Natural Laws according to Fred

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Once upon a time I lived in a tree. I was probably quite furry, because the tree did not 220834951_nman_xlargehave central heating, and I may have weighed something like 98lbs, most of which was devoted to muscle; the kind of muscle you need if you are going to climb a lot of trees, but not much use as body fat to keep me warm. I didn’t have a great deal of brain; I didn’t need it. Before she threw me out of her tree, Mummy taught me which berries were food, and the bushes on which they were to be found. Paradise, she said, is a tree that bears berries you can eat – then you never have to climb down. Apart from that, she didn’t teach me very much.

I had one asset of much greater value than my brain, and that was my speed. I could run. You see, although berries were not particularly nice, they were survival. When one of us discovered a new bush the competition could get really serious, and first there got most berries. Of course, that meant the winner got more berries than the others, and that made them fatter, so they were slower next time. From this was created the first law: Natural Balance.

There were those among us with just a little more brain. They could predict when a bush was about to yield berries, and camp out either on the ground or in trees nearby, so as to be sure to get more than their share. There was a lesson here, however: the saber-toothed tiger was cleverer than they were. He camped out there too, but he wasn’t waiting for the berries. The more scientific name for the sabre-toothed tiger was the Smilodon, probably because he always looked so happy. After all, he was never short of food. From this was created the second law: clever people are always looking for ways to circumvent the laws of nature and natural balance. They always fail. And they never learn.

When we were happy, the rule was simple. The third law: one person one tree. There were occasional neighborhood disputes, but never anything of substance, until there were more persons than trees. This shouldn’t have happened. Two persons sharing a tree did not work, because it meant one had to be underneath. Now, in those days my bathroom habits would have been less than perfect, so it was obviously more desirable to have the penthouse. With the onset of competition, the law of Natural Balance was violated. The first real evil in the world was born. The clever people learned that Might is Right.

Now I began to lament my lack of brain, because the day that clever people discovered how to use strong people was the day the fourth law was written. Why get yourself killed if you can persuade bigger, more aggressive persons whose power is physical rather than mental to die for you? Law number four, then: the most powerful force in nature is hope.

Simple people have simple loyalties: promise me four and twenty virgins and I’ll be on the next train to Inverness. Tell me this ticket is the winning ticket and I will keep on buying it. Convince me I will have a place at my Lord’s right hand and I will gladly do whatever you ask. What is more, I will be loyal. Week after week, year after year, on one last walk into the crowded market place wearing that large, rather awkward belt: as long as you never actually honor your promises I will serve your cause. I have been taught to hope.

Today I walk in a world ruled by clever people who dedicate their whole lives to contravening the natural laws. More people pay more taxes, so they continue to cram the trees with people. They dispatch the strong to the bushes that bear the thick black food of life, not caring where the smilodon lurks or how many victims that barbaric creature might take. All they seek is the power that ownership implies, and hope is their tool for controlling those who serve them; for keeping them on the knife-edge of life.

And they still haven’t learned. They haven’t understood, somehow cannot, that the first law must be observed. You can prevaricate, you can evade, you can use all the powers of paper progress to persuade; but when the trees are too full, when promises too oft repeated are unfulfilled, the decisions which finally steer our species are not made by you: they are made by those for whom hope has died: the engine drivers, the laborers, the shelf-stackers, the young with no future and the guy on the station who sleeps in a cardboard box. The Visigoths, the Vandals, the Vikings; the ordinary inhabitants of the trees will always be there, and ready to be led. It just takes another clever person with a message of hope which, however nonsensical, is new.

It is, in the circularity of reason, simply a return to that first law as written on a billion ancient graves – Egyptian, Macedonian, Persian, Roman, Mayan – all the great empires that were the dreams of clever people.

One person, one tree. Natural balance has to be observed.

A Word in Passing

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There are two places in my world where I would wish to be.

The first is a seashore, a mile of firm wet sand beneath my feet, a spray-loaded westerly gale in my face, and white-caps marching in military file upon the rocks. To stand before the might of nature and feel her snatching at my toes: to be for an instant at one with the primal power that speaks to us all, had we the ears to listen, these are the sights and sounds and sense of glory for me.

The second place within my heart is a quiet wood, among placid deciduous trees where tiny sunshine sprays of summer heat slip in between the leaves and birds provide quiet music to a percussion of breeze-stirred leaf and twig. A different perfection this, to sit upon some ancient bench beside a tripping forest stream, watching time drift past me into nothingness.

In either place, alone – for at the last Nature is our one true friend – I would gladly meet my fate. If I could my quietus make from earth to oblivion with such an image imprinted in my soul I would pass through the gate without fear.

When I watch the brief lives of our smaller cohabitants on this planet pass before me, expired in little more than a season, or a year, or ten, I reflect that the one true advantage we have gained over them all is comfort. Churchmen may sanctify life, politicians may play with it, but we normal mortals gain only by having food on our table, a place away from the snow, and the ability to express and resolve pain: and yes, it is right that we should bestow those gifts upon our brother species, and it is charitable to do so, where we have the means, so even when we feel the need to satisfy our carnivorous appetites we afford some dignity to the hordes we kill. If we count ourselves as ‘civilized’ we try to make death quick and painless, for every species but our own.

Somehow we have allowed ourselves to be persuaded by an argument that human life is different to that of the other animals that are forced to co-exist with us; that we are made ‘in the image of God’ and therefore a special case. We have taken the simple truth of death as an ending and made a science of an improbable land beyond it; and from that science derived a plethora of reasons why we should delay and protract our own death in a way that, if we observed it practiced upon an animal, we would denounce as gross cruelty.

I have my views about religion. It has been responsible for the genocide of millions yet we still espouse it in one or other of its forms, whilst I regard it as the greatest perversion of thought to be visited on mankind. Our greatest gift, on the other hand, is not a theoretical, but a real victory over death. We can end life, terminate it without pain. We should feel free to reject the sorrowful protestations of the former and joyfully sanction the latter.

If I wish it, and of course only if I freely wish it, I should be allowed my final hour without pain, dreaming of that seashore, or resting in that wood. Rejecting all peripheral arguments about family pressures and financial complications I should retain that essential right. By simply gaining agreement that medicine is primarily about mercy, at a stroke I would save treatments and bed-space needed for those with hope, rather than wasting them upon my losing battle. The timing would be mine. I would give my relatives peace, and leave my life as I have lived it.

I believe that, given a vote, an overwhelming majority would agree with me, and at last even the great and the good seem to be coming round to acceptance. After all, we take willingly all the other benefits medicine can give us – why not bestow the freedom upon us to use this last one?

A Five-Minute Poem

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Peace?
I have too much of it!
Mellifluous music, softly played,
Honeyed voices, whispering.
Bird song attuned to silence
Garden wars, life and death in hushed tones
Whispering wind in hushed groans
Among timbers old where beetles creep
Among stones cold where old ones sleep
Around mullioned windows glassless
Unseeing from the ruin of ages
Among dusty books by dusty sages
About the hordes in contemplation
About the words that inspire my nation
No longer.
Abandoned – like principles
Like honor.
Like love.
In the corruption of silence.

Give me noise!
Give me voice and proclamation
Give me passion and inspiration
March as one
March for freedom of expression
Call it loudly from your rooftop
Shout it boldly from your platform
Play it harsh in raucous chords
Sing discordant honest words
We are but one stop on the journey
A visit briefly to our planet
Which may not blink as we pass by.
Leave your message for tomorrow
Pass your word to those who follow
That we may not be lost forever
Forgotten in the silence.

Bellarc Wood

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I just realized this morning how long a time has elapsed since I last posted!  My excuse (which is no excuse) is work upon my new book, which is taking shape at last.  Anyway this, with apologies, is a story I wrote in 2011, which, though included in my website, has never appeared here.   I will warn you, this is not a children’s story.

Bellarc Wood

Angela bit at her lip, because just being on that street in the closing light of evening made her nervous. Where was the car? Mark was late. Last week he failed to come in spite of his promise. This time it was imperative. This time he must!

#

When first he came upon Bellarc Wood, Tam was tired and very much afraid.

All afternoon he had played in the great meadow, watching minnows in the brook, running and hiding from the monstrous Mardigal and the Fromigal of fiery breath, who chased him through the wild hay; then the faceless Oot people who teased and poked at him until he dispatched them horribly with his laser sword.

He stayed late, very late. Before he knew it the sun was setting behind Coldharbour Hill, and the last shadows were stretching themselves, ready for sleep.

When did Tam realise he was lost? He took this path, then this path, then this – but none seemed to go the right way – the way he knew. His head hurt, the bushes grew bigger and shadier in the twilight, each ready to conceal a boy stealer, or a hungry wolf. The trees, bigger still, frowned down on him, as if in disbelief that so small a boy should be abroad at such an hour.

Then there was a path he had not tried and a wall of darkness, and before he knew it Tam had wandered into Bellarc Wood.

Forestwander.com

Now in the normal way of things, in the proper way of things, if a few little trees made Tam afraid, the sight of a great wood – so many big, black, forbidding oaks and chestnuts and beeches should have made him very afraid indeed: but somehow these big trees did not. In fact, thought Tam, these seemed very friendly trees – warm trees, trees which beckoned him.

“Don’t fear us!” They seemed to say. “The moss beneath us is soft, and warm: our shelter is proof against rain, or hail, or snow. You can be safe here, Tam.” And they waved their branches a little, just to show they were sincere.

He wandered through the wood’s deep shade; breathed its sweet resin smells. The gnarled oaks, who despite their age were very kind indeed, spread their mighty limbs to shelter him, and curled their roots into a cradle of warm moss; so when he grew too tired to wander any more, he lay down upon the moss, and fell asleep.

Which was exactly how Mr. Fitzprickle discovered Tam when morning came. Mr. Fitzprickle, being a night time sort of person, was taking a morning time sort of stroll before returning home for dinner and bed. His lungs were so full of the fresh dawn breeze and his stomach was so looking forward to a hearty meal he almost missed the strange white thing that lay in the moss: in fact, he very nearly walked right over Tam without seeing him.

“Well I’m blessed!” He said, unrolling himself (Mr. Fitzprickle had an unfortunate habit of rolling himself up in a ball whenever he came across anything unusual – it often got him into trouble, and his wife never ceased to remind him of a time by the riverbank when he was surprised by O’Henry the otter’s boy, and rolled right into the river. “If that log hadn’t been across the weir, Mr. Fitzprickle, you’d be several miles out to sea by now!”).

“Well, I’m damned!” He said. And…

“Well!”

He sniffed around the thing to see if it would move, then he prodded it to see if it would squeak. It did neither. Then he ran straight home to Mrs. Fitzprickle, as he always did when he discovered anything really marvellous and extraordinary: which was quite often, for the most boring and unexceptional things were extraordinary to Mr. Fitzprickle.

“This,” declared Mrs. Fitzprickle, with a warning in her voice, “had better be something really extraordinary, Mr. Fitzprickle!”

It was.

“Why, ‘tis a little human child!” The lady declared between gasps for air. (Mrs. Fitzprickle was of ample build, and the climb up the wooded bank did not suit her constitution).

“It doesn’t do much.” Said Mr. Fitzprickle, critically. “From what I’ve heard, human children never stop doing something; usually involving damage.”

“Well, this one’s stopped. Sleeping, I do believe.” Mrs. Fitzprickle opined. “But it shivers, see? So it mustn’t stay here, now, must it?”

“Why not?” Enquired Mr. Fitzprickle, who was less inclined to charity than his wife.

“Coldness, Mr. Fitzprickle: dampness!” Said Mrs. Fitzprickle. “Bad for little human children – yes.”

She made her way back down the bank, and disappeared inside her tree-stump house, and in no time at all reappeared with the largest, thickest, driest of blankets you could imagine. It was a blanket covered with pictures of all the things hedgehogs (for Mr. And Mrs. Fitzprickle were, of course, hedgehogs) love the most – of grass, and earth, and flowers – and woven in among the pictures were little models of all the things that hedgehogs love to eat; tiny grubs and worms and beetles that live on the forest floor, who nobody speaks to because, after all, they are only tiny, and are unlikely to have anything interesting to say.
Mrs. Fitzprickle wrapped the blanket around Tam so that he would stop shivering, placing a thoughtful paw on his forehead.

“Do you know Mr. Fitzprickle, I think the poor boy might have a fever?”

“I’m blessed if I’d be surprised!” Exclaimed her husband. “Lying out here in such thin clothes!”

“We must take him in, Mr. Fitzprickle! We must take care of him! And when he is warmer, we shall feed him up – I never saw a creature so thin!”

“Feed him up, Mrs. Fitzprickle?” Mr. Fitzprickle enquired, looking doubtful: “Would he er……?”

Upon the stove in the tree-stump house was a steaming brew of Mrs. Fitzprickle’s special recipe, a spicy MIgwit casserole. “And why not?” Demanded Mrs. Fitzprickle.

“Well…..Migwits, you know. Not everybody likes them.”

At once Mr. Fitzprickle saw that he had said the wrong thing. Mrs. Fitzprickle gave him her most withering of stares. “Migwits,” she said weightily; “are all we have.”

Oblivious to all of this, Tam slept on, enwrapped by his world of dreams. They were not pleasant dreams. The great Mardigal and the Fromigal – so easy to chase in his waking fantasies, wrought their revenge in sleep. They danced about him, taunting. The Mardigal gnashed at him with its great hooks of fangs, the Fromigal flailed its long arms like whips; and the Oots came, with their glassy mouths, their claws raking his flesh, their talons grabbing and pulling. Tam knew the Fromigal and the Mardigal feared the Oot people, shied away from them as they charged, but try as he might he could not set one upon the other. All, it appeared, were intent upon tormenting him.
And so he was glad to wake, and somehow it did not seem odd to Tam to find himself looking up into Mrs. Fitzprickle’s concerned face. Half-drowsy, he reached up to stroke the soft fur of her cheek. A surge of warmth ran through him the like of which he had never known, bringing a moist tear to Mrs. Fitzprickle’s dark eye.

“Why, bless me! The boy’s awake, Mr. Fitzprickle! Awake! What a sweet smile he has!”

Sitting up, Tam took in his surroundings. A shady room with walls rising irregularly from an earth floor, complete darkness relieved by the light from two small lattice windows, and a lamp placed upon a table in the centre, where sat a sagacious-looking hedgehog with greying quills whose glass spectacles perched perilously upon the end of his nose. These were turned in his direction, and behind them Mr. Fitzprickle (Tam had no doubt this was he) emitted such a look of pleasure and benevolence that Tam almost crowed aloud with delight.

“He’ll be hungry, Mrs. Fitzprickle! Yes he will!” Then Mr. Fitzprickle added: “I know I am!”

As Tam’s eyes grew more accustomed to the light he took in the rest of the room. There was a fireplace glowing comfortably with an armchair at either side, a brass bed warmer hanging from the wall, a stove at the further side from which there wafted a hot, spicy scent of food. Often most hungry when he woke, Tam experienced pangs of anticipation.

Here he was, as far as he could understand, waking up to morning in a room scraped beneath the roots of a great tree. About his shoulders a blanket woven from dried mosses, illustrated with little insect creatures, and so very cosy he did not ever want to let it go. It did not occur to him as strange that he should have become so small, his hosts grown to be as large as he. Why should it? This was Bellarc Wood.

Mrs. Fitzprickle sat Tam at the table on a wooden stool opposite Mr. Fitzprickle. She ladled three portions of dark stew from a pot upon the stove into three bark dishes, which she set before Tam and her husband and at a vacant place for herself. Three black carapaces were laid as spoons.

“Dig in, dear boy!” Mr. Fitzprickle coaxed Tam cheerily: “Dig in!”

Tam dug in. The stew was quite spicy, a sort of chocolaty flavour that tingled in the back of his throat.

“What is it?” He asked when he was sufficiently sated to draw breath.

“Migwit stew, my dear. The very best! Niceness! Tastiness!” Answered Mrs. Fitzprickle seriously. “Eat your fill, now. Eat your fill!”

There was an aftertaste of liquorice. “I like it very much.” Said Tam.

At this Mrs. Fitzprickle beamed from ear to ear with pleasure, and they ate dedicatedly for a while, the three of them, in silence. From a corner by the hearth, a single black beetle ventured out onto the great open expanse of the floor. Mr. Fitzprickle spotted it instantly. He leapt from his stool to pounce upon the creature, bringing it back to the table in triumph.

“There! Fresh Migwit!” He popped the hapless insect into his mouth. “Completes a meal!”

“Don’t speak with your mouthful, Mr. Fitzprickle!” His wife reminded him tersely. Tam laughed.

It was a magical morning. Mr. Fitzprickle postponed his usual morning snooze to take Tam for a walk deep into the wood, down through the tallest trees to the river. They went to visit O’Henry the otter’s family. Mr. and Mrs. O’Henry were very polite, and the kittens (three of them) were quite charming, although they prodded at Tam in a way which reminded him of tiny Oots, and smelled appallingly of fish.
Afterwards Mr. Fitzprickle and Tam strolled beside the water, shuffling among the dry leaves, listening to a gentle wind riffling the treetops and the cry of rooks wheeling above while the river picked up their reflections as though it would take them on a journey of its own. Beside them, clumps of reeds waved in graceful dance. As boys will, Tam reached for a stick to thrash at them – a long, straight stick which stuck straight up out of the water. He grasped it and pulled.

“Do you very much mind?” Said a gruff voice.

Mr. Fitzprickle squealed and, disconcertingly, rolled up into a ball. Still holding the stick, Tam looked upwards in the direction of the voice: upwards into the stillest, roundest, most piercing eye he had ever seen.

He found words. “I’m sorry! Who are you?” He gulped.

The owner of the eye turned its head slightly to one side. Tam’s mind registered a long, rapier-like beak, needle sharp, a feather crest bristling with annoyance.

“I? I am Helmut Heron. You are holding my leg und this is not good. Vill you let go, please?”

“I thought it was a stick.”

“Ja.” Helmut glared down at Tam: “This I understand, but, as you see, it is not. It is my leg. Vill you let go, or must I peck you?”

Mutely, Tam took his hand away.

“Gut. Very gut.” Said Helmut approvingly. Then as if to recall his anger, he added: “You realise you have ruined my fishing? Who are you?”

“My name is Tam.”
“Ah, Tam.” The heron’s great eye clouded a little. “Now I understand. Ja. The vood has been expecting you, Tam.”

“Has it?” Tam was amazed that his name should be known.

“Ja, Ja.” The heron said. “Ve shall meet again, you see, from time to time. You must come back, I think. You!” He snapped at Mr.Fitzprickle: “Stupid spiky thing, unroll yourself!”

Mr. Fitzprickle reluctantly allowed a black nose to protrude from his sphere of quills. “Yes, sir: yes, Your Mightiness!” As if to further gratify the heron, he stuck out one leg as well.

“You are taking him to ze Father of ze Forest?”

“Ja, sir. I mean, yes, Helmut.”

The great beak inclined slightly, as though in a nod of approval. “It should be so. Now, go avay unt let me get on mit my fishing!”

For a while afterwards progress was slow. Every few paces the crackle of a twig, or a louder rustle of breeze would send Mr. Fitzprickle back into a ball and, coax though he might, Tam could not unroll him until he was convinced the coast was clear.

“I can’t help it, you see. It’s health and safety.” Mr. Fitzprickle explained. “It just happens – yes!” And he gave his quills a vigorous shake, as if to rid himself of this particular demon.

A half-mile up river they crossed an old log bridge, up through a willow copse (“All sorts of nice snacks here.” said Mr. Fitzprickle, plucking something small and wriggling from the leaves: “Try one!”) to Bellarc Ridge.

“There!” Mr. Fitzprickle said proudly: “The Father of the Forest!”
Before them stood the largest, the oldest, the most venerable chestnut tree in the whole of Bellarc Wood. The mighty spread of its branches loomed over their heads like a vast domed roof, its web of wooden girders interlacing the sky into leaded windows of blue or white. At their centre a trunk of such girth as might support a town of wild creatures; wrinkled and knotted by the frown of age. Beneath the tree’s canopy chestnuts old and new coated the forest floor.

“Conkers!” Cried Tam enthusiastically.

“But you must not touch them, dear boy!” Warned Mr. Fitzprickle. “They are his children!”

So they approached the huge tree carefully, picking their way.

“Be respectful now.” Mr. Fitzprickle warned Tam. “He can be a bit crotchety in the mornings.”

Why, he did not know, but Tam walked forward alone. And as he did so, he felt the old tree’s boughs like arms stretching out to him, as though in welcome. He saw at once how these were not just of one tree, but the arms of the whole of Bellarc Wood. They were the arms which first beckoned him when he was lost, which cradled him as he slept: they brought the wonderful Fitzprickles to find him, and they made him warm, and at home.

“Come to me.” The great chestnut’s invitation was somewhere inside his head, deep and profound. “Come and rest.”

Tam sensed the tree’s tiredness, its age and its wisdom. His ‘must I?’ was not a spoken question, but it was answered. “We all must rest.”

All at once Tam saw that he could not make the final step towards the tree without pain! He shook in the grip of this sudden fear, tried to rebuff it, to step away. But then he understood: the hurt was the last hurt, the gateway to the freedom of the wood. At last he had found a place where the Fromigal and the Mardigal, the Oot People could not go. If he could but suffer it this once, just this once, he was safe. So Tam accepted it, took the agony to himself like a fire of resurrection and stepped, wholly and willingly, into the tree’s embrace.

They were all inside. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzprickle, the O’Henrys, Helmut, their welcome reaching out to him – all affirming.

It was the right thing to do.

#

Angela had been standing in the doorway for a long time.

“Come on, Ange, it’s a police matter now.” Mark said.

Nodding, she turned away. Not that she would ever turn her back on the picture: the tiny details of the picture; the ragged book with its illustrations of trees and animals, a strange shape like a hedgehog scraped by broken fingernails into the bare floor. And then, scrawled in who could tell (who would want to tell?) what, upon the timber nailed over the window, a word or a part of a word: T-A-M. Was it possible, Angela wondered, this poor creature taught itself to write in some way? Had it given itself a name?

That sight, that stench would be with her forever: the little naked body tortured so, torn so, lying twisted but finally content in death, would haunt her to her grave.

There was still a post mortem to endure, when they would find bruising from a thousand blows, traces of cockroaches and earwigs in the stomach, last desperate attempts at sustenance by a child in a locked room for whom food stopped coming: for whom love never came.

Mark, at her side, guiding her, shaking, to the stairs. “You can’t save them all.”

The police: “Come on, this is a crime scene. Let’s get the suits out of the way, shall we? What’s the name of the tenant?”

“One Thomas Madrigal and his girlfriend Andrea Forminghall.” The young officer’s reply was steady and unemotional. But even he had dreams.
“Why didn’t you come last week?” Angela asked Mark.
“Its case overload, babe.” Mark said. “We did all we could.”
The coffee breaks, the committees, the case conferences, the endless reams of paperwork, the ticking heartbeat of a relentless clock. If Angela looked into his eyes she would see the lie:
“Did we, Mark?” She asked; “Really – did we?”

#

© Frederick Anderson 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Wishing

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Jarvis Poulter studied the ancient cabinet carefully. It had two doors, ornately carved, in the upper part, three gracefully slender drawers beneath and taloned feet which snatched fiercely at the saleroom floor. Fashioned from olive wood or cedar, it was undeniably scruffy, its corners knocked and cracks showing here and there, but Middle-Eastern in origin and utterly in keeping with the theme he planned for his bedroom. He measured it, squinting through half-moon spectacles at the small figures on his tape (sterling; he never could stand metric). Yes, perfect. Just a little alteration would make of it a wardrobe, and the drawers below would accept his meager collection of sweaters and his nightwear – eminently suitable.

Poulter positioned himself so he might be seen from the rostrum.

“Lot 421, a cabinet, believed to be Moroccan. Fifty for it?” The auctioneer asked.

Silence. Rows of inattentive heads, noses buried in catalogues.

“Forty then. Twenty! Come on, must be worth that?”

Silence.

“Alright. Last chance. Ten. I’ll not go any lower…”

“Five.” Piped Poulter in his thin nasal voice.

“Got to be ten. Want it?”

Poulter sniffed. “Alright.”

“Ten then. Anybody?” Catalogues shuffled uncomfortably. “Ten it is. Sold.”

Poulter was secretly pleased with the price. He told the auction porter this, as he helped maneuver the cabinet into the back of his pick-up truck.
“Well, you certainly got a lot of tonnage for your money.” The porter grunted, from the heavy end.

Poulter would not enjoy his drive home. Never a natural driver, other traffic terrified him so the quiet roads, before rush hour really started, were a blessing. He felt uneasy, though, because something, somewhere, was knocking.

Was it a wheel bearing? His mechanical sense was no better than his road sense, but someone had told him once that a worn one of those would make a knocking noise. So – was it a wheel bearing? He looked down towards the place where he thought the noisy wheel might be. It could be. It would be another repair bill! His local garage-man would rub his hands together with ill-concealed glee – Poulter was his most gullible customer.

Corner!

So preoccupied was he with the wheel he had forgotten the road entirely, and the road, with a justifiable dislike of being ignored, left him.

Panic! Hauling on the wheel, Poulter managed to yank the old pick-up back into line. It skidded; it slewed.

It bounced.

With crunch and thud Poulter’s prized cabinet unshipped itself and crashed onto the road. He drew to a halt with a heartfelt groan, hardly daring to confront the consequences of his foolishness by looking in the mirror. When he did, the sight offered little consolation; for there was the cabinet, lying drunkenly upon the tarmac, miraculously undamaged: it was not the cabinet which drew his eye, though. It was the prostrate figure lying half-pinned beneath it!

“Oh, my Sainted Aunt!” Exclaimed Poulter. (Poulter was accustomed to summoning his Sainted Aunt in times of crisis). “I’ve killed someone!”

‘Someone’, however, was still moving. By the time Poulter reached him, his victim, uttering a stream of invective, was wriggling free of the wooden tombstone. A small man of apparent middle age in working overalls, he shouted angrily at Poulter: “Bloody hell! What d’ye think ye’re doing, yer old fool? You bloody near slaughtered me then!”

“I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry!” Poulter jabbered as he dabbed at tears of relief behind a grey handkerchief. “Are you – are you badly hurt?”

“Dunno.” To Poulter’s amazement his victim was clambering to his feet, dusting himself off. “Nay, no harm done, lad! Don’t upset yerse’n, now. But lissen, next time brake before the corner, right? Drive into it, don’t try and brake ‘alf-way round!”

“Yes, yes.” Humbled, Poulter felt he should try to make amends. “Look, can I give you a lift anywhere? Are you going far?”

The little man stared at Poulter intensely for a moment, as if an important decision depended on his answer. “Aye,” He said. “Awreet. But first we’d better get this big coffin of your’n back on t’ truck. Back up, will ye?”

For so small a figure the little man was surprisingly strong, and together he and Poulter managed to restore the cabinet, distressed but entire, to its place in Poulter’s pick-up truck. Poulter drove away with his new passenger sitting, and breathing rather heavily, beside him. A horn sounded its impatience.

“Call me Albert.” Said the little man. “What’s tha name, lad?”

“Oh, I’m – please call me Jarvis.” Poulter rarely revealed his Christian name, but there was something very easy and familiar about Albert. He almost felt he had found a new friend. Jarvis Poulter had few friends. In fact, he reflected as he pulled out onto the main road, he had no friends.

A squeal of brakes; angry shouts; things which happened to Poulter a lot, and for reasons he didn’t entirely understand.

“Bloody Stephen!” Said Albert. “Yer a right twaddy of a driver, Jarvis! Yer nearly mashed that poor lad! He wouldn’t mind so much if ye got going, but ye’r that slow!”

“I am, aren’t I?” Poulter agreed. “I wish I could do it better.”

“Sorry?”

“I said I wish I could drive quicker.”

Albert tightened his seat belt. All of a sudden, for some reason, Poulter’s foot slipped across to the pick-up’s clutch. His hand flicked down to the gear lever and he dropped a gear. His right foot tweaked the accelerator just enough, and the pick-up answered him with a throaty roar. As his speed in the new gear increased, Poulter eased his steering to the right and pitched into the bend in front of him. The back of the vehicle, notwithstanding the weight upon it, drifted gently. The tyres sang. Ahead, evening traffic was gathering.

“What’s happening?” Poulter cried. His hands, his feet seemed not to belong to him. He was a marionette on mysterious, unseen strings, his limbs dancing over the controls, his balance perfectly attuned to the pick-up’s new-found vigor. “I can’t stop!”

Fifty, sixty, seventy miles an hour, lanes of traffic on each side, yet somehow a path – a snaking, narrow path – between. Eighty, ninety! Now weaving an impossible course, touching gas, brakes, opposite lock on the corners, controlled drift through swerving lane-changes. Sirens, blue flashing lights behind him at first, then receding.

“Lost ‘em!” Albert said triumphantly.

“Help me, please!” Screamed Poulter.

“Nay, lad! Tha’s doing awreet by tha’sen.”

Cars, lorries, buses, traffic great and small flashed by as Poulter, gibbering, clung to the wheel. Traffic lights turned green in fright at his approach, open-mouthed pedestrians and protesting cyclists parted before him like the Red Sea before the staff of Moses, and in a matter of moments the pick-up had come to rest outside Poulter’s home. The engine switched itself off. Frozen in horror, Poulter stared through the windscreen as overheated metal ticked back into shape.

“What have I done? What have I done?”

Albert glanced about him. “Well, I think yer’ve driven ‘ome. This isn’t my ‘ouse, so it must be your’n.” He undid his seat belt. “Right, let’s get this cabinet off t’ back and inside, then ye’d better take the truck soomwheer and park it.” Poulter seemed incapable of movement. “Coom on, son. The filth’ll be round in a minnit!”

“The police? Oh my god!” (Somehow Poulter’s Sainted Aunt was just not adequate on this occasion). “But they’ll trace me! Their computers…”

“Aye, they’re bloody fast nowadays. So it’s a good job y’ reported it stolen yesterday, in’t it? But if yer think about it, t’ thieves aren’t likely to have brought it back to your house, so yer’d better take it soomwheer they might ha’ left it.”

“No! I mean no. You see, I didn’t report it stolen!” Poulter shook his head helplessly.

Albert ‘s leathery face creased in a slow smile. “Aye, lad. Yer did.”

Much later, when Poulter’s cabinet was safely indoors and after the police had visited him with the news they had recovered his vehicle (‘Joyriders, probably sir. We’ll need to hold onto it for forensics for a bit, but you should get it back in a couple of days’) Poulter faced Albert across his kitchen table. With the help of several pills his mood had recovered. “What was it?” He demanded. “You did that to me, didn’t you?”

“I don’t see how yer can say that! You were driving!” Albert replied. “Yer made a wish, didn’t yer? Yer got yer wish.”

Poulter’s laugh was a particularly abrasive, braying sound. “Wish? What wish? Absolute nonsense! You crossed the road without looking! I had to swerve to avoid you. After you collided with my cabinet I was unnerved – and then you were rude and aggressive about my speed. I reacted. That’s why I drove so irresponsibly!” Though this version of events had scant regard for the truth, he rather liked it. It would do no harm to reapportion some of the blame.

“Nay, lad!” Albert said quietly. “Ah weren’t hit by t’cabinet. I were inside it.”

Poulter sniggered. Then Poulter guffawed. Finally, Poulter snorted.

Albert said: “Ah’ve been trapped in theer, lad, I have.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Poulter snapped. “You simply can’t be serious!”

But Albert was serious. And the sincerity written on his face was sufficient to convince. “Yer moost ‘ave heard me knockin’, lad. Yon’ cabinet’s got a false back, see? T’crash loosened it, otherwise there’s no way out.”

Poulter shook his head. “ Oh, really! When did you get in? How long were you in there?”

“About four hundred year this time. That’s if yer stick to t’Gregorian calendar, o’ course.”

A long silence. Eventually, Poulter began to cackle, a noise that was, if anything, even more unpleasant than his snigger, or his guffaw, or his laugh. “Four centuries? Wishes? You’ll be telling me you’re a genie next!”

“Aye lad. Ah don’t like the word, but tha’s what I am. That’s me.”

“You really believe this, don’t you?” Poulter sneered. “Alright, so, if I were to wish for a royal banquet to appear before us on this table, right now, you could make it happen, I suppose.”

“I wouldn’t mind sommat to eat, if tha’s offering, but I won’t do that, no.”

Can’t do that, you mean.”

“Won’t. See, there’s a lot of competition amongst us genies, and I’ll not waste points lowerin’ me’sen to grantin’ that kind of wish. I like a challenge! Then again, tha knowst how it goes. Yer only get three wishes, don’t yer? Be careful what yer wish for. Yer got two left.”

Poulter was of a mind to make a further derisive comment, but something prevented him. After all, the events of that afternoon defied explanation. “Are you really telling me you can grant wishes? I mean, was it you who fixed it so the police thought my pick-up had been stolen?”

“Aye, that were me. Now, ‘ave yer or ‘ave yer not got sommat to eat? My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut!”

It was the least Poulter, convinced though he was that he had a madman for a house guest, could do to oblige, so he sought out some eggs and potatoes in his kitchen and began preparing a simple meal. As he worked, he called through the opened door: “How old are you, Albert?”

“I don’t rightly know. Age doesn’t come into it really. I live life in both directions, y’see – sometimes forwards in time, sometimes back. T’earliest client I can remember were near on two thousand year ago.”

“Really!” (worth another snigger) “Who was that?”

“Why, it were soom chap who had a big speech t’make. There were about five thousand in t’audience and they was all starvin’. Honestly, I didn’t want to do it, not many points in it, see? But he wished for me to feed ‘em. Five thousand fish suppers, he said. Think o’ theet!”

“And you did it anyway?”

“Aye, I had to. He told ‘em I were t’Catering Manager. They would have killed me!”
Poulter nearly set fire to his frying pan. “What else did he wish for?”

“‘E wished for a couple a’ things – used oop his three, any rate. He were a talented lad, ‘im, mind. Could do quite a bit o’ it for hisself.”

“Amazing.” Poulter said drily. “Any others I might know?”

“What d’yer want, bloody references? There were that big fat chap; you might ‘ave ‘eard o’ ‘im.”

“Fat chap?”

“Aye, called ‘isself Henry, or sommat. Wore soom right glitzy clothes but ‘e stank somethin’ awful. Not easy for a lad like that to pull.”

“Henry the Eighth?”

“That’s the chap! He wanted a bootiful Queen, he said. Ah sorted ‘im out a right tasty lass, but ‘e couldn’t hold onto ‘er. Sliced ‘er ‘ead off in the end. See, here’s the thing: you got to be so careful what you wish for, or it turns out bad. Look what ‘appened to the fella with the fish suppers!”

Poulter’s culinary efforts, rudimentary though they were, formed the foundation for a very pleasant evening. By the time Albert and he had concluded their meal, cleaned up (Albert proved almost as fastidious as Jarvis himself), and gone on a tour of the feast of collectables that Poulter kept displayed in his upstairs room, it was late. It was therefore obvious that Albert should stay overnight.

Albert surveyed the made-up bed in the spare room. “Aye, that’ll be grand!” Albert said.

After his day’s adventures sleep evaded Jarvis Poulter. Preposterous though his house-guest’s claim to status as a genie was, he could not entirely wipe the idea from his mind. The driving incident was still fresh, and would remain so for some time. So, as he often did, he read from one of the many art volumes piled upon his bedside table and, as he often did, paused to admire a picture of a favorite sculpture, that of Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’. His eager eyes devoured the graceful curves of the woman cradled in herThe Kiss lover’s arms and he thought how wonderful it must be to own such a perfect work: how magnificent it would look, as the centerpiece of his upstairs collection. How he wished…

Possibly, being so close to the edge of sleep, Poulter might not have noticed the first ominous creaking from his bedroom ceiling, but he certainly noticed the splintering explosion of timber and plaster that followed. He certainly saw the plummeting progress of what appeared, in flashing past, to be a large white boulder which would be impeded not at all by the floor of his bedroom, nor by the floor of the kitchen below that. Only God’s good earth stopped it, with a house-shuddering crash, on the concrete floor of the basement. There it rested, obscured by a veil of dust.

“By ‘eck, lad!” Albert exclaimed as he and his host stared into the crater. “Tha’ needs stronger floors than theet. Yon’ lump weights better than a couple a’ ton, tha’ knows.”

Jarvis, speechless, watched as the dust below them cleared. Broken in two by its fall, Rodin’s masterwork was still clearly recognizable. “But I didn’t wish for this!” He wailed.

“Well, yes, lad. You did. One left now, mind. Use it carefully, like!”

Poulter greeted the morning through fingers which clasped his head in abject despair. His newspaper’s headline, concerning a mysterious ‘Theft of the Century’ from the Tate Gallery, could do nothing to improve his mood.

“What do I do now?” He asked Albert, plaintively. “My house is ruined, and I have a priceless stolen artwork shattered in my cellar. Oh, my Sainted Aunt, what on earth am I to do?”

“I won’t lie to thee, lad. Yon sculpture’s goin’ t’ be missed. An’ the police’ll be wanting to know about things as go bang in the night, if you catch my drift. If I were thee I’d make meself scarce for a while.” Albert advised. But then he added: “O’ course, yer do still have one wish left…”

“Right now,” Poulter admitted. “I wish I could hide somewhere no-one would ever think of looking for me. But I don’t suppose that’d be possible, even for you.”

#

The auction house porter groaned as he saw a familiar old pick-up, with an equally familiar Moroccan cabinet aboard, waiting by the saleroom doors.

“Not again!” He said to the wiry man in overalls who emerged from the vehicle.

“’Fraid so.” Said Albert. “He wants it put in for t’next sale. Gi’ us a hand, will thee?”

“Why is it so heavy?” Complained the porter.

“Well built, lad; like me!”

After much labor the cabinet was restored to the saleroom.

“I’ll get the paperwork.” Said the porter.

“Aye. You do that.” Agreed Albert. He had already seen the large Chinese urn which stood a little further down the aisle. As soon as he was sure the porter’s back was turned he took the lid off the urn and wriggled down inside it, pulling the lid back after him.

With no-one to sign for it, the auction house agreed their best course was to sell Jarvis’s cabinet, and to donate the proceeds to charity if its owner was never traced. And so the following week’s sale saw the cabinet depart at a bargain price to a new bidder, much to the porter’s satisfaction, because thereafter that strange, troublesome knocking sound in the echoes of the saleroom would finally cease.

After a few years Jarvis’s deserted house would be sold off to a developer, when the remains of the marble sculpture would finally be discovered. It was recognized instantly, of course, but the demolition man, fearing publicity and delay, set about it with his rock spike and reduced it to hardcore.

As for the Chinese urn, it would change hands many times. Valuable as it was, no-one seemed anxious to keep it for long, and eventually it would find its way back to China where, inexplicably, its owner threw it off a cliff.

Albert has never been heard of since.

© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

May 7th – The Circus Comes to Town

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On Thursday we have a General Election. I mention this because I accept a lot of what follows may not directly interest my American friends; but stay, I beg you! Tarry awhile. You could find many parallels to your own electoral process.

To explain British politics would take at least thirty pages of long sentences strung together with endless un-comma’d clauses and extravagant jargonistic verbs which have no meaning to anyone and probably don’t enhance anyone’s understanding of the general process let alone serve to enlighten the reader as to the true nature of our historic democracy, so I won’t.

For those who are uninformed, here are the principal players – the stars, if you will.

The Conservatives

David Cameron (our existing Prime Minister and lover of the ‘Nuclear Deterrent’ – Cameron Osbornefour submarines*) and George Osborne, his Chancellor of the Exchequer (he looks after the money). Think of them as Penn and Teller, because this pair can make anything disappear (apart from the immigration problem, that is). George’s favorite trick, that of making money vanish from your pocket and reappear in his, is equaled in mystification by David’s hypnotic ability to make you believe not only that the money is still in your pocket, but that you have more of it than you did five years ago.

The Liberal

Nick Clegg (who only wants three submarines*), junior partner in coalition with Penn and Teller, usually seen prancing about the back of the stage in a yellow leotard, handing George rabbits to put in his hat.

The Socialist

Ed Milliband (what’s a submarine?), who wants to be Prime Minister, and Ed Balls Wallace_and_gromit(yes, that is the right name), who would like George’s job. Think of them as Wallace and Gromit. They are sworn to never divulge the whereabouts of the secret Money Tree, that enables them to go on handing out cash to everyone and somehow never quite run out. Like Wallace, though, Ed M. is a compulsive inventor with a penchant for dreaming up new policies almost every night. Unlike his colleagues in the Labour Party, he arrives at Westminster every morning through a system of chutes and levers operated by the faithful Balls. Due to an inconsistency in the system he is occasionally to be seen there still wearing his pyjamas.

The Viking

Viking BorisBoris Johnson. There are no portraits of Attila the Hun when he first got out of bed in the morning, but if there were the resemblance to Boris would be startling. Although slightly to the right of Churchill and outrageously privileged Boris has charisma enough to endear him to us common serfs. He treats politics as a bit of a sick joke, you see, and so do we common serfs. He is very much the man who would be King. Currently Mayor of London, Boris is widely tipped to take a parliamentary seat at this election, and David Cameron’s parliamentary seat soon after that.
Which means our beloved country will be run by an acknowledged buffoon: something I’d personally endorse for these reasons:
1. I believe all good Acts of Parliament should have a tag line.
2. No-one knows or even cares what Boris thinks about ‘Nuclear Deterrent’*.
3. Boris is the one man who really could re-negotiate our relationship with the European Union. After an hour of Boris even Angela Murkel would be reduced to compliance.
4. Liverpool hates him. That’s enough reason to vote for anyone .

The Scots

Nicola Sturgeon, witch-queen of North Ayrshire. She leads the Scottish Nationalist Party, which means she wants to rule Scotland and sail it away from England. She also hates the ‘Nuclear Deterrent’* (four submarines). The wholesale poaching of Scotland’s almost exclusively Labour-run seats will give her unique power over the next parliament, if everything goes according to her cunning plan. She will not take a seat atAlex Salmond Westminster herself, however. She will send a gnome magicked from her garden, known as Alex the Salmon because of his former pose sitting on a toadstool with a fishing rod.

The Xenophobes?

Farage CensoredNigel Farage, representing the United Kingdom Independence Party. Nigel’s politics comprise an entire manifesto of reasons for leaving the European Union. This reflects a view widely held in serfdom. His party may gain a number of seats, but his own electability is in question. He has made the basic mistake of believing it is possible to initiate any new and real change in Britain by launching a new party in the face of the relentless ‘impartiality’ of the BBC.

So, why am I troubling you with all this drivel? I suppose it must be because of the macabre fascination our Democratic System© holds for one such as I. The complications of holding a united kingdom of four constituent parts together seem mighty and disproportionate, and never more so than at General Election time.

Whatever the real issues are, we can rely upon our politicians’ failure to address them. Instead, on May 7th we will all be rolled to the polling booth in a golden coach of lavish promises drawn by prancing horses colored blue, red, yellow and green. We will faithfully put our crosses beside our respective choice knowing that when we wander back out into the Spring sunshine our coach will be a pumpkin once more and the horses will have gone back to their stable of exclusivity.

We will have performed as asked.

The establishment, the inner circle of our secretive Civil Service whose collective identity is never truly revealed, will continue to run the country as before. No promises will be kept, essentially nothing will change.

Unless, of course Nicola Sturgeon’s plan succeeds, in which case most of our legislation will be shaped by Scottish interests.

And in two years or so, four submarines will probably turn up on eBay.

* Nuclear Deterrent. Our status as a nuclear power is upheld because we have four incredibly ancient submarines docked at Faslane Naval Base in Scotland. These subs are stuffed with nuclear missiles, apparently, which they can fire from underneath the sea, although it is important to ensure the submarine is the right way up at the time.

We need new submarines, and there is some dispute as to whether we can afford them, whether we can afford another four, or whether we can make do with three. It has been a talking point for some time, this replacement of our nuclear deterrent, a case with striking similarities to a recent decision to uphold our status as a maritime power by building two new aircraft carriers. We can’t afford the planes to put on them, which seems a little bizarre to me – perhaps we could compromise on the submarines in like fashion? After all, no-one would ever know…

Real life In The Fast Lane.

frederick anderson:

I have many thoughts concerning this, but if you do nothing else, please watch the video which accompanies this post. This child, who gave so much, should have all of our attention.

Originally posted on Floyd, Times Are Changin:

Most times just going to the store can be an event that can only be coped with by getting in and out as fast as possible.    You feel like to see the curb you have to look up and you resent people getting too close to you and not being sure about their motives.   The hate and revulsion you bear is multifaceted.  For example,  my writing might be better except I find it hard to be too long in one place.   Sleep helps but I am getting older so do I want to waste too many days.

Knots

I care for people who are hurting.   I have worked at the Shriners and the CCFA and done charity events to benefit others.   That stuff is good and I am pretty humble about it,  even as I donate to special causes for the alleviation of hardship.   Outwardly…

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Mario, Maria, and Something Slimy in the Night

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It lives somewhere, in some chamber dark and drear I know not of:  I know only it must be damp, and cold, and these things are all my consolation, because it hates me and I wish it in hell.   At night it moves, sometimes silently, sometimes with barely audible stealth.  But I hear it, and I know it is preparing for the earliest hour, the coldest dawn, when it may strike.

Its spiteful cry, its impactful bang and crash wake me as certainly as it might wake the dead.   I run about the house, seeking it behind walls, beneath stairs, under floors.  I return its malevolent hammering with fists of fury and it merely laughs.  I know it laughs.

How do I know?

Because I can hear that, too.

But I have a path, a way to vengeance.  Before exhaustion overtakes me I must rush from bath to basin, from shower to sink.  I must open every faucet, turn on every tap.   Water gushes, pressure bursts forth:  my enemy groans its pain, then lapses into silence.   I turn off the taps, return to my deprived sleep.  And as I drift away I hear it, shaking off defeat to move once again…

There are few things I cannot do in a house – I re-wired a shop premises once:  I’ve relaid floors, plastered walls and yes, I have plumbed.  Lord knows I have plumbed.

A few months ago, however, in lazy mode, I let plumber in.   A professional.   This followed an unfortunate experience refitting a radiator which resulted in a minor emergency.  Nothing serious, just enough to set the blame train in motion:  I blamed the radiator, the radiator denied all responsibility – you know the sort of thing.   Anyway, the system needed flushing, another radiator had to be refitted so I allowed myself to be persuaded, and in came plumber.

He brought Gherkin with him.

Gherkin, by the way, is ‘it’.   Named after my least favorite vegetable; something small, green and slimy.  About the right size to block a pipe.

Yet Gherkin’s activities are not confined to creating blockage: no, Gherkin is also aEvil Gherkin skilled saboteur.  Since it was introduced by plumber it has been moving around, disabling everything it passes.   A minor adversary at first, it has become a dangerous enemy.

This Saturday it struck.   The Judas goat – the ‘bait’ if you will – was a perished ball valve.   No problem; simply replace the washer. A few years ago, foreseeing the need, I placed a tap in the flow pipe for a straightforward operation like this.   I turned this off, removed the valve, ignoring quiet sniggers from somewhere below, and extracted the old washer.

My tap failed.  Water came, at first dripping, then trickling, then gushing.  The more I turned off, the faster it gushed.   Race downstairs, plunge beneath kitchen sink, turn off mains.

Dryness.

At least, the flow of water was stemmed.  Absolutely nothing in the cupboard below could be described as dry.

I tried to reunite valve and pipe.  But plumber had rearranged the piping so it didn’t fit.  Let’s just give the two parts that needed to be joined names, and say that Mario’s thread refused to go anywhere near Maria’s socket.  However, after more craft, graft and wrestling than goes into the average Italian wedding I managed to achieve a union.  I turned the mains back on, stood back with a sigh of satisfaction.  Life would be normal again, at least until tonight.

We didn’t get that far.   An hour later, returning to the room with the cupboard that contained the header tank, I heard the dripping; my new union had begun to leak.  Not quickly – just quickly enough to saturate the pile of washing we had just placed underneath.

Put bowl under drip, placate the arguing partners – it’s slow, it’ll settle down, dry out.  Saturday night passed quietly.  Gherkin, apparently satisfied, allowed me sleep.  But it was plotting.

Sunday morning I returned to find a faster drip.  Decree Nisi already a distinct possibility, it wasn’t going to dry out.  I searched my stock of plumbing joints, ready to replace a whole section of piping.  A cry from my wife alerted me: the drip was becoming a trickle and increasing by the minute.  The bucket was filling.  I did not have the parts I needed, so, panicking I raced the sixteen miles to the only DIY store open on a Sunday and laid out extravagant amounts of money on new pipe and new joints.

I raced home.

The drip had stopped.   The joint was dry.

Today, the joint is still dry – I don’t know why, I hope the warring newly-weds have made up and are happy together, though I darkly suspect otherwise.  I suspect it’s dry because Gherkin is sitting right there, blocking the leak.  And one night, I don’t know when, perhaps in a few days, or a week, or even a year, it’s going to move.

Meanwhile, I pass my nights in wakefulness, deprived of rest by the quiet menace of its laughter.

Black Bird Speaks…

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Crow on a lamp post“There’s a lot to take in, y’know”

The crow is feeling philosophical.  I can tell this by his airy pose, beak into the wind, inattentive to a slice of bread pinned beneath his right foot.

“A lot of what?”   The wind is warm this morning, enabling me to open my office window.  The lamp-post upon which he is perched is close enough for us to converse, as we often do, in the season.

“Life, mate.”

“Oh, that.”  I am trying to concentrate upon my writing.  I tell him so.

“What?  You too proud to speak now?  I’ve got experience, I have:  wisdom to impart.  You should listen, you should.”

“Go on then!”  I concede with a sigh.  “What’s the matter, are you feeling your age?  Grey feathers?”

“Me?  Nah!  Years in me yet.  But when I think back on the things I seen…”  He shakes his head, takes a casual peck at his bread.  “Rubbish, this stuff.  Ready sliced – I can’t stand it.  See ya!”  And he is gone, letting the bread fall to the ground; in seconds he is no more than a Morse Code dot and dash in the mist of morning, then he is nothing at all.    Feeling vaguely dissatisfied, I return to my work.

How long passes – an hour?

Two loud pecks of a strong beak on plastic.  He is back.  “See this?”  The crow attacks the top of the lamppost with angry jabs.  “More rubbish!  Cheap, this is.  A shoddy answer.  Everythin’ slips off it!”

As if to demonstrate his point he looses his grip and his feet slide in a very ingenious imitation of a moon-walk.  I admit I was worried when, in depth of winter, two yellow-jacketed men arrived to replace the lamp unit that had been the crow’s favorite perch for so long.  And it is true that for several empty weeks he did not return.

“It’s LED.”   I inform him.

“Yeah?   Does it work?”

“Not very well.”  I reply.  But I am curious about his strange mood, which is still far-off and distracted.  “What IS the matter?  You seem depressed.”

He emits a scornful cark.  “Depressed?  Me?  You ever seen me depressed?”  Then he gives me one of his cocked head sideways looks.  “Yeah, alright.  I am, a bit.”

“Why, what is it?  Marriage problems?”

“’Er?  The Missus?  Don’t get me started!”  He hops from foot to foot, pecks vaguely at the lamp-post, then waves his beak aimlessly. “Oh, gawd!”

“She’s a very nice bird, your Missus!”

“Yeah?  You don’t have to live with ‘er, do you?  She’s never happy.  Never.   We’ve got this nice nest, see, good position, excellent aspect towards Pizza Express.  I lined it out for ‘er just last year with real nice polystyrene bits from those chip shop trays.   They smell beautiful, they do!  Do you know what I mean?”

I acknowledge that I probably do.

“Yeah.  Perfect, they are.  Insulation!  No draughts, no waterlogging.   What does she want?  Eh, what does she want?”  He pecks at the offending streetlight viciously.  “Sheepswool!  Bleedin’ sheepswool!”

I register my sympathy and disgust with a ‘tut’or two.

“Won’t lay an egg, she says, unless she’s got a full nest of new fleece units.   And when I ask her why she ain’t content with the poly trays she says it’s because they aren’t ‘in’ this year.  The Cawlies have got fleece, so she’s got to have it.  I ask you!”

“Reprehensible.”  I agree.

The crow looks at me blankly for a moment, then resumes.  “Yeah, that.  Anyway, here’s me, at my age mind you, flappin’ around the fields over at Little Leazes and sneakin’ up on those old mother ewes to get a quick beakful.   Some of the things they say are not nice.”

“I can imagine.”  I say.  “A crow in your position…”

“Exac’ly!  Exac’ly!   I got status, I have.  I got seniority.  That nest of mine…”

“It’s a nice nest…”

“Highest nest in the hanger, that is.   Any crow’d be glad to have that nest.  The kids‘ll get it when we’re gone.  But even they aren’t satisfied.  Had the nephew round the other week an’ he was talkin’ about ‘clear fly-up zones’ and those new smooth-barked trees they got down the Garden centre.”

“Eucalyptus?”

“That’s them!  He don’t want my nest, it’s old fashioned.  He wants a nest in a bleedin’ Eucalyptus!”

The crow shakes his head dismally.  “All about image, these days – all about image.  Look at you lot…”

“Ah!”  I say, having wondered how long it would be before he got around to my sorry species. “What have we done?”

“Well, you got this numbers thing goin’ on, haven’t you?  Like the more numbers you got, the better nest you get, things like that.”

Sometimes I catch up slowly.  “Explain?”

The crow squawks his impatience.  “When I want a bit of pizza I just nip down the back of Pizza Express and grab one, yes?  What do you do?  You go in the front way with all the lights and everything, stand waiting for half an hour and get one in a box.  And you give ‘em numbers for it.”

“Oh, you mean money!”

“Money, that’s right.  You use money for everything.  You never used to, did you?  You used to be like me, trading one thing for another, or nicking it if you had nothin’ to trade.  Barter, that’s what you called it, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.  How did you know that?  We used to pay for things we wanted with other things we didn’t want, like baby pigs, or sheep.”

“But now you got numbers.  So what’s happened?  You got useless big-shot humans with lots and lots of numbers….”

“Millions of them.”  I agree.

“Yeah, it’s got silly hasn’t it?  Them over-stuffed humans living in great big nests with their millions of numbers, fillin’ them with polystyrene one year, then changin’ it all for fleece the next, and swannin’ around in huge shiny boxes so they don’t have to walk, and getting’ fat and dyin’ young…”

“The way you put it, it does seem unnecessary, doesn’t it?”

“Not just that, it doesn’t work!   But – ah, but…”  He stretches a scholarly wing.  “Take away the numbers, mate, and make em’ barter, then they won’t use up nearly so much, will they?  If they has to keep millions of baby pigs instead of numbers, how stupid will that look?   See, they’ll learn to be content with what they actually need, instead of all this image stuff.   Here’s another thing…”  He fluffs up his feathers and suddenly lets loose with a very loud:  “HARRY!!!”

A startled crow on a nearby house roof nearly jumps out of his feathers.  “What?”  Harry responds.

“NUFFING!”

I would blush to record Harry’s next comment.  My crow ignores it, however.  He goes on:  “Communication, see?  Easy, innit?  Free, innit?”

“Put that way, I suppose it is.”

“Exactly!  Exac’ly!”  He has an annoying habit of dancing with amusement at his own particular brand of irony.  He does it now.  “But what do you do?  What do you humans, wiv your numbers, do?”

“Erm?”

“You chuck bails of them numbers around, five – six hundred of ‘em at a time, getting little plastic boxes with lights and colored pictures to speak to each other with.  Stupid things that gets nicked all the time, break all the time, and aren’t even any good for making nests.  And you have to have the biggest one, the best one, ‘cause of your image.”

“Well, speaking of images…”  I have realized by now that this particular rant is about mobile ‘phones,  “…they do take rather good photographs.”

I recognize the trap too late.  I have stepped right in.

“Yes!  Yes, that’s it!  You, wiv all yer numbers, you want your images.  Pictures of this, pictures of that.”

“They’re memories!”  I protest.

“Nah.  Nah they’re not!  They’re not alive, they’re not actual, living, three-dimensional, vital beings with voices and laughter and vitality – that isn’t your real nest, it’s jus’ an image of it; and it’s not to help your memory, but to show off to others, which isn’t honest, because it doesn’t let on how you constantly warred with the neighbors or how cold it was when it snowed, or how it felt in that room the day yer mother died. A picture doesn’t say that lady is that old woman’s daughter, and her smile doesn’t tell you how she resented livin’ wiv her and how she couldn’t find ‘erself a mate ‘cause she had to care for the old woman instead.”

“I’ve travelled a long way.  I’ve seen many things.  I’ve seen the orca’s leap, a beach with a hundred thousand seals, a mountain high and swathed in fog.   I’ve watched the Grey Lag Geese arrowing south and murmurations of starlingsStarlings in the Scottish Borders sweeping to roost at sunset.   Those are experiences, mate.  I’ve lived them.  When I share them with other birds I tell them what it felt like and then they can see it and feel it in their heads, so they don’t need no picture!

“And I don’t need…”  He preens a rogue feather which, in his enthusiasm, has sprung up from his back  “…no hundreds of numbers for that.”   Fixing me with a stare, he asks:  “That book you’re writing.  Is it going to have pictures?”

“No.  It isn’t.”

“There you are, then.  Ask yerself what you actually need – what makes yer happy – and then maybe the obsession wiv numbers won’t mean quite so much.   Now I got to get back to the Missus.  She’s due to lay this week and she’s got an obsession for French fries.”

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