliable?   Could he depended upon to be at his beck and call, both in the day and in the night?  And would he buy him an amazing assortment of fruits and nuts (and even a grub or two) and not just the boring old stand-by, sunflower seeds?  Would he buy him a different toy every other day, so as to save him from ennui?  And could he prove – with no room for a doubt – that he wasn’t a cat fancier? 

On this particular point Chapulin would not compromise: NO CATS!  For he was convinced that even the tiniest kitten was sure to eat him.  And being eaten by a cat was not on Señor Papagayo’s thirty year plan.

It goes without saying that this cage envisaged by Chapulin Papagayo should be in close proximity to the place on which my bottom was most likely to perch – in other words, at the end of a sofa where I was accustomed to sit when I was sitting awaiting his pleasure – and such pleasure as he had would always be at his discretion, depending on his frame of mind.  

The particular cage he had in mind for me to buy for him would be large and high – but not too large and not too high.  After all, a parrot in the wild is prey, and even in a domestic environment, security is uppermost in its mind.  It knows to the millimetre exactly how large a cage should be:  too large and it feels unsafe; too small and the parrot feels like a poor relative, or like you have mistaken it for a canary.  

In addition to standing next to my sofa, the ideal location for a cage should be – according to Chapulin – nestled  into a cosy corner and next to a curtain on which he might take his exercise – climbing up and down and up and down and then all the way up to the ceiling. And, it goes without saying, at this particular place under the ceiling, there should be a nice, safe roost on which he could perch and preen and – if possible – shite upon my head.  El Chapulin Papagayo always enjoyed that part of it.  I could tell; for he spent a great deal of time perfecting his technique, hoping to make his aim perfect.  It also goes without saying that the curtain he wanted placed at his disposal should be the kind with tiny holes that required a parrot’s attention.  Such ‘attention’, of course, involved a great deal of rending and shredding.  For on his list of favourite activities, shredding curtains was very nearly Number One.

As I mentioned, I am not altogether certain ol’ Chapulin had been in the shop during the weeks preceding our first close encounter.  And I was by way of being a regular customer.  However, knowing him and his love of intrigue, if he was not there at the beginning, then he was somewhere else plotting and planning to be in the shop when the right moment came.  For even if he wasn’t yet there physically, in his mind’s eye a part of him was already lurking in the shadows: sitting lost and lonely and despised in a dark mouldy cage shoved up under the ceiling and between an iguana and a baby pecorino.  From this miserable and hidden-away spot, his mind’s eye would be spying on me and plotting and scheming and planning to overthrow that particular government which lived inside my head.  For parrots – as anyone who has ever been owned by a parrot knows – are firm exponents of regime change.  And like all regime changes, this particular one had been mapped-out long before the parrot has ever met its quarry face-to-face.  You see, it has “had a dream…”    

In any case, wherever he was, Chapulin was somewhere watching me, checking me out from his parrot-like sleep (the one where they keep one eye pealed and only pretend to be sleeping in case you start doing something interesting that requires their input).  But how is a human to know what the parrot is up to?  For isn’t his sweet little head tucked into the feathers at the scruff of his neck and isn’t he all fruffled up just like he is at night?  Don’t you believe it! For the more innocent he looks the more effective he is as a ‘stealth weapon’.  Totally invisible to a human’s naked eye.  For, in this camouflaged state, even a single parrot in a room can seemingly transform itself into but a single parrot in the middle of a rainforest (complete with sound effects and jaguars) – one amongst hundreds of green parrots, all of which have more or less identical markings. And before you know it, right in front of your blurry eyes, the hundreds will multiply a hundred-fold more, until – right up there roosting with the howler monkeys and the flying squirrels – there are literally thousands of more or less identical green parrots with the same red spectacles and the same white bangs. And with the same What? Me? expression.  But even there – in your hallucination – you can sense that, although they are all superficially alike to the non-parrotized layman, each parrot knows how to make itself felt when it comes to the human of its choice.  What it does is this: it clamps its mind on to the more feeble mind of its prospective human servant, zeroing in on its subconscious until its chosen human is overcome by same feeling of impending dread and unspeakable doom that he otherwise gets only when a pickpocket in a darkened alleyway is closing in on the bulge in his trouser pocket – on the one day of the year when that pocket is actually containing a wad of bank notes. It is the feeling of inevitability. You see, the parrot has the same magnetism as a master criminal, as well as the same allure and the same tendencies. Both have identically devious and suspicious auras of sweetness and innocence, and both are prone to wear them as permanent parts of their arsenal.  And yes, any parrot can pick any lock invented by man.

And if you do not believe me about the innocent expression, ask any parrot owner to describe their bird at the moment it is preparing to defecate.  You know you are already in trouble when the bird suddenly looks at you with a soft and loving expression.  It will smile, and sometimes even cock its head.  Its eyes will dilate in ecstasy, it will fruffle up its feathers.  And then you will regret putting on that new black Armani suit you were saving up for your internment.  

Now, when I went into this particular pet shop near the Mercado Central, I had originally gone in as part of a local effort to round up captured kestrels and burrowing owls in order to rehabilitate then and – if possible – to return them to the desert.  At least, that’s what I thought I was doing there.  But the moment I started talking to the owner (who had a clutch of burrowing owl chicks and a brace of kestrels in his back room, ready and waiting for me), I became aware of a certain feeling of enchantment.  And I thought, “How very strange!” And then my ears gradually tuned in to a particularly lurid whistling – quite unlike anything I had ever heard before. And this whistling seemed to be coming from one of the cages where the parrots were kept.  In my enchantment – for that is what it was – I instinctively knew that this whistling sound was not one of your ordinary, common or garden whistling sounds.  In fact, it was a singularly irritating, strident and grating ‘Enchanted Whistling Sound’.  And when I pretended to ignore it, the owner of the whistling sound started to rattle its food cup and to sing like a demented soprano – with a wobble that would give an opera-lover nightmares for the next twenty years.  And when even this didn’t seem to penetrate my cabeza, it started to yell like a navvy.

The owner of the pet shop laughed.  “Looks like you’ve got yourself a parrot,” he smirked.

And that is how I met the bane of my life, a certain smallish green monster with red spectacles, a white fringe with blue feathers on his cheeks, and the most disreputable set of red tail feathers ever grown by a bird.  And as I carried him out the door this bird told  me – in no uncertain terms – that its name was Chapulin.  El Chapulin Papagayo.  And that, henceforth, my name was to be ‘Tu’!

Now, anyone who is under the misguided impression that this green Chapulin autocrat even so much as deigned to speak to me in Spanish or in English, has never met an Amazon of his variety (every single reference work I studied on the subject liked to stress that this particular species is ill-tempered, stubborn, arrogant, and that it is not interested in learning a language other than their own – come hell or high water.  They are not cooperative. In short, they make lousy pets).  And if this wasn’t enough, I knew that Chapulin – unlike parrots one buys in the US and most of Western Europe and which are born in captivity – had not been hand-reared, but rather stolen as a nestling from his nest.  In other words, I had ‘adopted an orphan’ (which places me in the same category as Madonna when she goes to Africa to buy a new baby).  And not having been hand-reared, he did not like to be handled, unless it was he who was doing the handling.

Yes, Chapulin did have an enormous vocabulary and could mimic every city sound he had ever heard – and even some of those he hadn’t – but it was all in parrot-speak.  The way he saw it was this:  since his vocabulary was so large and he was so eloquent, why on earth should he sacrifice it in order to learn a few childish phrases such as those used by the majority of human pets, who are – as every parrot knows – extremely thick.   “NO!” screams the much superior Amazon!  Let the lowly humans – who are after all several steps lower on the evolutionary chain than the average papaya – be the ones who are taught a few words of parrot-speak?  Nothing complicated, you know.  Just a few basic words and phrases, so when the parrot wants something it doesn’t have to waste a lot of time explaining to his human that when it asks for a Brazil nut, it is not asking to have his water changed, much less being treated to the dreaded “Polly Wants a Cracker” phrase that makes it want to bite off the human’s nose.  Needless to say, every single parrot is resigned to the fact that – in almost every case – teaching a human being is a fulltime job that requires an entire lifetime.  But so what?  The lifetime in question is the human’s lifetime – which, as every parrot knows, is significantly shorter than the more valuable parrot lifetime, which can last until the end of creation.  So, as long as the human is reasonably well-behave and obedient, what are a few wasted years more or less, for there are usually other fish to fry in the owner’s house.  Such as live-in lovers and new spouses and, last but not least, dogs – which are great for tormenting.  In other words, a parrot can always find more devilment to liven up its life.

A good friend of mine, who was on the cusp of thirty, had been the owner of an African Grey since her twenty-first birthday.  She had been its only owner and had helped to hand-rear it; in other words, she was the only flock it had ever known.  Now, there came a point when she was thinking about getting married.  And so – being a parrot owner – one of her major concerns had to do with the bird, and about how it would take to sharing its human with an outsider.  For, you see, parrots can be outrageously jealous creatures and have been known to break up marriages and inspire children to move away from home prematurely.

Although this friend of mine loved her parrot dearly, she loved her fiancé more, and was not about to sacrifice her future happiness for the sake of a bird.  In other words, she was being a self-centred cow.  But as she saw it, she knew the parrot liked her mother – and had, in fact, stayed at her mother’s house on several occasions.  And so it was agreed that should the African Grey object to the fiancé, then it would be the one to move.

And so the fiancé moved in.  And everything appeared to be fine.  The parrot took to following the fiancé around the house; it seemed to be studying him.  And when the fiancé was taking a shower before bed the very first night, he looked down between his legs and – behold – the parrot was down there looking up at him.  And smiling.

The next morning the parrot had made a decision.  He loved the fiancé and had developed a seething hatred towards the woman who had cared for him his entire life.  And he was implacable.

The upshot was that the engagement was left in tatters.  The parrot left with the fiancé, and my friend was left both parrot-less and fiancé-less.  Let that be a lesson to you.  For this is not an uncommon scenario.

The fact that my Chapulin was not particularly ‘user-friendly’, meant that I was not subjected to the usual preening routine so familiar to parrot owners – where the bird walks around the back of your neck and rearranges you hair for hours and hours and hours on end. And I never asked him to perch on me; he was easily spooked, and I didn’t particularly want to have one of my ears chomped off if and when something startled him.

One game he adored, however, and one he had invented himself, was ‘fetch’.  Only, unlike the regular game one plays with a dog (in which the human throws an object and the animal retrieves it), in Chapulin’s version, it was Chapulin who tossed the object… and yours truly who ran and fetched it back.  His favourite toy for this activity was a little rubber ball with a bell inside.  And he would throw this for hours and hours and make all sorts of funny noises (and his happy noises consisted of squeaks and burbles and chortles, and almost made you wish you were a parrot).  The only trouble was, he wouldn’t stop until he had decided to stop.  And if I tried to stop prematurely, he would have a fit.  And nothing on earth is quite like a parrot’s fit.

Now, as we all know, a parrot can live quite a long time, say thirty or forty years.  Parrots are extremely monogamous, which means their first love will truly last a lifetime.  In other words, if you buy one you will be stuck with one.  Forever!

The other thing to keep in mind is that a parrot is extremely intelligent.  And not only is it intelligent, but it knows that it is a great deal more intelligent than its owner.  And furthermore, unlike a dog or a cat or any other pet, a parrot is simply not intimidated by a human.  And this means you cannot win an argument with a parrot.

The other thing to consider is that a parrot is in many ways very much like a two or three year old child, only it doesn’t grow out of it…. rather, it grows into it deeper when it itself reaches the ‘terrible twos’.  And while I’m at it, let me remind you that a parrot can crack open a walnut without breaking into a sweat.  That means, of course, that if the parrot is not in a good mood (and they make their signals clear) it is not the best of times to reach and touch its topknot.  Unless, of course, you have an extra unwanted finger to spare.

The only time Chapulin got lovey-dovey with me was when I was in the shower (and I always took cold shows).  Parrots, like all birds, love water.  They absolutely adore bathing.  So very quickly, once Chapulin had settled in and decided I was a pretty good owner after all, he established a bath-time routine. And while he added to it whenever he felt like a change (for parrots, being intelligent, get bored very quickly), it always started off the same.

He would wait until I was in the shower and the water was running, at which point he would burble a few happy noises. And after he had talked for about thirty seconds, he would whistle. And after he had whistled, he would scream.  And then he would fall silent.  That was when I would count to five – because I knew he would be waddling across the floor to the bathroom.  On the count of six I would turn round and,  sure enough, there would be Chapulin peering coyly round the door and looking up at me. I would then call his name, he would whistle once, and then skip across the floor and into the shower.  And when he was standing between my legs and being drenched by the torrent, he would tilt back his head and look up at me (or at some familiar spirit), and then go into a little dance.  It was magic…. needless to say, when he was standing underneath me in the shower, it did cross my mind that at some point in time, just out of devilment (or because he had mistaken it for an exotic fruit – or perhaps a grub)  my sweet little Chapulin Papagayo he would chomp off one of my toes. .

May 25, 2010

SmackThePony

Wanking and the Minger’s ‘Sin’ List

I don’t know about ‘me’.  I’ve been around for an awfully long time; I’ve lived in virtually every part of the globe.  I have seen a lot, and have avoided seeing even more – especially when it came to things that I wouldn’t have wanted to see in the first place.  Just call me lucky.  And, yes, I have also done a lot of things – perhaps not very well and perhaps I never tried hard enough.  But I cannot complain, and if I could, what would I complain about?   What would I have to complain about?  I only have myself to blame.  For you see, I have managed to pack an incredible amount into a life in which I have done absolutely nothing.  I kid you not!

The first time I shot a gun; I simply aimed at the target and pulled the trigger.  Bulls-eye! But then, the second time, instead of merely aiming and shooting, I started to think about the mechanics of what I was doing.  Should I aim higher?  Should I aim lower?  How many yards away was the target?  And, of course, I seldom ever hit the target after that – at least not until I’d put in a great many hours of practice. But even then, I the bulls-eye always managed to be in another place from where I’d fired the bullet.

So, too, with my sex life.  Whereas I knew from a very early age that life was a banquet and that every single platter was literally dripping with the choicest morsels, I simply forgot why my first experience had been so simple.  Because I had simply done it.  But do you want to know what I did immediately after I had done it and had enjoyed it and had found that it was very simply indeed?  I forgot how easy it was and started to think about how difficult it was.  Consequently, I missed out on a whole lot of fun when I needn’t have missed out on it.  After all, I lived in the ‘West’.  I had not been indoctrinated by any punitive ideology to speak of.  Yes, I was brought up with a sense of responsibility, but that is how it should be.  Or at least how it ought to be.  As far as I remember there was never any talk of sin.  It was always, “think about the consequences.”   So what went wrong?  Instead of remembering what made me tick (like even the average intelligent mosquito would have done), the only incident I remembered – and which I remember to this very day – was the time my father snapped at me when I was fondling myself.  Now, I don’t think he called it ‘dirty’ as so many parents so, but whatever he did say became the all encompassing cloud which overshadowed my entire childhood.  And from that very moment, I started to cultivate my own ideology – one which was every bit as narrow and punitive as any to be found in any organised religion.  And do you something?  I have never forgiven my father.  And this, of course, means that I have never forgiven myself for granting him so much power in the first place.

When I first started to become sexually active, I instantly cultivated something we never had a home.  A sense of sin.  And why should I have cultivated this?  It wasn’t as if I ever went to church – except occasionally at evensong, for the music.  And it wasn’t as though I knew anybody who actually went to church, or who even went in for that sort of thing.  I don’t think I really even knew what ‘sin’ was.  Perhaps I thought I was missing out on something I didn’t have?  And so I wanted it.  So I immediately set about punishing myself; in other words, I decided to repress myself.  

Like all healthy young men on the cusp of manhood, I was a mass of jangling, postulating hormones. I didn’t need a reason to get erections. They simply happened, and if I didn’t take care of them, they took care of themselves. Riding a horse?  Yes, I think we might say that many a pair of breeches were smuggled in to the washing machine and laundered without the benefit of my mother’s help.  Mucking out stalls?  Yes.  You might say that many a pile of manure got improved by my tiny contributions.  And, for God’s sake, if ever I happened to be grooming one of our stallions and he became aroused, I went through agonies.  Which reminds me that when our stallions were put out to stud, they normally stood at out trainer’s breeding facilities.  Now, I was no stranger to the mating of horses or dogs or pigs or even camels or elephants, and so I took their acrobatics for granted.  Which means that, then as now, my voyeurism was focussed on single individuals (fortunately of the human-kind) –   and when it came to two or more participants, I was not interested in it as a spectator sport. Either I was or am a party to it, or forget it.  

But to get back to our stallions and their lives as rent boys and sperm-donors:  I remember when mares were brought to our stallions and the owners would choose to be present to ‘witness’ the act.  And every so often these owners, if they were new at the game and hadn’t really seen it before, would develop a certain ‘glow’.  Now, I should make it clear that they would have been watching from behind a window in a ‘viewing room’ on the next floor.  Very often, the ‘glow’ that some of these inexperienced new owners were feeling, would grow into a shining beacon. Now there was a large sofa in this room. And more than once, these owners very quickly forgot to observe what they had come to observe.  As our trainer once remarked to me (for I would usually be the one to tell him, and also to describe in grossly unnecessary and vivid detail what the owners had done), “we could’a bred her to the bull, and saved your lad for a more appreciative audience.” For ‘our lad’ wasn’t getting any younger, and couldn’t always get it up when we wanted him to.  And, as for the bull, the trainer had a small dairy herd, and kept a Limousin to keep the cows ‘interested’; he, unlike our stallion, was ready to go anytime, anyplace, and with anything.  And he even drooled.

Sadly for me, when one of our animals was either mounting or being mounted, those were about the only times nothing happened in my nether regions.  In fact, they were, perhaps, the only times – other than when I was doing my naturism thing around the house or at the beach – when I didn’t think about sex.

I remember one time we were cleaning out the septic tank, and our ‘hand’ (one was all we ever had – not counting my father) snuck up behind me and pushed me in.  All very funny.  Everyone laughed.  And then I stripped off my clothing and stormed off to the grooming stall, where there was a shower. On the way to the shower, I got so unaccountable horny – I mean rampantly horny – that I blew my wad before I had walked thirty feet. It was probably the most powerful ejaculation I had ever experienced, and it just kept going on and on and on.  And, because I was covered with shite from head to toe, it wasn’t as though I was touching anything. But never mind.  However I should mention that I had – not one – but two wet-dreams the following night.  So if you are having ‘trouble’, just think about your septic tank.

If only most of my sexual experiences with other people had been as good.       

There was a reason why it was not – and this is really pathetic – because from the moment I proudly grew my first really grownup-looking pubic hair, my newly cultivated sense of ‘sin’ already had a stranglehold on me.  But only when it came to certain things that I decided to classify as ‘sins’.  Namely masturbating on school-nights. And before riding in a point-to-point or race (but not before dressage, before which the more wanking I did, the better). And being caught by my parents.  Especially by my father, for by that time he was deeply worried about me, and by the fact that I didn’t seem to be cultivating any girlfriends.  Never mind that I was going to boarding school, because – to his knowledge – boarding school didn’t seem to prevent any of my friends from rogering each and every girl they encountered.  I simply didn’t seem to care. In any case, why did I want to fuck a girl in a ditch by the road?  Was that supposed to be appealing or something?  But of course, unbeknownst to my father, I had ‘Dickie’ to keep me busy.  And who had time for a girlfriend when I had ‘Dickie’ ready and willing and by my side (and besides, he never asked me to make promises).  And let me tell you this: come hell or high water, ‘Dickie’ never made in on to my  ‘sin’ list.

Now, I haven’t mentioned ‘Dickie’ before.  Dickie was not part of my crowd; he didn’t ride; he wasn’t interesting in racing.  In fact, he was only interested in going into the army, and after the army, in taking over his father’s farm.  I had known him for quite a long time, and we were always good mates. We were also the same age.  Then one day, without any particular preamble, or without even talking about it, we simply started masturbating each other whenever we happened to get together.  When we first started this routine, he had not quite entered puberty, and so when he reached his climax, it almost invariably resulted in urination.  But it didn’t bother either of us – because we both knew that given time, the ‘right stuff’ would – as they say – come out.  Now I want to be clear about this.  There was no love between us.  No crush.  At no time did we want to have sex together. We just liked wanking.  And since we both liked wanking a lot, we did a lot of it. And it wasn’t as though we were even turned on by each other’s penises.  To tell you the truth, I don’t think we ever took any interested in looking each other’s anatomical enhancements.  It was all about the wank.  Every time we saw each other, it was straight out to the barn.  And out they would come. And we would finish up (it was always fast and to the point), and then go our separate ways – ‘Dickie’ back to his father’s cows, and me back to the horses.  And I don’t think either of us gave each other a second thought when we were not together.  I seem to recall he was very good-looking and had everything in the right place, but I certainly never fanaticised about him.  Not like I did about Sheila (but never mind about her – I am saving her for another chapter).

I well remember when our wanking days were over, and it coincided with ‘Dickie’s blossoming into full-fledged puberty. I had been away at school for two terms, after which I had been absent from home for an additional eight months following the death of my brother (the one that had been – when he was alive – ‘the other one’).  His death was a tragedy that seemed to provide as good an excuse as any to scrounge cabins on a distant cousin’s tramp-steamer bound for Hong Kong (a voyage which spawned a second voyage – this one for the return journey – on a second and even more decrepit vessel than the first one).  On neither journey did I find so much as a single wanking-mate.  But, then again, neither of the tubs carried more than six or eight passengers (including the three of us), and all the other passengers seemed to be either antediluvian tea-planters or members of the diplomatic corps on leave.  It was a lonely time.  And I seem to remember filling the empty hours doing lessons (so ‘thoughtfully’ provided by the school, and which I mailed back to the headmaster from various ports of call), as well as playing endless games of cribbage with the chief steward, playing endless games of bridge and mah-jong with our fellow passengers, and in marching round the boat deck with a woman who was employed by one of the Intelligence services, and who had figured out exactly just how many circuits equalled five miles.

Anyway, we finally got back home, and before I had even gone out to the yard to say ‘hello’ to the horses I received a call from ‘Dickie’.  “Meet me at the usual spot in ten minutes!” And so I did.  The ‘Dickie’ whom I had known before was not the ‘Dickie’ who greeted me out back of the barn. Yes, he had the same face and the same goofy smile, and his accent was the same, but other than that, the boy had been supplanted by a man.  He was now close on six foot one (whereas I was  at the time five foot five and determined not to grow another inch); his face, though still lean and boyish – for after all, he was still only sixteen – was leaner around the jaw-line, and on his chin was a fine beginning of a beard.

“I got somat to show you,” he said, and with that he stepped out of his trousers and presented an erection that was nothing like that I had ever seen on him before.  “What d’ya think?”  And I had to admit he had grown into a fine-looking hunk of man.

“And wot about you?” he said with a leer.  “Still the little same-o-same-o?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “The little same-o-same-o’s the same as ever.”

And that was that.  ‘Dickie’ had grown up and could – as they say – get it up without any help from me.  He had a girlfriend from the next village; he never went into the army, but he did take over the farm.  And after a while – in the way of all things – he and his girlfriend got married, had a son and a daughter, and then a divorce.

And I’m glad it ended there, because it was just a phase, and phases are better outgrown.

No, ‘Dickie’ was never counted as a sin.  But somehow masturbating on school nights still remained a bugbear, and so did looking at porn.  And so did a long list of other things, some of which I have never outgrown.  And so did ‘yes’ when and if I was approached on the street or in a cafe or in a bar by a stranger.  And by a stranger, I mean a stranger of either sex.  Because, to tell the truth, both are the same under their respective skins, and make absolutely no difference to me. Besides, my willy is definitely an equal-opportunity player. But be that as it may, let a stranger come up to me, and he or she are bound to be met by my special ‘frozen’ stare.

I continue to feel annoyed with my poor father, even though he has been dead for over thirty years.  For I can still hear him telling me not to touch myself.  And I also can hear him asking me once when I was twenty-three or four, if I had ever had a girlfriend?  At the time, I was taking a shower and enjoying the pleasures of the warm water as it flowed down my skin, and he had walked in on me – apparently feeling I was going beyond the point of no-return.  He had always tried so hard to be a good father, but he tried so hard he always overstepped the mark.  And my problem was I was so bloody well brought up, it didn’t occur to me to tell him to “fuck off.”  I can’t remember what I said in return.  The word ‘yes’, however, was included, but otherwise it was very, and very distant.  And sometimes I wonder if that is one of the reasons I have never had children?  Would I have made the same mistakes as he?  It was one thing to go through it myself, but quite another to pass it along.  And you see, I have never entirely trusted myself.

In conclusion, what else was on my ‘sin’ list?  And for that matter, what did the ‘sin’ in ‘sin’ list actually mean?  I had made it up, after all; it wasn’t one of those things I had got out of a book, or which I had been threatened with from a pulpit.  If it had been forced upon me from either of those sources, I don’t think it would have been as bad.  However, when I had somehow ‘fixed’ on the word, I had given it a particularly evil connotation.  For you see, in the ‘Church of Me’, a ‘sin’ was something you did before all your luck ran out.  In other words, if I sinned on a school night, I would fail not only the next day’s tutorial but the entire term.  If I sinned the night before a race or a point-to-point, I was guaranteed to break half the bones in my body.  If I sinned before going out on a date, the date would inevitably have the clap or fancy someone else at the next table.  And then, of course, being the idiot that I am, I was compelled to enlarge upon my list of ‘sin’, until it encompassed almost everything, including ‘asking someone home for the night’,  ‘spending the night at someone else’s house’, ‘happiness’, ‘looking forward to anything (good or bad), ‘wanting to earn money’, and – last but not least – ‘actually doing anything that I was good at and doing it well’.  In other words, in my book of ‘sins’ I had all the bases covered.

That being said, the one activity that never made it on to the list was sex with another person.  And I rather imagine the reason I neglected to put it on the list was because I’d always thought of myself as a bit of a minger that nobody could possibly want.  However, I shall let you in on a secret:  in spite of my being a minger, and in spite of my being a hopeless tosser and absolute rubbish at anything and everything I had tried, the very fact that sex with another person never made it on to my  ‘sin’ list, meant that I have done it a great many times – more times, in fact, than most people I’ve known.  But, alas, not as many times as I could have, for although sex with others does not count as a sin, I have these pesky things called ‘hackles’, and the ‘hackles’ are accompanied by ‘alarm bells’.  And just when I find someone really raunchy and downright filthy – with whom sex might even be so good it would count as a ‘sin’ – my ‘hackles’ and my ‘alarm bells’ get all hoity-toity and schoolmarmish.  And they remind me that once I have had sex with another that is so good that it counts as a sin, I couldn’t ever have sex with another ‘another’ again. Or at least not without another seven years of bad luck.  Or something equally as bad.

May 24, 2010

The Knackers

An old house, an old Horse, and a very young Turnip

Quick, scampering footsteps echoing from high above their heads, after which – as though they were the rhythm section bringing up the rear – there followed the heavier, more ponderous footfalls of something larger and slightly ungainly. With clompy feet. Sometimes the larger of the beasts – the one with the clompy feet – was prone to lumber, and perhaps to limp just a little bit.  But at other times its gate was spritely, like a dancer, and well-collected as though the beast was preparing for a race.

“What is that, papa?” asked the little boy, cocking his head to one side and gazing up at his father.

“It is a ghost,” replied the father in a quiet, thoughtful whisper.  And he gave the little boy a fatherly hug.

“What sort of ghost?” demanded the child. “And may we go and see it?”

“No,” whispered the father, in a voice so low that not even the ancient walls of the house could overhear.

“But why not?” demanded the little boy.

“Shhh…” interjected the father.  “Let me put you to bed and I shall tell you a little story.”

“Please, papa,” whimpered the lad. “Not another story!  Not when there are ghosts about, and in the rooftop of our very own house.”

The father hugged his little son to his chest and lifted him into his arms. “Come along, my son. Time for bed.”

The little boy started to whine, but his father put his finger to his lips, “Shhhhhhh,” he murmured mysteriously, and then with his forefinger he pointed towards the ceiling.  “You don’t want them to hear you, do you?”

The father carried his son, wrapped in a blanket against the chill of the evening, and climbed the old staircase up to the next floor.  “Where are we going?” whispered the boy.

The father merely shook his head, and walked to the far end of the first floor gallery and to a small, green baize-covered door.  He inserted an old skeleton key into the lock.  And, surprisingly – for it looked like it hadn’t been opened for fifty years or more – the door swung open (silently, with but a whisper) on well-oiled hinges. The corridor beyond – a high narrow passageway such as those the housemaids might have used in bygone days to carry copper urns of boiling water up to the bedrooms – was surprisingly free of dust.

The little boy craned his neck to see where they were going, but his father held him close and shielded his eyes.

“Keep your eyes closed, my son.” whispered the father.

“But why?” answered the son in rebuke.

“Because this part of the house belongs to the ghosts,” replied the father solemnly. “And if you open your eyes, you might frighten them away.”

“Oh, very well.  If I must!”  said the son impatiently, for he was a curious bright-eyed lad and didn’t like to be kept in the dark.

On and on along the dingy passageway they walked and walked and walked, and the father was careful to make no noise.  He even avoided those places where the floorboards creaked.

The little boy looked at him in wonder.  “Why are you walking in such a funny way, papa? Are you playing hopscotch?”

To which his father whispered in his ear, “Parts of the floor are asleep, my son.  And if I step on their heads and wake them up, they will rouse the whole house.”

“You mean they will scream the house down!” trilled the little boy.  But then catching sight of his father’s pained expression, he thought of the punishments in store if he didn’t mind his manners.  “I don’t really fancy one of father’s spankings,” he said to himself.  And so to save face, he looked gravely up at his father and frowned.  “You’re silly!” he scowled in a gravelly voice.  After that, they continued walking down the hallway of shadows in silence.

At the end of this very, very long and high-ceilinged corridor they came to another door – a tall, narrow door – and again the father took the old key from his pocket, and put it into the lock.  And once again, the door opened like butter.  And when it had swung open it revealed yet another long corridor – this one as clean as the last – only, unlike the passageway they had just left behind, this one had a steep and ancient staircase leading up from the opposite end to the attics above.                                                                           

The house in the woods was a very old house, with gables and chimney pots and ill-fitting leaded windows with hand-blown panes cut like diamonds.  Windows – so many windows – all of which rattled and slammed both from the wind outside, and from the howling draughts within that prowled the vast, empty spaces like ravening wolves.

The house had – not counting those chambers and offices that did not count as rooms themselves – forty-four rooms – big and small.  And in each one of these forty-four rooms was a fireplace – plus two fireplaces in the hall and three in the ballroom.  And in even those rooms which did not count as rooms – such as the servant’s hall next to the kitchen or the servants’ bedrooms themselves – there were smaller hearths.  In the servants’ bedrooms, they were not really large enough to combat the winter’s gales, but sufficient to break the chill and for warming a body slightly before climbing into bed.   

The wall-to-wall hearth in the large, vaulted kitchen had long-since been bricked up and in its recess was a combination coal-burning/gas-burning range – powerful enough to heat the water for the house’s needs and to fill all the housemaids’ pitchers four or five times a day.  However, even this giant of an Aga had been rendered redundant with the passage of time;   in the more modern sinks and showers installed to meet the more modern trends, this method of heating water had been supplanted by the more economical and convenient ascots.  And a cooker – a smallish, chrome-plated, arrogant post-modern appliance that cocked its snoot at the ancient range – was used for most of the cooking.   

The family that lived in the house, unlike so many of their generation, were sentimental when it came to both the cavernous kitchen and to the many other rooms that fanned out from it in every direction – rooms (that were not really counted as room) such the pantry and the larder and the bakery and the silver and china vaults, as well as the high narrow chamber where the glassware was kept.  Adjoining the vaults was the Butler’s pantry, a good-sized sitting room-cum-office which had served the house as both a ship’s bridge and its engine room; for if it was those ‘upstairs’ who supposedly ‘ruled’, it was the butler who was the prime minister and who kept the ship of state’s many departments running as smooth as silk. Next to the butler’s pantry, was the office and sitting room of the deputy leader:  the house-keeper.  These latter two rooms had proper fireplaces of their own, as well as small cloakrooms. However, once again, these fireplaces did not count in the inventory as being among the forty-nine proper fireplaces, for these rooms – although the nerve centres of the house – were not really rooms at all.  They were, after all, below stairs. – and although their fireplaces were in every sense proper fireplaces, they did not count among the forty-nine, having been more recent additions.  Besides which, since they had been among the first to have been converted to gas no one ever thought of them as fireplaces, but as gas fires.

On the opposite side of the kitchen from the nerve-centres, was a very long, wide and gloomy corridor which lead to such offices as the scullery and laundry and buttery, and from there to the time capsules of a long-forgotten world: to the butchery and the dairy and to a door leading to the kitchen gardens and greenhouses.  And to the all-important flower-room.

Along this wide, gloomy, ill-lit corridor were sixteen bathrooms, and since all sixteen had been built according to specifications provided by the United States government during the Second World War – when the house had been requisitioned as a rehabilitation centre for wounded American pilots – each of these sixteen bathrooms had a toilet. To the ancient retainers who were still living on the property during the war and who had been re-housed in the tiny labourers’ cottages down by the farm – these bathrooms were both a scandal and an abomination, and they caused them much distress.  As far as they were concerned, these American-style bathrooms reeked of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon – for their architect was a Catholic of Italian descent – and foretold the beginning of end of the world “as we know it.” In short, they were the thin edge of the wedge.

After the war when the family was allowed to reclaim their property, they had asked that these additional bathrooms be removed.  However, somehow – what with one thing and another and the squabbling between the two governments over who would foot the bill – they remained where they stood.  And became repositories for dust and grime and such junk as abandoned rooms are known to attract.  But fortunately, by that time, the ancient retainers were all long-term residents of the churchyard; they didn’t have to suffer this additional humiliation – at least not on this side of the grave.

Such modernisations that had been carried out after the war mainly centred on the replacement of the lead which had for centuries kept the rain from getting in and ruining the fabric of the ancient house. Again there was squabbling amongst the various government ministries, and between the two countries.  More and more squabbling.  More and more bickering.  Seemingly endless squabbling and bickering. For the Americans – who had stripped the roof in order to sell the lead to buy fuel to burn in the fireplaces – vehemently denied any knowledge of the vandalism.  “We will, of course, look into the matter. But according to our records, it never happened.” But when it was pointed out that they had also burned a considerable portion of the panelling, as well as most of the first-editions in the library – a claim that was verified by several of the soldiers who had been a party to the whole affair, the US Government agreed to cover the damages.  However, since the money was eventually re-directed to help pay the interest on the US war loans, not a farthing ever made it to the house.

Not that had mattered much.  For the family was simply happy to have their home back and more or less in one piece. They sold part of the land to pay for the re-sealing of the roof, and still another parcel or two for such modernisations as would make the old building feasible.  They laid on gas fires in the four or five rooms in which they lived, added two extra bathrooms and toilets for such staff as they could afford, and two bathrooms (with adjacent toilets) for themselves.  They also built a small kitchen for everyday use in an old storage room off the scullery, again laying on gas and electricity and all the mod-cons. 

The four or five rooms in which the family now lived were in a small wing on the ground floor to the rear of the house, facing the rose garden.  Or what had been the rose garden before it had been given over to the planting of root vegetables.  The rooms on the first and second floors were kept in good repair for they were graceful and well-proportioned and might one day – or so the family hoped – prove to be useful.   

The third floor and the attics were not used at all, and because of the damages inflicted on the roofs far above, they quickly fell into disrepair. And it was in these dark and abandoned parts of the house that the rooms and passageway offered shelter to such displaced ghosts and spirits as were seeking a place to lay their weary heads.  If only because in such an ancient and crumbling ruin, no one would think to bother them.  

Some years after the war, the main stair case leading to the third floor fell into disrepair and eventually collapsed, leaving only the small back service stairs for access. This back stairwell could be reached through a back hall on the ground floor – the utility passageway that led to the stable yard and smithy and to the maintenance sheds, and from there down the lane to the farm itself.  The one door that led from this hallway out into the stable yard had – for reasons it kept to itself – jammed itself shut and no force on earth could open it.  The principal reason for its behaviour was that it was a selfish and crabbed old door that did not like to be disturbed – besides which, it suffered much from rising damp and the rheumatics, causing its hinges to swell up ‘something awful’.  For more than twenty-five years (not counting the time some village rowdies broke it down for a lark and spray-painted slogans on the William Morris wallpaper in the old morning room) this temperamental oak door had kept itself locked and barred against all intruders.  The family, who were sympathetic to the door, had long-since given up on it; they simply used the French doors in the room that was now serving as their drawing room.

Perhaps they knew – or suspected – that the door had a secret.  Perhaps they knew that its hinges only appeared to be swollen and locked in place.  And perhaps its condition was a message to the family and others of the human race.  After all, hadn’t humans always abused the door – kicking it open and slamming it shut and knocking things against its panels?  Such treatment was all very well when a door was younger and when its paint was fresh, but quite another after so many centuries had passed.  For nobody – not even the most sympathetic member of the family – seemed to care how an old door looked or how it felt.  And since it was far older than they – by at least four hundred years – it felt it had a right to be treated with a certain amount of respect.  And when no one obliged it, it simply shut itself up tight, swelled its ancient timbers, and became immovable.  “Let them that wants to go in and out, find another way. I’ve retired!”  But this was only where human beings were concerned.  For the ghosts of the house it was another matter – for they were the ones who waxed its oak panels and polished its brass knocker and kept its hinges oiled ‘a treat’.

But who were these ghosts that haunted the upper corridors and who scampered and danced whenever the chill winter winds swept through the crumbling rooms up next to the roof?  And where did they come from?

Their names – for, indeed, names they had – were Misther and Missus Knacker.  Now, to the world outside their appearance might have been surprising, for they were small and round, and each of them had two little tiny feet at his and her narrow, tapering bottom end – the end that would have reached the floor had not their tiny feet been encased in stout wooden clogs.  On the under-sole of each clog was a little silver bell – and it was these bells that could be heard twinkling and clicking as the two little Knackers scampered back and forth along the principal passageway of the top-most floor.

But who was the other personage that lived under the rooftop and who clomped and strutted and pranced each day when he took his exercise?

His name was Summer Lightning (otherwise known as ‘Slow’) and he was a horse.  Perhaps the best forgotten chaser in the history of chasers.

Old ‘Slow’ (back before he had acquired his nickname, when both his owners and his trainer called him ‘Fast’) had in his time won no fewer than six Gold Cups (in England and Ireland and France and Scotland) and one Grand National Chase in each of those nations.  He was feted and celebrated from one end of the racing world to the other, and had even had a chocolate bar named in his honour (the ‘Fast Bar’, because it went down so fast that one had to buy a second one just to prove to oneself that one had eaten one).

Then one day, whilst grazing in his paddock and talking things over with his companion donkey (‘named ‘Old Ass-‘ole’), ‘Fast’ felt a disturbance in his intestine.  And not wanting to trouble his lad or the trainer, he said nothing.  For the lad was having troubles of his own, having been jilted by his girlfriend, and the owner had awoken one morning with a phobia of horses.  The upshot was that ‘Fast’ was left alone with his twisted intestines, and nearly died.  It was also the end of his illustrious career, for on every one of his subsequent races he could barely make it over the first fence, and always came in a half-hour after the race itself had finish.  Old ‘Fast’ became a laughing-stock.  His ‘trainer’ – who took to breeding Chihuahuas, because – although fierce – they were smaller and could be stepped on in a pinch – started making fun of the horse and calling him ‘Slow’ to his face.  The lad – who was ultimately blamed for the horse’s new-found lethargy – quite racing and joined his father’s investment bank.  And as for the owner (who was the father of the lad), he lost interest, and ordered the trainer to send the former Gold-Cup winner to ‘the knackers’.

For the two days that followed, all the other horses in the yard, as well as the companion donkeys (who, after all, could always get a good job pulling carts for fat men in Egypt) called the newly rechristened ‘Slow’ every name under the, sun, and from dawn ‘til dusk they jeered at him and abused him with the following chant, “To the knackers, to the knackers, to the knackers for you”.  And the owner, who was a greedy ill-spirited brute with two left feet and a snake for a tongue, searched all round the countryside checking out the best per-pound price for a used-up race horse with no bottle and with not an ounce of fat on his bones.  In the end, all he was offered was one pound three shillings and five-pence three farthings, and that from a knackers somewhere near far-distant York.  But it was too little, too late, and so he ordered the trainer (who in the mean time had taken to swilling gin and wormwood-infused tonic water) to do the knackering himself, and to sell the meat to the Doggie Deluxe Dog Food Company, the hide to the Fashion Deluxe Horse Skin Jacket Company, and the bones to the Bony Deluxe Bone Meal Company.

And all the while, over in the yard, the whole world seemed to be chanting “To the knackers, to the knackers, to the knackers for you.”

Needless to say, there were two tiny individuals who did not appreciate the attention.  It was bad enough that they had been born turnips and had been forced to flee for their lives to avoid being added to a cauldron of soup, but now it appeared that the whole world knew where they were!  But, as old Misther Knacker said to old Missus Knacker on more than one occasion, “If they be wantin’ us so bad, why don’t they come up and get us?” To which Missus Turnip replied, “beats me, Elmer.”

It was about then that the youngest of the Knackers’ fifty-seven children, took it upon himself to investigate the situation.  After all, he was very small – practically the size of a walnut – and he was not afraid of anyone. “Let ‘em just try puttin’ ME in a stew,” he liked to say.  And so he waited until long after dark and snuck down the back stairs and out through a crack in the old door.

Within less than fifteen minutes (for even the fastest of turnips cannot run very fast) he had reached the stable yard.  And there – sure enough – were all the foul-smelling villagers of the county, dancing round a campfire and waving their pitchfork in the air.  And on a high platform over the flames, was ‘Slow’, trembling and shaking and sweating and wondering what on earth he had done to deserve such a fate.

The tiny turnip, who was curious about what was going one (for he had never attended a barbeque before) asked one of the revellers (a baby poisonous mushroom that was hoping to volunteer to poison the noisy throng – for they had kept his mam from sleeping), “What’s Up, Ol’ Toadstool, my friend?”

And the toadstool said, in a voice both cruel and loud, “They’re gonna send him to the knackers!”

To which the turnip replied, point up at the house, “But the Knackers aren’t over here!  They’re up there!”

“You sure?” cried the revellers upon hearing the news.

“Yeah, I’m sure!” trumpeted the baby turnip, “and I’ve got my driver’s licence to prove who I am.”  And he showed it to them. 

“His name is Knacker!” yelled the crowd.

And so it was that the chief among the revellers (a potato named ‘Bismuth’) heard about their mistake.  And not wanting to get in any trouble, he ordered the crowd to extinguish the fire and return to their homes.

Within twelve and half minutes, the yard was deserted, leaving only the baby turnip and the horse who had once been known as Summer Lightning.  And the horse told the tiny Knacker his sad story, and asked, “What is to become of me?”

You see,” he said, “I don’t really want to go to the knacker’s yard.  I don’t want to end up as dog meat or a leather jacket or in a bucket of bone meal.  Please don’t make me go!  If you save me I shall be your friend for life – for unless I’m mistaken – a turnip does not have many friends to call his own.  And I promise you this: even though I am partial to turnips myself, I shall never eat you.”

And with that, the baby turnip jumped up on the horse’s back and gave him the biggest hug in the world.  And he said, “But you misunderstand, my sweet friend!”  We are not the knackers; out name is Knacker, and we live peacefully on top of that big house,”

Needless to say, without even being asked, the old door opened wide and let the horse and the turnip enter the house.  And because in his heart Summer Lightning was still the same athlete he had always been, he leaped up the stairs (taking twelve steps at a time) all the way to the attic.  He found there a home, and in all the years since he has remained in those rooms up under the roof.  Just himself and the Knackers and all of the ghosts.  And because it is such an old house and is falling to bits, no one ever goes up to see how they are.  And because they have the wind and the rain and the winter storms to keep them from getting restive, that suits them just fine.

The little boy lay asleep in his father’s lap, his six-year-old head cradled in the crook of his arm.  He had slept through every word of the story his father had told him, but there was no harm in that.  For deep down inside he had heard every word, and for the rest of his life, whenever the wind did blow through the rafters and shake the old windows, and whenever there was heard a mad scuffling of little feet dancing, and the drumbeat of hooves prancing high above his head, the boy always said to himself – and later to his children and to the children they themselves spawned.  “Up there is where the Knackers live, and the drummer who is drumming is the old Gold Cup winner, himself – none other than brave Summer Lightning – he who’d been lost before he was found.  And saved by the love of a turnip.”   

May 22, 2010

Pissing Into The Wind

The Only True Thing a Man was Born to Do.

If there is one thing a man loves doing above all the other things a man is supposed to love doing above everything else, it is pissing out of doors.  It is the one activity that a male was built to do, it is the one activity that a male is really good at doing, and it goes without saying, it is the one activity that a male really likes to do.  And this means, of course, that it is the one activity that man is prevented from doing by every single one of those so-called moral guardians who have never done it! And having never done it, and most likely having been punished even for thinking about doing it back when they still could have done it, they therefore feel it is their moral obligation to punish everyone else – by running for political office.  And once they have run for political office and have officially become politicians, they can then make it their business to prevent those who have defied the so-called moral guardians and have gone ahead and done it anyway, from ever doing it again. That is why the words and phrases, “pervert” and “wait ‘til your father gets home” and “you are under arrest” and “indecent exposure” were invented.  As well as stiff fines and lengthy prison sentences.

And all because it is the male animal’s one true talent!          

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not talking about sexual predation.  I’m not talking about flashing in front of the church’s stain glass window on Sunday the minute the choir launches into the abridged version of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, and I’m not talking about whipping it out in the Mall and watering the begonias in the food court.  And, believe me, the last thing I am advocating is to water your grass in the back garden when your neighbours are holding a barbeque for the vicar (even though, unbeknownst to the neighbours, the vicar does it regularly in the graveyard, right on his late mother-in-law’s headstone.

What I am talking about is the joy of pissing out of doors for the sheer joy of pissing out of doors.  It is as simple as that.

I realise women might have a problem with this, and I can understand their point of view.  After all, pissing out of doors is something they are not designed for.  It is something they do not do very well.  It is something that, when they do do it, they often regret doing.  For very often, when they do do it, they fall over into the puddle they have just made.  But of course, that is when they cannot find a convenient log to squat on, and so they try to squat by simply squatting.  And even when they do find something to support them while they squat, they frequently spray urine all over themselves like a garden hose when you’ve put your finger against the nozzle into order to increase the strength of the spray.  And then they are known to say a bad word.  And forget it when they try to do it standing up, especially if they are wearing their shoes.  Because then, of course, having sprayed all over their shoes, they need about a roll and a half of loo paper, not only to dab themselves and their short and curlies, but also to wipe down their legs.  And then – it goes without saying – they feel they have to curtail the picnic – right at the moment the steaks are perfectly barbequed – in order to run to the mall in the next town to buy a new pair of shoes.  Never mind that they should have thought of going there in the first place – before the picnic even got under way – in order to pee.

In spite of the fact that women are thoroughly incompetent when it comes to pissing out of doors without making a mess, they still managed to get a law passed that permits them to do it.  And in the middle of town.  And in full view of passersby. Of course, according to this law they have to be pregnant, and they can only pee against the rear off-side wheel.  But I ask you, what is there to prevent an otherwise unpregnant woman from merely stuffing an old cushion up her jumper and pissing against any wheel she feels like?  After all, it is not as though a policeman is going to ask her to prove she is pregnant, and it is not as though most women carry around a spare pregnancy test just to prove they really are as pregnant as they say they are.   At least, not without a court order, but by the time one of those is obtained, it will be too late for the woman to funnel the pee she has splashed on to the street back into her bladder.   And as for the off-side business, they only snuck that into the law because there is no woman on earth who can understand the male-invented off-side rule.  And therefore they can plead ignorance.  But just let a man try that!  The whole thing smacks of one of the early suffragettes, who obviously forgot to go to the loo before she chained herself to the railings of the Houses of Parliament.

Which reminds me, what did happen when one of those suffragettes had to go to the toilet?  Did one of the friendly policemen – the one who had been beating her with his night-stick – simply halt his beating, say an apologetic, “Sorry, Madam, will you come this way, Madam,” and escort her into the building and out into the garden where – because of the fact there were no inside lady’s toilets at the time – she peed against the rear off-side wheel of the Prime Minister’s landau?  And afterwards, after she had sullied the upholstery of the landau, as well as her new black dress – for according to the photographs, they all seemed to favour mourning – did she demand to be escorted to the Army & Navy Stores to replace the dress and stockings and shoes she had ruined when she had sullied the upholstery of the landau when she had inadvertently missed the rear off-side wheel?  And after she had been duly escorted to The Army & Navy Stores, was she then returned to the Houses of Parliament, where – after re-chaining herself to the railings and hurling insults at the policeman – the same policeman duly picked up beating her where he’d left off?

But what about those women who snuck off while the policeman was waiting outside the ladies’ changing room in The Army & Navy Stores?  Even though every man on earth knows how long it takes a woman to change her clothes, didn’t it bother him when – after three hours had passed – she still hadn’t returned?  Even if he had been married to the slowest woman on earth – one of those who insisted on having ten dozen microscopic buttons on her bodice and who was obsessed with getting each and every button into its corresponding button hole (even if she had to undo each and every one of them a hundred times and start from the beginning) – wouldn’t he have grown suspicious after a while?  And, if so, wouldn’t he have gone to look in the restaurant, because that is undoubtedly where the woman would have been spending the last three hours – sitting with all the other women who had evaded their friendly policemen, and who had just finished a delightful three course afternoon tea – prior to slipping out the back door?

I once rode across country with a couple acquaintances of the female persuasion, and all it all it was a most enlightening experience.  Whereas usually women don’t talk a lot about their toileting habits, at least not in the presence of men who are not their husbands, these two talked about nothing else.  It seemed that the summer before they had driven across Canada, from the West Coast to the East, and being the rugged, non-nonsense types, they had slept rough during the entire journey – wherever possible avoiding the official campgrounds. It goes without saying that this is not an unusual thing for nature-lovers to do, for as anyone who has ever stayed in official campgrounds at the height of the season can tell you, they can be less peaceful than a pub on one of its monthly ‘Uptown Saturday Night ‘Free Beer’ Striptease Pub Quizzes’.  

Up to a point I enjoyed hearing about the women’s experiences.  But then they got on to the subject of relieving themselves. And after they had thoroughly rehashed every single ‘amusing incident’ that had befallen them on each single occasion when they had stopped to spend a penny, they got on to the subject of toilet paper.  Now, like many campers who are fastidious when it comes to the environment, they had originally discussed the logistics of ‘packing it out’ and carrying the soiled paper to one of the approved ‘dump stations. That plan – in the way of all such plans – went awry the first day.  So after that, they decided to do without toilet paper altogether and (as they put it) employ the good, old-fashioned ‘drip dry’ method.  Then, for the next two hours, I was forced to endure the ‘hilarity’ of their ‘summer of the urine-stained knickers’. 

Personally, I don’t like it when males – who tend to be much more scatological than females – get carried away with this sort of idiocy.  And I don’t like it any better when females resort to it either. After all, was that all there was to the holiday?  Hadn’t they passed through some sort of scenery? Hadn’t they seen any wildlife?  Hadn’t they met any interesting people?  Or was all that merely incidental to the main purpose, which was to experience “Shitting In The Woods Like Bears?”  Anyway, after about two hours of becoming increasingly pissed off, I spoiled their good time by finally opening my mouth.  First of all, I made it clear that I was speaking as a man and, therefore, was not exactly conversant with their problems when it came to peeing in the woods, to which they immediately got huffy and replied that – such being the case – I should shut up and mind my own business.  Well, I ignored that remark, and carried on.  I said that even though I was a miserable man and – therefore – a boor when it came to women in general, I happened to be a fairly experienced camper. I also pointed out that – since men were known to shit at least as often as women (and sometimes more often seeing as how they were gross and depraved) – men also had to deal with defecating in the woods.  And furthermore, when it came to clean ing up, we faced the same problems – except perhaps more so because we had hairier arses.  And without pausing for a breath – because I knew if I let them get a word in edgeways, I would never hear the end of it – I asked why, since they happened to have a car with them, they hadn’t just brought along a bucket?  And also a small shovel or some sort?  And also a few containers of water?  At this point, the driver said something not needing my input. But of course, being in full rant, I ignored her – simply to drive my message home. I suggested – for future reference – that a bucket was a handy place to squat when they had a pee.  And since they were already going to sully the forest floor with their urine, it was an easy matter simply to empty the bucket.  Then, I suggested that they could take the water they had been carrying in their car, and with that water they could wash themselves off.  And after washing themselves off, they could rinse out the bucket.  One of them tried to interrupt me by asking about the times they didn’t happen to have a car with them, to which I replied, “That’s bullshit and you know it! You never go anywhere without your bloody car. You even drive your car into your garage to pick up your other car!” And then they got all stroppy about using leaves to dry themselves off, and about how they always ended up using the wrong leaves – the ones that gave them rashes.  And that was when I opened my mouth one too many times and mentioned buying a guide book for local flora.  At which they said yelled, “All men were alike,” to which I retaliated, “At least a man pisses; we wouldn’t be caught dead wee-ing or tinkling.”

Interestingly enough, I never saw them after that, and they even stopped sending me their tie-dye greeting cards for Christmas.   

But back to the unbridled joy of men pissing in the great outdoors.  Unlike women, who seem to like to urinate in packs, men – at least when indoors – tend to treat it as a solitary exercise.  For example, when standing at a urinal when there is another man standing beside them, they cover themselves and look straight ahead.  Setting aside accepted etiquette, it is a territorial thing. A man urinating is a vulnerable man.

However, get a man outdoors, and man reverts to a more primitive state.  Whereas in a restaurant, two or three men sitting at the same table would never even think about going to the toilet at the same time – which is what women seem to do.  However, get them outside and at the edge of the car park, and they will have a grand old group piss-out.  And (excepting in certain cultures where it is taboo for a man to look at another man’s private parts) it is pretty much universal.  In fact, pissing in the great outdoors seemed to be one of the few activities during which even sworn enemies can call a truce.

In every single country in which I have lived (except for those dominated by Islam) I have seen men – young and old and in between – celebrating this one particular moment together.  No matter whether it’s on the side of a road or on a mountain top or on the edge of a cliff, the scenery is always better if it’s enjoyed while in the company of fellow pissers.

It goes without saying that pissing out of doors can be a risky business.  First of all, right at the point of no-return, when there is no chance of turning it off, the wind is bound to change.  And if you are in a group – all standing in a line in the usual way for you never piss in a circle, all facing inwards – and the wind resorts to the sort cheap whiplash joke it saves for such occasions, you’ll find that all men who have always pissed like men in the great outdoors, can all turn together, as if by some secret signal.  So clever are they that it’s only when the wind double-crosses them that they end up pissing on their neighbour’s breeks.

I know quite a few men who – given the choice – will always piss outdoors.  Even when they are at their own house. Perhaps it’s a throwback to bygone days when we used to mark our territory.  Who knows?  It makes sense to me.

Several years ago, I found myself staying at a small, disused hill farm in the mountains. Close to the shack in which I lived there was a family of foxes.  At the time, I was reading a book by Farley Mowat – Never Cry Wolf – in which the protagonist (I believe based on Mowat himself), decided to see how well the wolves would respect the territory he himself would establish by using his own urine trail.  And so, I decided, why not try it myself.  And so I did.  With the same results.  After encircling my little home with a trail of piss, I went inside and waited and watched.  Sure enough, the next morning, I found that the male fox had marked his territory just outside mine. I was ecstatic!  And I felt that, for once in my life, I had actually done something that mattered, and which was in tune with what nature had intended.

But back to pissing outdoors in more mundane surroundings.  It goes without saying, the minute you get caught out when you are walking alone along a completely deserted road – without a vehicle in sight – the second you open your flies and start to spray the countryside, there will be, not only one car coming from one direction, but ten cars coming from both directions.  And they will all pass each other right at the point at which you’re standing.  It never fails.  Of course, you could always turn around and salute the passengers, but I really would not recommend it.  Because at least four of the cars are bound to have little children riding in the back, the parents of which will inevitably be city dwellers that will look upon any man with open flies as a sex offender – no matter that he happens to be innocently pissing at the time his flies were open.  In this day and age, it is better to play it safe than to see your name placed on the sex-offenders list for pissing in front of a child.

Ah… but pissing into the wind and in the middle of a gale: that is when a clown like me feels most alive. And when I also happen to be standing on a cliff facing out to a north Atlantic sea, I am as close to heaven as I am ever likely to be.  And what about splashing?  What about splashing?  I am standing in a bloody gale, aren’t I!  Or as they say, “Innit!”

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