The Makeover

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Medical research and studies

“He’s at it again!”   Muriel Hornbellows announced angrily.  “Half past seven on Sunday morning!  There’s no peace!”

Burton Hornbellows groaned and pulled a pillow over his head.  His wife’s obsession with their neighbour’s DIY activities was more irksome to him than the sound of hammering that vibrated through his bed frame.

True, since Doctor Weem had moved into their quiet Plushbrough street peace had been a much rarer commodity.   His neighbours concluded that his complete makeover of the little terraced house had to end eventually, so they tolerated the sawing, the grinding, and endless deliveries from lorries, even the one that disgorged a complete wagon full of concrete through the good doctor’s front door.  From the evidence of splintered floorboards in his back yard they deduced that he had filled his old cellar and laid the ground floor to concrete.  This despite publican Harry Bugle’s observation that, if the four lorry loads of soil leaving the property were anything to go by, the depth of the cellar must have been increased rather than filled.  Then there was the ironwork – a substantial load of steel joist – after delivery of which Weem’s windows flashed with sparks from acetylene cutters for a month and a half.

There were reasons for the doctor’s neighbours to bite their tongues, not least of which was grudging admiration, for he was working alone at what everyone supposed was a major building project behind those closed green curtains.  Then again, as their local medical practitioner, Doctor Weem had a certain power over them.  Should they be too vocal in their complaints, they feared repercussions.  His was a National Health Service surgery; dissenters could be struck off.  And anyway, it had to end soon, didn’t it?

After four years, it hadn’t.

“Look at ‘im!”  Muriel Hornbellows muttered as an aside to her neighbour Clara Gusset as the slightly built, bespectacled doctor shuffled deferentially past them on the far side of the street.  “I don’t know where he gets the energy!”

“Well, he do save a lot in prescriptions what he don’t write.”   Clara opined.  “An’ there’s a powerful lot as were regular customers for ‘un afore he came, who’s on no bugger’s list but St. Peter’s now.”

“That’s true.”  Muriel acknowledged.   “He’s lost another one.  Susan Garflute passed on t’other night.”

“No!”

“I’m tellin’ you.  One day, like that..”  Muriel made a vertical gesture with her hand.  “Next day…”

“No!”

“She only went to see him for a boil on her neck.”

In spite of its small population, Plushbrough had become a Klondike for the undertaking profession, and three new parlours had opened since the benevolently smiling Doctor Weem had taken over medical practice in the town.   His snap diagnoses were the stuff of legend – invariably inspired, and frequently wrong.   His keen diagnostic eye identified the only epidemic of dengue fever ever to strike an English country town, though he had to stoutly resist a visiting second opinion’s verdict, that of common influenza.   When Albert Sloopwater developed sickness and a cough the local water company had to counter Weem’s diagnosis of cholera, an exercise that cost them several hundreds of thousands of pounds.

At the time of Muriel Hornbellows’ Sunday morning observation a public enquiry into Weem’s competence had been in progress for some time.  There was an inevitability about the verdict it would reach, and everyone felt sure his days were soon to be numbered.  Yet there were sympathetic voices: his gentle charisma had built him a substantial vote of support and public sympathy.

“Yer house must be coming on, Doctor dear!”  Hettie Boosey challenged him, as he eyed a large television in the window of TV World speculatively.

“Nearly finished!”  Was Weem’s smiling response.

“I expect it’ll look marvellous when it’s done.”  Hettie was never shy of an opportunity.  “You’ll have to invite me round, dear.  I’m good with wallpaper, you know.”

Speculation was rife.  Whenever the doctor was known to be in surgery, a small gathering would form outside his home, probing for a peek between those thick green curtains.

“It’ll be minimalist, certainly;”   Gwen Hawkes opined.  “He’s a minimalist man, you can see that, can’t you?”

Jack Spencer was of a different opinion:  “More of a brutalist approach, I’d say.  And industrial – yes, industrialist!”  Jack saw himself as a man with a superior artistic sense.  “All that concrete, you know.  And a lot of sheet metal he had delivered the other day, didn’t he?”

While the British Medical Association minutely scrutinised Doctor Weem’s unusual record, his neighbours watched his remodelling efforts with equal intensity.  But everyone missed the two large lorries that slipped quietly up to his house at three-thirty one morning.  They made their deliveries silently, they departed unnoticed.

The next morning Doctor Weem found two visitors waiting at his surgery.   One wore a police uniform.

“We’ve been looking into your past, Doctor.”  The suited man from the BMA told him severely.  “And you haven’t got one, have you?  No medical training, no qualifications, and no previous experience as a general practitioner; although we suspect you are the Mr. Harbinger who passed himself off as a consultant cardiologist at St. Bretts in 1998.  Anything to say?”

Doctor Weem had nothing to say.  His patients were sent home and so, after lengthy questioning and a successful application for bail, was he.   He was watched accusingly as he entered his front door, locking it behind him.

“I told you so!”   Hettie Boosey said triumphantly.

“I knew right from the start!”  Said Clara Gusset.  “He’s a wrong  ‘un, that ‘un, and no mistake!”

“Maybe us’ll get some peace now!”  Muriel Hornbellows said, gratefully.

She was mistaken.

The rumble began at two o’clock the next morning.   Merely a threat at first, like distant thunder, it grew to an earth-shattering, ear-splitting crescendo.   What at first was a vibration in Burton’s bed frame became a shaking of epic proportions, so violent Muriel could not keep her feet to get to her window – and this alone was fortunate because had she done so the white light would surely have blinded her.

Mortar loosened, glass splintered, chimney stacks tottered.  The parked cars in the street were tossed into the air.  In a final orgy of quaking noise the little houses around the residence of Doctor Weem were flattened like a procession of dominoes, and Muriel, along with Hettie, Clara, Jack, Gwen and many others did find the peace they had been seeking.

So the undertakers of Plushbrough rubbed their hands together, ready to reap the good doctor’s final harvest, and alone of all the street, Burton Hornbellows – saved by his iron bedstead – stood gazing dumbly at the vast crater that was all that remained of Doctor Weem’s house.  It took him a while, shocked as he was, to understand the meaning of the concrete pit within that crater, but at last he found an answer.  He raised his eyes to the heavens and he almost laughed.

The strange radar signal remained on screens at several tracking stations in the northern hemisphere for some days, but it was slowly fading and, with other more important projects to pursue, was soon forgotten by the scientific community.

As for Weem, I cannot tell you – I simply don’t know.   That his crude, almost comic home-built launch platform actually worked is beyond doubt.  Something contributed that faint signal.  Did he survive?  If he did, for how long?  We’ll probably never find out.  But, sorry as I am for those his extreme focus destroyed, I sort of like to think of him in his capsule out there among the glory of the stars, polishing steam from his glasses so he might better see Jupiter or Neptune, with his face set in that gentle, respectful smile.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  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.

 

 

 

 

 

Blackpool Rock

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Had he expected it?  The poppy-reddened fields where he had played, half a century ago, unchanged?  The lake in the disused quarry, the village hall at Benton crossroads, with flagstone roof and walls of Victorian brick, still standing?   Looking rejuvenated, if anything, by the bright afternoon sun.

He drew up beside the wooden notice board nailed to its crumbling wall, grey-pasted with faded parish notices, and still hanging at that slightly misjudged angle, almost exactly as he remembered it the summer before university.  He let his mind take him back, through those peeling doors that were just as he had thrust them open one Tuesday night, so many years before, and he remembered his dread as he sidled into the old brick building, oozing the furtive reluctance of youth, feeling the embarrassment of his tight, badly-cut jeans.  Village hall melees were not for him, not then.  Saturday night dancing was for him; local tribute Eddy Cochran (Ronnie Blass, baker’s assistant) tying himself in agonised knots on a creaking wooden stage.  Three-four time – not always on time, but loud.  Primal and wild.

Not the Women’s Institute.

They were all so old.  Portly ladies in portly clothes; teacups and nudges, secret buzz.  Contralto bees.

“What d’you want, love?”   Annie Riley, her enormousness bulged beneath rose-print on white.  “Did your mum send you?”

“Leaflets.”   He had muttered unintelligibly.

“You what, dear?”  Sherry Harbottle, as thin as Annie was fat.  Shrunk shank beneath a black frock that hung about her like a shroud.  “Oh, bless him!  He’s shy!”

Beetroot soldiers shinning up  their siege ladders.  He could not stop them.

“Oh, he’s blushing now!  Bless him!”

“I want the leaflets.”  He said, oozing defiance.  “My ma says I’m to deliver them tonight.”

“Oh, them!”  Annie was already turning away.  “I left ’em in the kitchen.  Out there.”   She waved at the door of a tiny room from which trays of tea were known, periodically, to erupt.

His path to the kitchen was long and circuitous because, like Kipling’s dormouse, he followed the wall, afraid to step into the middle of the room.  He plunged through its closed door like a mariner abandoning a stricken submarine.   Eyes glued to the floor, he took a moment to realise he was not alone.

“Oh goodness!   Excuse me!”  The owner of an exposed thigh hurriedly brushed her dress down to cover a refastened suspender.  A young woman; a plain blue dress.  She glared at him.  “Couldn’t you knock, or something?”

“Sorry!  Sorry!”  He spluttered, vermillion rising.  “I didn’t know… I got to take the leaflets, see?”

Severe eyes pinned him for long enough to be satisfied of his mortification.  “That’s them.”  She nodded towards a neat pile on a shelf.

“Thanks.”  He made to take possession of the leaflets.

“I was making the tea.”  She gestured towards a huffing industrial-sized urn.  “Don’t drink it, whatever you do.”

“No, I won’t.  I can smell it.”  He glanced at her face, his skin alive with embarrassment.  He looked long enough to see a strong jaw, a wide, rather thin mouth, and pale cheeks.  Horn-rimmed spectacles disguised frank but nervous eyes.

“I got to deliver them, see?”

“What, the teas?”  Her voice was edgy, quite deep.

“No, them.”  He waved the leaflets.  Then, in a moment of bravery:  “What’s your name then?”

“Me?”   She seemed genuinely unsure if there was someone else in the room;  “I’m Mary.   I make the tea.”

“Yeah?  Hello Mary!”  He felt suddenly confident.  “Are you one of them, then?”  He nodded at the door.

“Yes, I joined.  The Women’s Institute’s a good way to get to know people.”  She recited.

“I’m Malcolm.”  He introduced himself.  “I don’t remember seeing you around the village.”

“I don’t get out very often.”  How old was she?  She might be twenty-five or six; but she had the naiveté of a seventeen year old, and she was painfully shy.  Two little pink blots had appeared on her cheeks.  But then she had cause, he supposed.  He had seen more of her underwear than was polite.

“You’re staring!”  She accused.

“Sorry, Mary.  So, how are you getting on with the old….with the ladies of the WI?”

“They asked me to make the tea. This is my third meeting and I’ve made the tea each time. That’s all they seem to want me to do.   I think you’re leaning against the biscuits.”

“Oh sorry!”  He said again, blenching at his oft-repeated apology.  “Custard creams, eh?”

“They’re allowed one each.”

“Would you come out with me Thursday?”

She was waiting outside the little whitewashed cottage when he had called for her, blinking through those thick glasses, mousey brown hair drawn back in a modest bun, champagne-coloured frock and little brown handbag clasped before her.   He spent the last of his weekly pay on a movie.  Afterwards, as they walked back the mile from the late night bus, he had ventured to put an arm around her shoulder. She neither resisted nor broke her stride.   At her door their eyes shared a silent moment.

“Well, thank you very much.”  She said.

“Can I see you again?”

She seemed a little astonished.  “If you like.”

Mary almost ran, slipping indoors by the doorjamb as if she was frightened to fully open it.  The lock clicked behind her.

And this was the place.  That was the door.  As he had driven from the village hall another four hundred yards to her home the sky clouded over and rain began quietly.  Wind-blown, it flecked the windscreen like tiny splinters.   Malcolm tapped the wiper switch impatiently, as though to lose sight of those white cottage walls with their solemn brown front door even for a second would be too important.   In his head he recounted each detail as if he defied it to be altered.  It was not.

Sighing, he repeated a question he had asked himself so often down the years: why had he  persisted in his pursuit of Mary, that summer when he was seventeen?   And why had he never forgotten her?  Was it the sight of a graceful leg that began an obsession in him?  No, despite the gaucheness of his tender years, that was not the image of her that dominated his mind.  It was the memory of a day, and a look.

They dated sporadically at first.  His friends teased him.

“Did I see you out with your mum again last night, Malc?  I can let you have a paper bag if you want one.”

At each meeting he learned a little more about her.  She lived with her father, she spoke of her home life often.  She told him about her cat, of the flowers she loved to grow.   Were it not for the wooden set of her expression and a hint of cynicism in her voice he might have thought her happy in her world, but something nagging at his brain had persuaded him otherwise.

One hot sunny afternoon as they sat on a grass bank above the lake he turned his head to kiss her.  She did not resist, nor did she respond.

“Why did you do that?”

“Because I wanted to.   I still want to.”

Mary stared at her knees.  “How old are you?”

“I’m – nineteen.  How old are you?”

“You shouldn’t ask a lady her age.”

Thereafter a kiss became part of their ritual which they observed, routinely, whenever there was a private moment.  As summer passed Malcolm became bolder until once, on the evening bus, he ventured to put his hand on that familiar leg.  She seemed unmoved by his gentle grip, yet she allowed it.  They walked the final mile to her home.

“My Dad’s going away on Wednesday.”  She said suddenly.  “Do you want to come round?”

By the Wednesday afternoon his hand was shaking so much he could hardly press her doorbell.  She answered in her dressing gown, taking his hand to draw him into the subdued light of a living room heavily decorated in green patterned wallpaper and bluntly furnished.  A fat, comatose cat stretched out on the windowsill, head against the nets.

“I don’t really know much about this.”  She confessed, as if she was addressing a task – a challenge she had set herself.

In her tiny upstairs room with afternoon sun beating on the coverlet he taught her the little he knew.   They were students in a shared experience, inexpert and mercifully brief; yet afterwards she clung to him as if he were life itself.

The rain on the car roof became a rhythm, a cascade of memories in heavy drops splashing, a milky mist rising from the warm road.  Malcolm’s car’s wipers swept the windscreen in regular gestures.   That had been the first time.  Up there.  The casement window above the brown front door.  After so long, could those curtains really be the same?

When, as now, his imagination took him back to that summer he remembered it as a time of joyful nakedness and entanglement, of thirst and gratification.  Only in times of sadness could he regret how few were those bejewelled afternoons when Mary’s father, a man he never got to meet, was away.   And when their physical union happened it was frequently awkward, mannerly and restrained, but reflection had persuaded himself otherwise.  He had always been ruled by passion, so the lie was important to him.

“Why do you like me so much?”  Mary asked him once, on one of those glittering days.

“Because – because you’re beautiful.” He let his eyes feast on the slenderness lying beside him, because it was a question he had to answer in himself.  “You’re just – beautiful.”

She reached for her spectacles from the bedside table, so she could see him better. She would squint without them.  “I’m not beautiful.  I’m plain.  I’m ugly.”

The self-loathing behind the words shocked him.  “No!  No you’re not!  Not to me.”  He tried to kiss her, and she turned away.

“You’re seeing someone who isn’t there.”  She told him.

“She’s there.”  He insisted.  “She’s buried deep, where maybe not everyone can see her.  But I can; and when she’s happy and she lets it show – then her eyes shine like raindrops in the sun, and all the beauty spills out.  Some people paint beauty on themselves each morning, but they’re really twisted and hideous underneath.  Not you.  You have loveliness written right through you.”

“Like a stick of Blackpool rock!”  She laughed a rare laugh, then kissed him with rare spontaneity.  “Remember you said that.  Even if you didn’t really mean it, don’t ever forget it, alright?”

Had he really meant it?  After summer was over and he had gone to his further education he frequently accused himself of using her, of blinding himself to truths she accepted only too easily.  At university he found love that gave itself more freely, that possessed greater beauty, yet was never so profound.  As other memories were made and afterwards faded, hers was constant.  And with the years, yes, even through the married years, it survived.

So here he was, forty-two years later, parked on the road opposite her door.  There, just there by the hollyhocks, they had said their goodbyes.   There, on that precise spot, his heart had filled with sorrow at their parting and he had said the three words.  One of a very few times in his life he had said them.

Mary had stared into his eyes with an earnest darkness that made his heart stop.   “We’ll love a memory then.  Keep it precious for us, yes?”

“I’ll write to you.”

“No, you won’t.”  She would have turned away without so much as a farewell kiss had he not insisted.  And he saw her reasons, saw the bitterness, the self-disgust – saw tears behind those heavy lenses.    He felt the sob in her throat.

Malcom eased himself to a more comfortable position in his car seat.  Rain thrashed the roof now.  Accusation.  A flagellation; a penance.  She was right, of course.  He never wrote to her, even when the nights were their longest and his loneliness at its most intense.  Oh, how fresh were the images in his mind – of that look, of those tears!  In all the time he had known her, she had been unable to give herself entirely to him.   Only when it was too late had those magic words breached  her defences enough to show how she had hoped, and striven, perhaps, to return his love.

He had no family now; here, or anywhere close.  He thought of his wife, and the sad, lonely stone that was her final home.  He thought of his children in their nests at the far corners of the big world, and then he thought of Mary, and how much of life he had missed.  With a great sense of destiny, he opened his car door.

“Who the hell are you?”   The man on the threshold stared at Malcolm as if he somehow recognised that face, but with the darkness and the rain he could not place a memory.  “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“I wondered if Mary Marshalsea still lived here?”  Malcolm said.

“Mary?”  The man pushed anxious fingers through a thinning head of hair.  “You…you’re looking for Mary?”  His eyes met Malcolm’s.  How old would he be – about forty, or forty-two, maybe?  “Yes, she still lives here.  She’s not home, though, I’m afraid.”

A silence dropped like a curtain between the two men.  Facing each other, each confused, surprised, a little frightened, each at the dawn of a truth in the raining night.   Malcolm picked his words carefully.  “And Mister Marshalsea?  Is he at home?”

“Look, I don’t know where you got your information.  There’s no Mister Marshalsea, never was, unless you’re referring to my grandfather.  He died about twenty year ago.”

The man dredged up a few ingots of aggression.  “See here, I ain’t going to stand in my door no longer.  If you want my mother you’ll find her at the village hall.  She goes up there early on Tuesday evenings.   It’s Women’s Institute tonight, see?  She makes the tea.”

His heart beating a little faster, his mind crowded with possibilities, Malcolm turned his car and retraced the road to Benton crossroads.   Outside the village hall he drew to a halt.  In his mind he saw her, as she had been in that distant time, busying herself among the cups and the custard creams.  He saw the heavily rimmed spectacles, those earnest eyebrows, that firm, slightly too prominent jaw.  And he remembered.

“We’ll love a memory then.  Keep it precious for us, yes?”

He saw the peeling paint on the closed doors, the old notice board with its bleached messages.  He might have heard or imagined the faint clink and rattle of crockery from within.

He slipped his car back into gear, and drove on.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard Assessment Tests

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Today the nation’s 6-7 and 10-11 year olds (years two and six) will set off for school knowing they have got ‘exams’.

Whether it is reasonable to ask that children so early in their educational development MH900439442should be subjected to pressures associated with standard assessment testing is an open debate.  It certainly deserves a carefully constructed reply.  And we can discount anything issued in statements from the relevant government departments, such as:  ‘These are merely assessments, they will not impinge upon your child’s prospects for future education’ and ‘There is no cause for concern’.

Yeah, right.

‘Don’t worry’ is a standard treatment.  When you hear it from an elected official; worry.

And if we are asked to believe that every child who sallies forth this morning will not do so with their equivalent of that same official platitude ringing in their ears, that is the strong ‘encouragement’ of their ambitious parents, we are being accused undeservedly of naivety.   In a child’s world, parents are officialdom; anxiety to please is a pressure, and competition is a test of those friendships and attachments so important at this formative age.

When will Academia finally admit it does not understand its own market place?  When will ‘elected’ politicians accept that not everything is determined by a league table or a series of ‘targets’?  It might be great for modern marketing, but it is not for kids.

In a sense, I have a stake in this.  But at the same time I have to emphasise I am somewhat unusual in my antipathy towards ambition and material greed.   So, in another sense, I have no personal axe to grind.

When I was a child of ten or eleven, there was an instituted testing system called the ‘Eleven Plus’.  All children of my time (other than those in private education) took this test, and upon its results went on to Grammar or Secondary School education.  I failed it.

Did that shape my future education?   You bet it did.  Did it prejudice my career choices?  Absolutely.

It was another twenty years before I sat another test to uncover what apparently someone, somewhere, missed.  I took the Cattell IQ test for British Mensa and passed with an IQ of 160, placing my IQ rating in the top 0.5 percent of the population.  At the time, as for most of my adult life, I was running my own business.  It did not affect me then, nor does it now.   This year I resigned my Mensa membership because I have been inactive for some years.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I enjoyed my education, probably because it did not stretch me to the maximum.  I have spent the rest of my life trying to compensate for that deficiency.  I became the head boy of my school and took a number of examinations when I left, but they alone could not help me recover the lost ground the Secondary Ed. label produced.  I repeat, it did not matter so much to me.  I was a child of the ‘sixties.

I am upset, nevertheless, to see our education model slithering surreptitiously back in the direction of that late ‘fifties early ‘sixties model.  For some reason we feel it is essential that our education targets match those of China or Japan, that somehow we have to ‘lead the world’ in education.  Our case is not the same.  Our children are not, by and large, striving to rise from abject poverty, and the society waiting to welcome them is not so narrow it can only encompass an intake of youthful genius.  The extreme danger is that it will become so.  One of the immense advantages of Western civilisation is its sense of breadth and balance.  If we lose that through an attempt to embrace Academia as a growth industry rather than a service we risk narrowing our personal focus.

Therein lies insanity.

 

 

 

Horror on the Trans-Pennine Express

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Last weekend fate decreed I take a journey on a railway train.  I have an ambivalent relationship with railway trains.Gresley

On the one hand, I cannot be unmoved by the sight of a rushing beast as it pounds across an open landscape; a silver streak, as determined as a serpent in pursuit of unseen prey.   Although never one of that sad, damp cluster of youths who gathered for hours of waiting on platforms with notebooks and pencils numbly clutched for a glimpse of the ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’, I admit steam locomotives inspired awe in me.  And the power that moved so many to anorak-dom is, to some extent, with me still.   Gone are the smoking demons with their cannonades of fiery breath, but the size is still there, the speed burgeons; and we are all, in some degree, impressed by speed, aren’t we?

There is another hand, though.  I am rarely a passenger now.  Those platforms and the icy blast of a north-westerly in the first light of morning or the last tick of the midnight clock have lost their charm.  So has the companionship that comes with a shared cause, the excitement of spotting a roaring, steam-belching Standard Class 9F hauling wagons in an endless caravan through Exeter St. David’s or a Princess Class breathlessly trundling the more usual 12 carriages into position on platform 5.  Gone are the days.  The loudest sound this morning is the scream of protest from my credit card as I pay my fare.  Trains all look alike these days – or they do, at least, to me.

The ruthless efficiency of modern rail travel should be anathema to one whose roots are so firmly planted in the steam age:  should be, but not.   There is something astounding about the 12:14 to Plymouth which actually arrives at 12:14; something even more profoundly impressive about the smooth, quiet comfort of the journey – mobile phones and tablets notwithstanding.   I enjoy the efficiency, but equally I am quietly gratified when something goes just a little bit wrong.

Oh yes, it still happens!

Back to the weekend and myself, settling down to a comfortable transition from York to Manchester Piccadilly on a train that calls itself royally the ‘Trans-Pennine Express’, which is really a collection of carriage units fused together – a sort of multi-bendy-bus on rails.  With everything so linked, there is an element of shared experience that can surprise.  And surprise it did.

Our departure was a little delayed.  The train’s announcer was extremely apologetic and very precise.  “As those passengers who have ridden with us from Scarborough will be aware, a passenger was taken ill, requiring the train’s toilets (note the plural) to be cleaned.”

Amusement, at first.   Sardonic smiles induced by excess detail.  Did we really need to know?

Well, yes.

“Because of this, passengers who need our facilities are requested to only use the toilet in Carriage B.  We apologise once again for this inconvenience.”

So the train waited a little longer at York, while I watched earnest staff with cleaning apparatus (no, no full body suits) bustling back and forth.  I also wondered, assuming the train would have at least five or six (let’s use gentle language) rest rooms, just how peripatetic our erstwhile sickly passenger had managed to be?  In the throes of a dose of the trots, just how much trotting can actually be involved?

Finally the train moved.  The engines gave their initial burst of energy.  The air conditioning kicked in.  Remember my observation about closely linked carriage units?   If we needed any more immediate reminder of this poor passenger’s misfortune it was delivered to us, pungently, by courtesy of the aircon.   It was an aroma swift to spread, intense, and slow to disperse.  I shall remember it for a while yet.  So will everyone who rode that train.  We arrived at my destination on time, whereupon the announcer advised everybody who wanted to travel on to change to another train that was lined up and waiting for them because “This unit really has to be taken to the depot for maintenance.”  The only entertainment that remained was in relaying that message to a very friendly but equally resolute family of travellers from overseas who wanted to stay with the train they assumed would take them on to Manchester Airport.  The problem was one of communication.  No-one could work out what language they spoke.

So I reached my journey’s end, reflecting that no matter how effective the tools, the railway system of now is as vulnerable, in its way, to disruption as ever it was.   Where the mass transportation of people is concerned, it always will be.   Technology may provide the key to infallibility, but someone, somewhere will always be available to tap the wrong key.

The attraction – yes the attraction – of railway travel in the past may have been lent the rose tinted lens of time, but I recall it with some pleasure.  Despite the absence of ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’ whenever I was around, smoky old carriages pushed by a sad tank engine , as far from the big blue A4 as the mutt chewing chicken bones from our dustbin is removed from Crufts’ triumphant West Highland Terrier, held romance for me.

The British temperament, you see, is not equipped to deal with the open-plan nature of modern transport.  Our railway history was writ in conveyances made up of compartments – partitions and doors to defend us from the public gaze.  We might be forced to share our seating space with six or seven fellow travellers, but we would never be required to speak to them.  We would be content to sit on seats stuffed with horsehair by smoky windows that opened wide enough to wave a brolly at a reticent porter, as long as we could complete the Times crossword before we reached Waterloo.   There would be no inconvenient air-conditioning smells, nor would passengers be confined to only one rest room.   There was no air conditioning, and if there was a communication corridor (which there was, sometimes) each carriage would have facilities – and sometimes they worked.

Arrival?   The timetables were always elaborate and often comprehensible; but they were more inclined to wishful prognosis than achievable goal.   12:14?   Possible, but unlikely.   This afternoon?

Yes, very probably.

Have I finished this piece?

Yes.  Very probably…

 

One little lonely moment on the train from Brisbane to the coast, and just like that

Some poetry is good, some bad, and some – like this – inspired. From Simon Kindt…

Simon Kindt

I am back on the train to Mount Koya
watching an old man at the station,
tending to the little gas lamp flames
that keep the points from freezing shut
while behind him, another man pulls branches
from the drying stack outside the shed, sings
and stokes the stove that keeps them both
from freezing in the air.
And here we are again —
hands sifting through a language
to describe two men tending to their fires
while I think about a cedar tree —
how it holds the fall of snow
and how a history is written in its rings.

Is there a name for the sound of snow
descending through the still?
Or the way a trail cut into a hill insists,
even as it fades and disappears, on being
followed?

I think I have spent a great deal of this life looking
for ways to leave the…

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A Humble Opinion

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Maybe it’s me; I guess it is.

I thought that the medical profession was motivated by vocation – a desire to make the sick well and defend the most vulnerable in our society.   Its values, as I perceived them, were founded upon an ancient and sacred oath.  In return for that vocation, society tends to pay its medical professionals as well as it can.  They enjoy a higher standard of living than most of us, a greater degree of respect, and a greater degree of job satisfaction.

Perhaps I set my standards too high, and perhaps the world is moving on from a place in which we can expect to be healed – I don’t know.  But it does upset the balance of my respect when I see members of the noblest of professions represented by university yearlings waving placards in the best traditions of the Socialist Workers’ Party.  And I do wonder if they realise how ingeniously they are being used.

Today they elected to strike.  That is, they decided to withdraw the conditions of their oath from ordinary people far less well remunerated, with far less reward, than themselves.  They showed themselves prepared to allow a risk of death to we poorer folks in order to advance their cause.

I have this message.

It is personal – forgive me.   It contains some anger.  Again, forgive me.

 You might not like the government, but a majority as defined by our voting system elected them and that contains at least an essence of democracy.  So, sorry, I thought the elected government’s mandate was to run the country?  I don’t remember voting for the British Medical Association, and I don’t expect them to hold the elected government or my health to ransom.  Yours is a political strike, heartless and cynical, with no regard for the nobility of the profession you decided to adopt.  It is not motivated by concern about additional hours, it is all about the possibility you might have to accept a reduction in your ‘Premium Payment’ for weekend working, and your case holds a colander-full of water, because even within your own profession nurses, care workers etc., a lot more poorly paid than you, do not share those privileges.   Stop whingeing and get back to work!

I understand some of you have threatened to resign over this issue.  I personally believe (if that is not merely a disguise for setting forth in private practice) you should.  If you lack that much dedication I would rather not be subjected to your ‘care’.

And who knows?  After you have had some experience of the real world and smelled the coffee, your attitude might change?

Eavesdropping on Elephants

Com’on everybody – add your voice to the cause! Reblogged from wildlifesnpits,

WildlifeSNPits

I’ve made it no secret that forest elephants are hidden giants, concealed by the vast canopy cover of Central African forests. To study them, one has to get creative. For me, it was collecting dung. For Dr. Peter Wrege, it’s sound. Wrege’s background is cemented in bird behavior, but for the past decade he has been heading the Elephant Listening Project, an organization to study and protect elephants using their sounds. I was able to see Wrege speak recently and will share with you some of the amazing work of the Elephant Listening Project.

391305_10150376348940841_1421604349_n Forest elephants I was able to observe during my Ph.D. research in Lope National Park, Gabon.

You may be thinking that elephants only make one sound, their trumpet, and that most of the time they are quiet. They are actually quite chatty, but most of the calls they make actually sound prehistoric and are more difficult…

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The Patient Sea

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waiting for the sun to setThe dusk had reached a late, frosted luminosity, as yet too bright to submit to the superiority of the car’s headlights.  A red line topped the western hills where the sun had been, a thin amber voile that misted from it faded upwards into deep blue.  Above the driver’s head the vault of sky he could not see was probably dark by now.  There were probably stars.  Was there a moon tonight?  He could not remember.

Ten more miles.

Davy knew his way too well; far, far too well.  He knew the last bend that parted the black mass of  woodland like a curtain.  Beyond, furniture of high buildings and a carpet of town lights, their crazed lines marching across one another to the blinking, blackening sea; and the sea quiescent beyond them, its patience infinite, waiting.  Far-off, a lighthouse thrust a spoke of brightness across the sky – a slowly rotating lance, its beam questing but finding nothing – nothing but clouds, white and ghostly, mildly put out at its disturbance of their privacy.

Oncoming cars, vans, lorries, flared past, a ceaseless procession; some blinding, some not.   There would be a turning soon.  A meeting of roads.

And a decision.

An hour ago he had driven from the airport knowing that he must arrive at this place, and now it was before him he could not suppress the eagerness in his heart.  Beneath a bridge the motorway; a glowing train of busy traffic beckoning, a magic carpet ride to hearts that welcomed him, love it was his place to accept.  Turn here, and in only a few hours his car wheels would crush the gravel of that familiar drive.  Love, food and rest:  he need only make that turn.

And yet…

As if other arms controlled the wheel – as if neither car nor mind were truly his – he did not turn.   The bridge guided him instead above the motorway, towards the town.

He knew his way here, too.  The wide main street, the sea road, San Bernardo Towers, the Cherrington Hotel standing gaunt upon its own headland, a little avenue with its attendant lines of beech trees, and in a line of cream-washed villas a cream-washed villa with a curving drive.  A door flung wide, arms flung wide.

“Davy!  Davy you darling!  What a surprise! How wonderful to see you!  My lord you look different, you do!  Have you grown?”

Belle, big and laughing, her ursine hug so warm and sincere:  how often had she greeted him with these same glad tears?  Had he eaten, had he been away?   “There was one of those news feed things about you.  Were you really in Hollywood?  You’re quite the star, aren’t you?  You’ll stay for supper.  You will.”

“Thank you.  I was on my way home.  I just had to say hello, to remind you I was still alive.  I’m not really a star, you know.  Far from it.”  He added deferentially.

“But you’ll stay for supper?”

Through the front door with its Deco geometry, into the hall and familiar glow.  Parquet honey floor, walls half panelled in oak, half painted in Buckingham cream; stairs to a higher floor.  Davy raised his eyes.   “Do you still let the room?”

“You know, I think you were my last tenant!  It’s just a store-room now.  We inherited some money when Robert died.  I’m quite comfortable these days.  Do you want to see it?”

HIs fingers played upon the smooth polish of the banister rail.  “No.  I’ll rest content with the memory.   Look, I mustn’t keep you….”

“Don’t be silly!  I have a pasta already prepared, and it’s Friday night, you know?   Una and Ros will be here any minute, I should think.”

Ah, he thought.  “You still have your Friday nights, then?”

He had expected, or hoped it would be so.  That was why he was here, was it not?  Or why he dreaded to be here?

The living room was still the same – chintz and comfort.  They ate pasta on their laps, talked with their mouths full.  Belle was effusive.  “You’ve changed so much, you know!  Filled out – and I don’t mean that unkindly.  I almost didn’t recognise you, Davy.”

“I was a student when I was here.  Students are always thin.”

The lean years.  The hours of practice in that little upstairs room.  The drama school with its impassioned principal, the desperate gathering of hopeless aspirants hanging on her every epigrammatic jewel.  How would he ever have risen from such beginnings were it not for Belinda’s father:  his contacts, his coaching?  It was often said of Davy’s profession that success was thirty percent talent, seventy percent luck.  Luck had come in the form of a party one Islington night, and the beguiling black eyes of Belinda.  Luck was a promise – she would be playing in her father’s production at the Haymarket and Davy would get the juvenile lead.  Then another promise.  They would marry in the spring.  Was the second conditional upon the first?

Sated, Davy was only vaguely aware of the doorbell’s call.  Perhaps he was thinking of Belinda and how soon he would be with her.  Just two hours away she would be waiting, expecting him.  He would be late, and he knew the cruelty of this wilful neglect.  He needed to be cruel.

“You remember Davy, don’t you?”  Belle was urging Una forward, her hand in the small of the petite German frau’s back.   Davy smiled.  Yes, they had met once or twice.  Una; shy, quiet, burbled acknowledgement.   “And Ros?   You remember Davy?”

He smiled as a reflex.  He smiled to cover his pain, seeing his hurting mirrored in Rosalind’s eyes – a flicker, no more.  But her response was steady.  “It’s been a long time.”   She said.

“How are you?”

“Oh, quite well.”

Belle’s smiling eyes flitted from Rosalind to Davy; as eyes might when following verbal combat.  Belle would have gossip to share later.

“Let’s have drinks.”  She suggested.

It was an evening of tales, of questions gently rebuffed, impertinences humorously countered, reminiscence and reflection.   Trivial Pursuit around Belle’s rosewood table and red wine to sip away the hours.  Davy, whose presence the older women found exotic, needed to do little to fulfil expectations other than be there, yet there was a wire about him, a tautness they might not expect.  Rosalind was quiet, almost withdrawn.  She spoke rarely.  Davy’s eyes kept finding her.  She avoided their gaze, although she could not mistake their meaning.

Time slipped by.  Twice Davy’s mobile phone vibrated in his pocket, twice he ignored it.  The women’s conversation washed around him, buoyed him up on its eddies and swirls, yet failed to disguise Rosalind’s icy silence.

The clock in the hall struck ten.   “I should go.”  Rosalind said.  “I have to start early tomorrow.  I work Saturdays now, you know.”

Davy affected a sigh.  “Me too.  I promised I would be in Dorchester long before this.”

Belle was genuinely alarmed.  “Davy, you can’t!  You’ve been drinking, my dear.”

“Only a little.  I’ll take a turn on the Esplanade first, to freshen up.  Then I’ll come back for the car.  I won’t disturb you.”

“You dear boy!  I’ve found you, and all at once I’m losing you again!”

“I found you, remember?  And I will again. Thank you for tonight, Belle.”

The villa released Rosalind, and Davy beside her, from its grasp.  A chill October breeze came off the sea.

“I thought I might take a stroll along the Undercliff.”  Davy said.

“You know I go home that way.”  Rosalind said.

“Let’s walk together then.”

“Yes.”  She wore a long coat with a high collar that framed her face and tucked in below her chin.

“You still live in Bardshire Crescent?”

“Yes.”

He complimented himself on his memory.  She struck out ahead of him, leaving him to watch the easy grace of her gait and listen to the rhythmic click of her heels on the paving.  “You needn’t follow.”  She murmured over her shoulder, as though she did not want him to hear.

“May I not, then?”

Her shrug was unconvincing.  “As you please.”

Where the avenue ended their road merged with a short, steep hill that led to the beach.  At the foot of the hill, no more than fifty yards away, stood the entrance to the pier, still alive, even in deepening winter, with the promise of light.  Stretching out like an accusing finger over the black water it dangled an invitation Davy was tempted to accept.   “Would you care for a walk on the pier?”

“It’s closed.  It’s winter, or haven’t you noticed?”

“Then why all the illumination?”

“I have no idea.  Maybe they just want to remind you there are some roads that have only one ending.”

Rosalind’s stride was rapid.  Davy, struggling to keep up with her, had to remind himself of the distance, the mile that followed the margin of the sea – the black, black sea that slipped and muttered in the shadows, patiently waiting.  Around him, streetlights that had no street (for no vehicles might use this road), interminable rows of beach huts, the rise of cliff, and the glitter of hotels above it.   Distant streetwise youths boomed on accelerators, anxious sirens spoke of pursuit.  Above him the sky – the moonless sky.

“At some point,”  She stopped so suddenly he almost fell into her.  Her tone was venomous. “You’re going to tell me our meeting like this was accidental.  You’re going to tell me you’d forgotten about Friday nights, aren’t you?”

Taken aback, Davy found himself leaning against the balustrade, and avoiding her challenge by staring out into the dark.  Far off, a navigation light blinked.  Further off, the beam of the lighthouse continued its unending swing.  “I’m not going to tell you that.”  He said.

“Then why, David? What are you doing here?  If you knew, or if you thought…”

“Maybe I didn’t think!”  He interrupted her.  “Maybe I had no idea what I was doing.   Maybe…”

“So you just roll up!  You just roll back the years as if nothing – nothing ever happened between you and this town; between…”

“Us?”

“Yes, us.”  Rosalind glared at him.  “My god, in the middle of a freezing night and leaning against that rail you still manage to look like a lounge lizard.  Didn’t I read somewhere about someone’s impending marriage?  Yours, if I’m not mistaken.  Why are you here?”

“Honestly?”  He said honestly.  “I don’t know.”

“Honestly!”  She said.  “Honesty to an actor is a word on a page.   I never did know when you were acting, or when you were serious.”

“Sometimes, I don’t know myself.”  He said humbly.  “Perils of the trade, I suppose.”  He asked suddenly:  “Are you with someone?”

Rosalind’s lips twisted into an edge of a smile.  “Am I in a relationship, do you mean?  No, I’m not.  Was our last thrash together the last time I went to bed with someone?  Again, no.  I’ve tried every conceivable way to forget that we ever happened, David.”

“Any success?”  She did not answer.

Davy again turned his attention to the wavelets, tried to attune his thoughts to their gentle motion, but his heart was in turmoil.  “I had to see you.  Don’t force me to explain, I won’t have a reason.”

She sighed, relented because she could not sustain anger with Davy – never could.  She came to lean against the balustrade beside him.  “I’m cold.” She confessed.  Tentative, he reached his arm about her shoulders.  Instinctive, she leaned into him and her breath was close.  “We didn’t work together, Davy.  We were bad for each other.”

“Being bad once seemed so good, though.”

“Did it?”

He grasped her shoulders, anxious she should face him.  She did not resist.  With a gentle hand, he brushed her hair away from her forehead, and kissed her there, softly.  Her skin was cold to his lips.  “I’ve never forgotten.”  He said.

The tear she blinked away might have been induced by that sharp onshore breeze.  “Don’t.”  She told him, but her voice was irresolute and her lips were tilted towards his, offering.  He met them in a kiss flooded with memories, of times past, of happiness and wanting.  It was fulsome and sweet, it might have been deep.  But then he was clinging, suddenly desperate and she, alarmed, squirmed from his hold, thrusting him back.  “I said don’t.”

He turned away instantly, abashed.  “I’m sorry.  I have no right….”

“Who is she, David?  I mean, apart from the director’s daughter?   Who is she?  You’re engaged to her.  That’s what I heard.  And this is how I heard it!”  she snatched her mobile phone from her coat pocket, waving it in his face.  “On Face Book from bloody I-told-you-so Jennifer.  Very brief and concise, very, very sententious, and liberally illustrated with your publicity pics – you and whoever-she-is holding hands, you and whoever-she-is embracing…”

“Jennifer’s a bitch.”

Rosalind shook her head, sadly.  “No, Jennifer was right.  She warned me not to become involved.”

“But are you – involved?   I mean in any way…”

“Oh for Christ’s sake!  You know I am!  Isn’t that why you’re here?  Truthfully now, isn’t it?”

“Belinda.”  Davy told her.  “Her name is Belinda.”

“Belinda Halprin.  A great name, I suppose; with a daddy who can raise you up from that terrible little school and make you a leader of your profession.  The fulfilment of dreams!”  Rosalind took his hands in hers, closing around his long, delicate fingers.  “But oh, David, I know you so well!   You don’t love her, do you?  You didn’t think you needed to.  Seduction – such an easy thing for you.  You don’t have to try, hardly at all.”

“You’re wrong; you’re so wrong.”  In his passion his hand clenched with hers, emphasising each word.  “I wanted to go to Belinda, yet I had to – I had to – come to you.  I had to try and see you again.  I’ve never once stopped thinking about you, wondering how you were, if I should write to you or leave you alone.  Ros, darling, I don’t know what I can do.  I’m trapped.  I love her for everything I want to be, but I want you, because you are who I really am.”

“Well, that was easy.”  She said.

“How do you mean?”

“You love her, you want me.  No contest.  Love conquers all, darling, doesn’t it?  Forgive the cliché.”

Davy sighed.  “Honestly, I think it may be the other way around.”

“There’s that word again.”  Rosalind leant upon the rail at his side, sharing his view of the black horizon.  “Do you want me to be honest?  I have no script, you see – I’m not reading from a page.  I love you, David.  I have never got over us.  I never will.   But until tonight that memory was a comfortable warm bed of embers;  and I can only forgive you for fanning it into flame once more because I see the little boy in you, and I think I can understand just how lost you are.  We could never be together, my love.   You may want your life back, but you’ve lost the one we shared irreparably, and I can’t help you.  It’s your problem – I hope you do love her, or if not, that you will learn to…”

“I could give it all up!”

“No, you couldn’t.  Or you shouldn’t; at least not for me.  It’s not my trap, David.”

She reached up, and her cool hand stroked his cheek.  “A pity.  A great, immense pity.  But I’m going to say goodbye now.   You walk that way, I’ll walk this.  And if you do ever return to my town, avoid Fridays, will you?”

Davy stayed for a while, watching the patient sea and the steady arc of the lighthouse beam.  When at last the sound of Rosalind’s heels had faded and the night was reduced to silence he turned towards the east once more, and as he retraced his steps he began to cry, freely.  With no-one to see him in the dark and tears streaming down his face he thought of her, and he wished for her, and he cried the more because he knew she was right.  Only as he neared the lights at the entrance to the pier did he attempt to wipe his face to respectability, regaining the confidence of stride his way of life had taught.

He arrived at the foot of that short rise that would lead him away from the seashore.  Here he stopped, as if transfixed; seeking to retrieve a terrible thought that had flashed through his mind then disappeared.  The hill to his left, the pier to his right.  A choice presented itself, one that was his alone to take.  A second decision.

With a deep intake of breath, Davy clambered over the barrier which guarded the way to the pier.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fisher’s Child

The Keffer Lantyn Fells are works of the godhead to be sure, with their high peaks wreathed in shawls of cloud; and though cloaked white in winter they may be, when the spring thaw comes and crystal waters tumble from the whin stone shelves, their rich red silt brings sweetness to the Lantyn valley, the like of which is never seen in other lands.   I have watched from afar, both in the December chill and the spring running, and I would love them if I could.

But there is a devil in those hills.   Oh, I have heard folk tales from many lands, lurid legends of hideous creatures that lurk in rivers, or run screeching among the bare canyons of the high tops, of forest spirits and venomous sprites, but none to compare with this.  And none to have such dominion as this.  For beautiful as the sun-blessed Lantyn Vale may be, with its jewelled water and its willow scented glades, no human lives there, and no human ever will.

There were people once.   There was a village of fisher folk among the trees that line the upper reaches of the Lantyn waters, shy people nested like secretive birds who took succour from the river and huddled together when the snows came.  Their lives were filled with superstitious tales, of mythic birds and forest ghosts, and one legend, that of the file000282117682Perfect Fish, the god of the river, that gave substance to their being.  They honoured their protector, taking from the river only according to their needs.  And they were honest folk, before the coming of the fated child.

He who did the deed, they say, was a stranger to any charted shore – a ragged, rugged, rabid soul so oddly girded in shark-skin some would have it he was no land-born creature at all.  Yet he was a fisher by instinct, and he had learned of the riches that swam in the Lantyn River.  The woman?  She was daughter to a kindly village man who invited him to share their hearth, and come the autumn the fisher had shared much more.  All winter he taught those simple folk his ways with nets that they might plunder the river of its silver children, and come the spring when the woman’s belly was full he took his own harvest and went his way.

It is said the fisher man’s wiles led those honest villagers astray, that there, that winter, greed was born.  It is said the spirits were already angered when summer came and his child entered the world.  That is as may be, but even the spirits could not have been ready for such a child as this.

For all his poverty, the village man shared with his daughter and her child such as he had, and his grand-daughter had no cause for want or lack of love.   Yet from the very start it was clear she was of the fisher’s roving blood, given to straying alone into the upper forests, playing for solitary hours among the stony becks and brooks that fed the Lantyn’s waters in the valley far below.  At first she dutifully returned with evening, to sup at her mother’s table, and help prepare her grandfather’s nets.  She did this because she was taught that such was the way of the village, not knowing the cruelty these implements of her natural father’s craft wrought upon the free-swimming fish of the river.  But she was to learn.

As the child grew she passed all her hours wandering in the woods.  She began to learn the file5871300045735ways of the wild creatures living in darkest corners among the trees, even, some would have it, to speak in their tongue.  A wood-cutter from the village swore he came upon her once in earnest conversation with an otter that had built a holt in the bank of a stream:  she was crouched before the animal, he said, giving forth little chucking grunts and whistling sounds so perfect he could not tell girl from beast.  And it seemed to him the otter perfectly understood her.    Of course, such tales grow in the comfort of a warm winter fireside, yet there are always some who are ready to believe.

The villagers began to walk in awe, or even fear of the fisher’s child.  In her turn, she came less frequently to her parents’ home, but stayed day and night in the forest.  There were those who attested they had seen her amid a company of wolves, and some who said that one summer evening as she visited the river to drink she met with the Perfect Fish.  These witnesses spoke of a creature larger and more powerful that any salmon – of scales that flashed in all the colours of a rainbow as it leaped before the rose of the setting sun – yet in its great display of strength and beauty it caused not a splash or a ripple in the water, and thus did it affirm it was, indeed, a god.

Though fearsome in appearance, its eye was gentle.  It came to the girl to offer its wisdom.  She listened, she talked to it – she, seated upon the river’s bank, the fish-god idling in the shallows, long into that night.  A friendship was struck, something so deep and so sacred only death could break it; and thereafter her life belonged to the forest and the river.  She would not return to her village home.

From time to time down the years word had it the girl was seen, either swimming in the river or deep among the trees, but no-one could get close to her, or hear her speak, until it came at last to the summer of the Great Flood.

For days the Keffer Lantyn HIlls were buried in livid storm clouds.  Lightning flickered about the forest’s upper reaches, and the rain came like vengeance:  for a day, then a night, then another day.  The languid waters of the Lantyn River swelled to torrential fury;  fallen branches, whole trees rushed past the little village, frantic hands hauled upon the painters of escaping boats, gathered in nets mauled by the tumult.   Only the bravest or most hungry attempted fishing in such a storm.  Fortune for good or ill, they say, favours the brave.

As the legend is told, at the very moment the Perfect Fish was taken by a villager’s net, the storm ceased.   The waters calmed and in wonder the people gathered around to see their deity laid low.  They stared, they muttered primitive prayers, watched by its eye, and its look might have told them, had they been wise enough, that it understood.  But the greed that was their nature now would not release them, so that within minutes they all set about hacking and slicing at the great fish.

Which is how the great god of the Lantyn River died.

From his perch among the tall trees a redstart relayed the tragic news and by this means the wild girl heard of her beloved companion’s ignominious end.   Her wails of grief echoed and re-echoed through the valley;  the screams of her anger turned the river to blood.   There and then she uttered a sacred spell that was at once a curse and a death sentence upon the village and its people.  There and then she gathered about her all the creatures of the forest, all the denizens of the river and its banks and she made with them a pledge; that never more would men set foot in the Lantyn Valley, unless they should vanquish her first.

It was early the next morning when the villagers, fat with their spoils, woke to the sound of hooves.  Staring from their doors they probably never really believed what they saw – the onrush of wild deer, antlers tossing, trampling their huts and barging their walls to the ground; of thirsting wolves, rats swarming, sharp-toothed otters, badgers snarling like rabid dogs, each picking a throat and striking deep.   Birds, no matter how humble, that were become raptors, swooping and pecking at mouths and eyes.

A very few escaped, bringing to the outer world their story of the wild plague that erased their village.  The rest died.  Those who survived spoke of a demonic woman running naked through their compound with fingers of fire, setting roofs ablaze, making bonfires of their nets, and commanding the wolves to hunt them down.  In no more than a few minutes their homes were razed to the ground, and one by one, as though they were walking creatures, the trees advanced, and spread, and thrust new roots into the ground.  Before a seventh dusk the forest had taken back all it had yielded to the villagers.  There were no huts, no boats, no nets.  Sated wolves, well fed, slumbered where once the fisher’s steps had trod.

All sorts of rumours prevail, but no-one has ever returned to that valley to learn the truth, for  to set foot in those forests is to be attacked:  be warned should you ever try, for many have.  All wild life there is vicious, the wolves will hunt you down, the deer trample you beneath their feet,, the badgers and even the otters keep watch.  The trees themselves will reach down to strangle you, and even though you turn away, your dreams will haunt you for years thereafter.  Their general, it is said, is a wild girl who is immortal, and some claim to have seen her, and proclaim her very beautiful, but these are old men’s dreams.

For myself, I stay away.  Although I live not far from that devilish valley I have no yen to travel there.  Far from it, my fear will always be that the contagion might spread, for once the wild ones have seen the product of their power, why should they not attempt much more?   I tell myself such thoughts are foolish, but I have seen how, in the last year or so, my own dog, though he sleeps at my fireside still, regards me differently.   And last night, catching a fox among the bins, I could not escape the snarl of his teeth, or the malevolence in his eye.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  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.

 

Top-Class No. 1 Swami Fred. Get a life!

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I have decided to become a Guru.rainbow qigong 2

Wikipedia (who know about these things) define ‘guru’ as a Sanskrit term that connotes someone who is a teacher, guide or master of certain knowledge’

Well, I can do that.

Here is my problem.  All my life I have fairly effectively avoided the road to untold riches – not deliberately, and not, I like to think, for lack of talent; but because there were so many attractive diversions on the way.   Do I regret that?  I do not.  Am I the richer for life’s experiences?  Yes, I am.

Can you see where this is going?

In my ‘useful’ years I often wanted, but never needed money.   I got by.  Now that I am older and in my useless years, I want some.   I need some.   If I’m going to put up with all this other shit, illnesses and incapacities and failing this and falling that, I want to be rich.  And I want to be venerated.  I really do.

Now as far as I can see there are five roads to untold wealth.

I could have become a Captain of Industry.sinking shipB   At various stages of my life, I believe I tried this.  I always relished the idea of turning the ship around (like the metaphor?), being rewarded with a huge bonus, then retiring to a far country before the flaws in my grand plan were discovered and my chickens (a metaphor’s not a metaphor until it’s mixed) came home to roost.

I could have been a footballer, married a ‘personality’ and misbehaved at parties.  Obvious difficulty?  I can’t play football – never could.

I could have been a Consultant.  I have spent the greatest part of my life under the misapprehension that a Consultant is an acknowledged expert in his field.  Untrue.  A Consultant just has to make a few of the ‘right people’ believe he is an expert in his field.  The rest is down to pure luck.

So perhaps the Great Adventurer was more my thing?  Well, no.  Not really.  I could never see myself toughing it out in the unexplored jungle – all that dampness, all those bugs, and sleeping in a tent with an uninvited python: or in the freezing arctic gale, gamboling gaily on an ice flow with a playful polar bear.  Sadly, adventure for me is diving perilously into the unknown aisles of Sainsbury’s in search of a grail of sugar.  And even then, I wouldn’t consider it on a Saturday.  I’d want to be home for the weekend – definitely.

Might I have been a Distinguished Surgeon?  Leaving to one side my shaky hands, my very short temper and my even shorter attention span, could I have succeeded in the theatre of complex heart surgery, stooped above an inert, widely opened patient for many hours with a vast array of cutlery and an attentive crew at my every beck and call?  “Nurse, could you just hang onto these forceps for a minute?  I have to nip to the bathroom.”  Wouldn’t work, would it?

I could have been a Best Selling Author? No, scrap that one.

So, since I am too old for any other option, I am adopting a late career move in which my age is a positive advantage.  And I shall be distributing pearls of wisdom across the astral plane for you all to pluck and ingest at a bargain introductory offer price of $50.00 (£35 Sterling) per life-changing insight – all investments at this time to go towards the construction of my Mountaintop Retreat in West Yorkshire (easily reachable from several international airports and accessible from major cities, Manchester and Leeds).

Please feel free to come and help me build my temple to wisdom.  Bring money.

 

 

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