Philip

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His name is Philip.   So, what do we know about him? 

I know that as of today he’s husband to a Prime Minister.  Theresa May is only the second female Premier that the United Kingdom has thrown up, so his is almost an inaugural role.

I know he’s a couple of years younger than his 59 year old wife, that Benazir Bhutto  introduced the couple to each other at a Conservative Party Disco (I wonder what the dress code could have been for that?) and that he has a banking background, as does his wife.  Surprise?  Well, possibly not.   A friend claims they bonded over a shared love of cricket, which may be true, of course.   After all my own wife and I bonded over our mutual enjoyment of ironing (private joke).

A friend insists they are still very much in love.   As she puts it, ‘When they are together they seem younger’, which begs the question:  how old do they seem when they’re apart?

Mr. and Mrs. May have a home in Sonning- on-Thames; that is, when they are not at 10 Downing Street.  Sonning-on-Thames is an authentic country village in rural Berkshire filled with authentic rustic millionaires, like George and Amal Clooney, Uri Geller and Led Zeppelin veteran Jimmy Page.   It’s almost obligatory to wear a smock, preferably sporting a Gucci label, on the quaint village street, but chewing a straw is considered vulgar.

So what is the life of a ‘First Man’ likely to demand?  Fortunately, just up the road from No. 10 he can get advice from the best possible authority on the subject.   His regal namesake has held down the role for many years, and should be able to give him a tip or two.  There may be advantages in following five paces behind as wife Theresa toadies up to Monsieur Hollande – a chance to share the odd bawdy joke with Jean Claude Juncker as they watch her mud wrestling with Angela Murkel, or the opportunity for a touch of insider trading during eighteen holes with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.   Maybe he can adopt Prince Philip’s uniquely Greek sense of humour, which has embellished so many encounters with the world’s wide diversity of people and characters.  Perhaps he may be able to offer informed advice upon entertaining at the State level:

“Whatever you do, don’t put Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko next to each other.  Watch the Chinese president.  He brings his own cook but his table manners are terrible.  Keep a close eye on your dog.”

Ah, but realistically the next four years or so of Philip May’s life are likely to be far more mundane.  He has his own banker’s priorities, and will probably not follow Theresa around on her State travels.  Instead he will likely be found most evenings gazing forlornly into his beer and playing gold-tipped darts with the regulars at ‘The Bull’ in Sonning-on-thames,.

“Where’s your Missis tonight, Phil?”

“Oh, she’s Prime Ministering again.   Got some bloke over from Australia to talk about sheep.”

“Interesting chappies, sheep.”

“Very.”

 

 

Shadows Dark, Shadows Deep

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Morguefile Forest 1

 

He was driving home.

He was tired.

Weariness, for the man in the silver car, was like a creeping disease.  It had begun with him not weeks but months since, an insistent fatigue beyond sleep’s cure with roots that grew a little deeper each day; so now it invaded his very bones.  He felt older, much older than his thirty-six years.  Today he had worked late, swaddling that tiredness in a further layer of exhaustion, weighing upon his eyelids and blurring his reason.

This summer had been busy, and Paul Lamborne’s business, after many years of struggle, was on the threshold of success: the catering equipment it supplied was in demand, becoming a brand in its own right; but the helm had grown heavy in his hands.   The business was growing, chasing finance for new premises, faster machinery, more raw materials; yet he had lost his love of the chase, his taste for small victories.

Corynna, his manager, had voiced her concern:   “You’re trying to do too much.  You don’t need to stay, Paul, I have it covered.  Go home.  Rest.  Recharge.”

But he had stayed – he had persisted; held on grimly, joylessly.  They were his orders, his promotional literature, and the completion dates were ones he had set.  He knew Corynna felt stifled, knew she was good enough to take over, yet he could not yield his grip, any more than he could admit every night’s recurring truth.   He dreaded going home.

Home?   Hilltops was never that, not really.  Never more than a very expensive roof that protected a string of complex and irresolvable debt; remortgaged to finance his business, Hilltops was never more than a field of battle upon which the lines were tightly drawn.  Adrienne, his wife, entrenched in her contempt; he the aggressor, never able to press his advantage.

There had been a time when Adrienne had pleased him enough.  There had been love between them, or at least something they could excuse as love, back in heady post-university days; the times when Paul was the beautiful young man and she the sophisticate who was courted by an eager succession of suitors.  Perhaps Paul was the man she had been looking for, then.  Perhaps his gentle energy, his quiet, distant manner satisfied her, for she was never a passionate woman and she had few sexual needs.  Salivating young grads with nervous, uncertain eyes who danced on her strings amused her, but never tempted.  Paul saw her as she was, focussed; and she was drawn to his perspicacity.

Maybe it was a flawed foundation for a marriage, a mutual admiration rather than a friendship, a partnership rather than a love: or maybe, very probably, it was the absence of children after fifteen torrid years of effort, that made their big house seem so empty; that turned infatuation to indifference, and, in these last few months, indifference into hatred.

A shared roof was all Paul had saved from the annals of his relationship; a house with bedrooms that stood silent and an ocean of bills that remained unpaid.   Adrienne who rebuffed the creditors scarcely hid her scorn: because (as he thought) he had failed her, although she would not denounce his failure in any specific way.

If Paul was convinced she was seeking love elsewhere he was wrong.  Yes, there were liaisons, but it was not love she sought – rather, a refuge from the crumbling tower of her own ambitions.  If Paul judged himself to have failed Adrienne, she attributed her failure to herself.  A bad marriage she relived every day; her mistake.

He had parked.  He did not remember parking, stopping the car, at all, still less the careful manoeuvring that had positioned it so neatly in a recess of the hedge next to a five-barred  wooden gate.  Puzzled, he glanced at his watch:  had he slept?  No, the time was as he would expect.

How had he come to be here?

Momentarily confused, he back-tracked his mind over the things he did remember:  locking the factory doors, driving away from the little town as it wrapped itself in the peace of evening.    Ten minutes to the Great Kurton road, then the left turn, the steep hill to Jakey’s Folly and the winding lane beyond.  He was on a route he knew, his house no more than five minutes away.  He should be familiar with every detail, every pothole, every branch of every tree and yet – yet he did not recall this gateway.

Paul climbed from his car. The gate was old, quite weathered; beyond it, where he might have expected to see an open field there was no field at all, but a small wood.  And the wood was so positioned it should be visible from his home, should it not?  The view from Hilltop’s windows was stamped upon his memory, yet this was a feature he had never seen before.

The wood of the gate felt cold and damp to his touch.  The rust reddened latch disengaged with difficulty.  Its hinges creaked.   A narrow track scored in the meadow grass led his feet into the midst of the trees.  Broom, golden bright in the full flush of summer mingled with whitethorn blossom to drench the birch and ash that were the first denizens of the wood.  A few paces further and taller trees, solemn and stately, reached above his head in a filigree of evening shade.  Might he have considered it odd that he had no wish to turn and go back?  Did he glance over his shoulder to see whether the gate still gaped wide behind him?    Had he done so he might have seen.  Although not by his hand, the gate had closed.

Paul walked on – deeper into the woodland hush, and light became more difficult to find.  The trees were closer now, their cover the more dense and stifling.    Through pools of olive darkness the path made greater demands upon his senses; more than once he missed his footing and stumbled upon some unseen grassy tuft or protruding root.  Somewhere in the canopy branches rattled.  Startled, he looked up, half-expecting to see some broken branch or predatory bird descending upon him, but he could see nothing to justify the noise.  As he passed through a pool of dappled sun those branches repeated their ominous message – and this time a shadow flitted.

Then a different noise; that of scrabbling claws on bark.   Just ahead of him, a great and stalwart oak, and thence the sound.  Hidden from him, something – something quite large and heavy – was descending the far side of its trunk.

A javelin of cold fear shot through Paul’s body, pinning him to the spot.  Silence.  The breeze had stopped; the world and all time within it ceased.    He heard his own querulous voice stammer out:    “Who…who’s there?  What do you want?”  And faint though it was, his terror echoed among the trees.

“I am here to lead you.”  So quiet were the words he wondered if he had heard them at all.

A figure – veiled by deep shade – slid around the great tree, gripping the bark so it hung, suspended, some three feet above ground.  Instinctively, Paul feared it.  He could see so very little, merely the outline of a compact, ape-like form that exuded muscular strength, although it was no more than four feet in height.  With practised agility it sprang from the tree and walked, almost glided upon two legs scarcely longer than Paul’s own thighs, into better light; revealing a body covered in fine, chestnut-coloured hair, only the face of which was hairless – snub-nosed, eyes black and gleaming, but human, or nearly so.  Its thin lips pursed themselves as the creature studied Paul openly.   What was it?  Some sort of ape?

The ape – if ape it was – spoke. “Come, you will need me to guide you.”

A hand very like a human hand reached out to Paul, who stared at strong, claw-like nails that tipped near-human fingers.  Man?  He still needed to be convinced.  “You live here?”  He asked.

“Yes.  In the trees.”

The figure had drawn closer now, too close for doubt.  Its words, so softly spoken, confirmed it.  Odd though its appearance was, this creature must be human.

“Annar waits.”  It said.  “Come!”

Rough, stubby fingers closed around Paul’s hand, tugging gently.

“I don’t understand.”  Paul protested.  Who, or what was Annar?  Come to that:  “Who – what – are you?  Where is this place?”

The creature’s black eyes creased in what might have been a smile.  “You will find out if you come with me.”

“If I don’t?”

In answer, those eyes glanced past Paul, as if inviting him to look back.  And so he did, and he saw how the living forest had closed behind him.  The track that would lead him to his car had gone.  Instead, there was undergrowth intertwined; bramble and thorn in an impenetrable wall: a wall of darkness.

“You must follow.  Come.”

What induced him to comply so meekly?  Why didn’t he protest further?  Did the hand that had taken his also take command of his mind?  Though small in stature the creature’s grip was strong, its short stride purposeful and quick.  As it moved the hiss of its breath kept time, a shallow, high sound that found a resonance with the trees.  It knew its way through the woods, too; endless, endless woods.   By this track and that, by gully and stream, Paul was led, and with every stride his confusion grew the more.  The hours were passing.  It would be night soon.

“Where are you taking me?”   He demanded breathlessly, striving to keep up.

As if his words were a signal, the creature stopped.   “Here is the place.  Now we must wait.”   It settled itself upon a tree-root, drawing its big, blunt knees up to its chin, so Paul saw how the longer hairs beneath that chin draped, and how very like a beard they seemed.  Thankful for the rest, he seated himself on a fallen tree-trunk, casting about warily for any sign of danger.  Had it been he who somehow, by some code the creature recognised, selected the place?  There was nothing distinctive about it.  He could see only a continuation of the trail they had been pursuing, as he calculated, for more than two miles.  It would be dark before he could eventually discover the way out.  How, in all the years he had lived at Hilltops, had he failed to discover this woodland, never noticed the gateway that led into it?  And it must be a substantial forest, unless his guide had been leading him in circles.

“Welcome.”  The sudden appearance of the little old man surprised him.  Paul had neither seen nor heard his approach.   Where had he come from?  Had he been sleeping?  Was he, perhaps, dreaming this?

Garbed in skins the nut-brown hue of the woods, this old one’s form was so shrivelled and spare it might have been easy, with Paul’s tired, slightly misted eyes, to avoid seeing him at all.  Human, though, he certainly was.  His shoulders were hunched, stooping his protuberant nose towards the bed of leaves upon which he walked.  The nose had a drip poised at its end.   A yellowed beard waited to collect it.

Released from the mesmerising grip of the creature, Paul felt his anger rising.  This had gone on long enough.  “Oh, what now?  Another woodland tour?  What’s your role – let me see – the philosophical sage?   Am I going to get words of wisdom next?   Or do you just want a handout?  Don’t ask me; I left my money in the car, and  I can’t tell you where that is.  Ask the hairy guy, yeah?  He knows, I don’t.  I’m lost, you see?”

Two grey eyes – disturbingly large, penetrating eyes – met Paul’s critical stare.  “Or rather you are found?”  The old man said in a crackling dry twig of a voice.  “I did not choose this meeting.  Did you?”

A snappy retort formed on Paul’s lips, then seemed to evaporate.  He felt his annoyance ebbing away, as if the creature’s hand had once more taken his.  “Explain?”  He said at last:  “Who are you?  What is all this?”

“I?  I am Annar.   That is to say, the Old One.”  Annar motioned to the creature, still hunched on its tree-root.  “He is Bul, which means tree-sleeper.  It also means ‘many’.  Names are not important here.”  The old man gave an elaborate, if somewhat creaky, bow.  “You are welcome among us.”

Paul shook his head.  “Look, Annar; whatever you’re trying to make me believe, I’m not sold, okay?  I need to get out of here – this wood – now.  Yes?  Can you show me the way?  Is it far?”

“Far?”  The old man looked puzzled.  He looked at Bul, but Bul merely grunted.  “I cannot answer you because I have never sought a way.   There is the green land, of course, and a Great Water where the world stops, but our people rarely go there now.   “Is that what you seek?”

“What I seek is my way out of here.  This ‘green land’ of yours would be a start.”   Paul snapped, dredging up renewed ire from somewhere.  Yet his resolve was wavering.  He wanted to diagnose this pair as being mentally ill, but somehow that wasn’t working.  Their reduced stature, their physical appearance argued against such simple answers.  Could they really be woodland dwellers who had adopted this forest as their home?  That was ridiculous! Tramps, maybe?  “Look, just tell me the way back to the road, okay?   What’s-his-name, Bul, here, doesn’t need to take me. Just point.”

“Road?”  Annar frowned.  “No, no, there is no road.”  He lapsed into silence, so once again Paul experienced one of those timeless moments when the birds ceased their treetop songs, and not even a breeze stirred.  In that space Annar and Bul seemed immovable – lifeless and aged as statues hewn from stone.  Maybe there really was no road.

“Alright,”  Paul spoke slowly, choosing his words with great care.  “Where exactly am I?”

“Where?”  Annar considered the question.  “You are here.  Here is the forest, and the forest is as old as time.  As for roads, there are only the paths you make, when the trees have earned your respect.  I?  I am of the Old People, and for summers beyond memory the forest has been our home, though once, before the wild ones came in boats to drive us away, it is said we tilled the green land.  Those are skills long forgotten.  I would not know them.”

“Look, indulge me, because I don’t understand this.”  Paul coaxed, as gently as he could.  “See, Annar, I have to leave here – I have to get home.  Time is…”  He glanced down at his wrist.  In disbelief he saw that his watch was missing; so, too, the band of reddened flesh where a watch might have been.  It was as if he had never worn one.

“Time?”  The old one smiled at the brown loam before his sandaled feet.  “Time is nothing to you now.  “The green land is far – far beyond your reach.  Here, in the forest, is your home.”

The shock, finally the lightning bolt of the truth. “I’m never going to leave, am I?”

“You cannot.  You have come to us from another place, but you are in need of peace, and now your home is among us you will find what you seek. Do not fear – it is a good place.  You will learn to be happy here.”  The old man said.  Then he turned away, directing his voice into the darkness of the trees.    “Come forward, child.”

At his beckoning a green curtain of undergrowth parted, revealing a tall, graceful figure, disguised by the deep shade.

“This is one who has loved you for many summers.  She also comes to us, and her place is with you.”

Shyly, the figure stepped into the open, allowing a shaft of sunlight to play upon golden hair as her face was exposed.  Paul could not restrain his surprise.  “Corynna?”

And the old man smiled.  “Be as one.”  He said.

 

“His missus is a piece, in no mistake!”   Commented the police sergeant.  “She seemed more annoyed than anything else.”   He shook his head.  “Grief takes some strange forms, don’t it?  Anyway, what brings you back here this morning, Mister Berrisford?  You don’t normally want a second look at these.”

The Claims Assessor cast a critical eye over the wreckage.  A course of events that was obvious enough – too fast into the bend, a slight clip of the bank, a rapid, airborne barrel roll and impact:  bounce once, airborne once more, bounce again.  By the time it plummeted into the hedge the silver car was already beyond recognition, a tangled mess of scrap metal.  No, he had no need to doubt his findings.

“Paul Lamborne, eh?  The Gov’nor, no less.  He’ll have been well covered, I expect?”   The sergeant prompted.  “A bit of a drain on your company’s coffers, eh?  Might you just possibly be seeking a loophole, Chas?”

“We’ve got one.”  Berrisford replied.  “At least from the life insurance aspect.  There’s no body.”   He watched with a fascination he always experienced as a recovery truck raised the wreck, disposing of a last, very slim chance that Paul’s remains were somehow concealed beneath it.  Shards of hedgerow snapped and crackled as the wreck’s departure revealed a perfectly cut gap, allowing him to stare into the empty fields beyond.  “I’d imagine that’d be a neat fit for a gateway, wouldn’t you?  We can’t have a claim if we don’t have a body.  Not after an incident like this.”

“No-one could have survived that.”  The sergeant said, almost reverently.  “He can’t have been thrown clear, neither.  The seat belt’s intact and fastened.”

“Then where is he?  I’d expect some signs of serious trauma; blood, body parts.  There’s none.  Even if he’d managed to ride out the impact, with the state he’d have been in he’d not have gone far.”

“No sign of him.”  The sergeant replied.  “We checked the fields and hedges for near on a mile, and there’s no other cover.  It’s a strange one.”

“Very.”  Berrisford acknowledged.  “As a matter of interest, has everyone been informed?  He was well known locally, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.  Well, his immediate family anyway.  As for his business, though, there’s something else that’s odd.”

“Odd?  How do you mean?”

“Well, I expect there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but his manager (nice girl, always liked her) can’t be found anywhere.  She was due to go to work this morning and didn’t.  What’s more, she doesn’t answer her ‘phones.  Mind, it’s too early to make judgements.  I’m sure she’ll turn up.”

“Yes.”  A shivering breeze found the new space in the hedge and prickled Charles Berrisford’s flesh, as if to remind him of the bare landscape beyond.  How he hated the desolation that generations of farming had wrought upon this land!  This would have been forest once, before the works of man laid it low.  If he half-closed his eyes he could still imagine them.

“A cold summer this has been.”  He said.  “You’re right, of course.  I’m sure she will.”

 

© 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regrets

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The Grobelys and the Wobbletobes

How sweetly they do sing

But my lobes are clothly, dear

So I don’t hear a thing.

The Flabberdoes in chorus do

Proclaim the buds of spring

But my bloobs have cloudy gone

So I can’t see it pring.

 

I wish I were a scroteish lad

An’ I were lube again

Then I’d flounce upon a branch

And durble in the rain

I’d skip and skop and flap and plop

All seasons to proclaim

And in the nurdly summerslime

I’d glubble in a drain.

And would you glubble with me love?

And would you gurgash too?

I so truly wish you would

For I would gurgash you!

 

Eurpoe

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mermaid wall (2016_04_04 15_16_25 UTC)

The Sirens of Brussels

 

A word from Divvin (that’s an English County next to Zummerzet and just down the road from Darsit, if you’m wonderin’).

Now, my Darlin’s, ‘tis like this.

Other wick we had a vote, see?  ‘Twas like ever’body got to ‘ave a say about how us felt ‘bout the immigrants an’ that, an’ we all turned out and we told ‘em, no uncertain fashion, like, what us thought we ought to do.  Leave that there Eurpoe Onion thing from the Brussels!   Yes!   An’ it turns out we didn’t want nothin’ more to do wi’ no Onions, and ‘ow we wanted to go out by ourselves.  Aye!

Well, turns out we were wrong, see?   ‘Cause all these ‘ere thinkin’ people says we should stay in, an’ ‘ow we faces certain ruin if we don’t.   An’ we says to ‘em, see, it was a Democratic Decishun, but they say that don’t count, ‘cause apparently they won’t get so much money if us makes ‘em leave, and they won’t be able to live in they there nice London apartments no more, or travel around this ‘ere Eurpoe to get better jobs, and stuff like that.   They says we bin lied ter, an’ un-screw-pew-lus people, they led us up the garden path, an’ that.  We jus’ voted ‘cause of the immigration, see?  Aye.

So they goin’ to change wha’ we want to what they want, and that’s o’y fair, ‘cause we’m jus’ ord’nary people, and not great and good like they are.

So, seems to me that all these ‘ere clever people, they on’y peddle that there Democracy to us when they want us to see things their way; and if we don’t, then they got to twist it about until we do.  Lawyers, and Ac’demics, and that, they knows what’s good for us, don’ they?  An’ learned people, they thinks we’re too thick to unnerstand ‘bout Eurpoe.

See, I voted ‘cause I didn’t think that there Onion was goin’ anywhere.  I thought that my country is what serves me a livin’ an’ not none of the Brussels.   They’m got strange money that they keeps printin’ with no vaalue behind un, they keeps poorer countries strugglin’ for a livin’ an’ it’s not long afore we becomes one of those, if we stays in, like.   They keeps takin’ our money and givin’ us less back than what they takes, they makes rules we can’t keep up with, and my sheep dip’s more ‘ficient at keepin’ out the nasties than their immigration pol’cy.  They destroyed our fishin’ ind’stry, they put the cost of livin’ up for all of us an’ they make us tax things we shouldn’t, don’t they?  And we can’t take so many people!    Now, that’s not racist, nor nothin’, but us got a dooty to house and keep the people we already got.  It makes sense, see?  If my neighbour, he don’t put no fence up,  his sheep gets all mixed up wi’ mine an’ they overstocks my land while I feeds ‘em for ‘im for free.  Seems simple sense to me.

But there.  I don’t know nothin’.  I may know the price of livestock an’ ow to run a business, but to you they ac’demics I’m jus’ the peasant who’s ‘pinions you thinks you can ignore – I’ll jus’ tug my forelock as I passes you by and you can try to forget it’s me who does all the work, who keeps your nicely feathered beds stuffed an’ makes your country run.

So, talk your way into believing you are doing the right thing in trying to overturn the will of the people with your contrived arguments and Machiavellian tactics.   Buy your politicians and your expensive lawyers; pay the media to find a case for you to make.  But if you do, and you succeed in contraverting the will of the people you will finally write the obituary of  British democracy, and prove the lie you have been trying to disguise for so many years.

And I, at least, will stand against you, tooth and claw.  And I will never, whatever ‘democratic’ compulsion you thrust upon me, mark a ballot paper again.

For God’s Sake, Why???

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For anyone who doesn’t already know of it, I would like to introduce this link:   http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/

For anyone who would rather not look, I would like to reveal these headline statistics:

The total number of gun-related incidents in 2016 (i.e. last six months)      25, 296

The total number of deaths                                                                                               6,495

The total number of injuries                                                                                            13,392

Deaths of children below the age of twelve                                                                        277

 

I am a foreigner, of course.  I can’t be expected to understand why every American should have the constitutional right to own a firearm, in case his national government attacks him, or whatever.  I don’t particularly want to achieve that depth of understanding, because to me that would mean the pursuit of a disturbingly jaundiced path of reasoning with only one very dark destination.  I have never wanted the right to kill.   The thought that I could kill a child appals me.

I do clearly understand that the NRA represents commercial interests whose trade is in death.  I do see that this organisation sanctions the totally inappropriate sale of automatic weapons to private individuals for no other reason than the added profit a more expensive weapon can produce. 

This, too, I understand.  The perpetrators of these horrendous crimes are almost exclusively male.  There is some barbaric instinct lurking in the hairy back corners of the primeval mind that triggers whenever a young male feels worsted, whether it be merely by someone arrogantly dismissing them, or flashing past them in a faster car, or more profoundly by stirring religious fervour in some way.  The resultant disproportionate fury will always be part of our nature, it cannot ever be entirely eliminated, but how it manifests itself can be controlled.  Knives are bad, but they are merciful when compared to a gun.

Sadly, it seems that the squatting toads of Congress are equally immovable.  The NRA ensures their position.  Therefore, the pressure to make things change must come from below; and, as it seems to me, the pressure has to come from women.   The same selfless determination that gave women the vote back in that heady century of change when all things of today began, now has to be devoted to gun control.

Now you’re going to think I’m mad.  I probably am.

Long, long ago a Greek playwright wrote a comedy called Lysistrata.  Aristophanes’ plot concerned women tired of the constant warfare waged by their men-folk and forced change by locking themselves in the Acropolis and refusing them sex.  

Ridiculous?   Okay.  

Effective?  Well, maybe.

But think how a change in social attitudes has brought about the ostracism of smoking as a social habit?   See how the culture of physical fitness and diet is beginning to attack obesity?  These small cudgels can be wielded so effectively in a media-aware society, and it is always encouraging to see their force used for good.

If women could persuade themselves to actively oppose the possession of arms – if the firearm were consigned to the garage, if it was uncivilized, not to say primitive, to be seen bearing a weapon – if the considerable talents of cartoonists could be unleashed upon the spotty punk with the weapon so much larger than his natural appendage, public perceptions would alter. 

Social pressure, whether ostracism, ridicule, or contempt; or more physical deprivation:  “Until you get rid of that gun you’re cooking your own food”, seems to me not just the best, but the only way to go.    But there, I’m just an outsider.  I don’t understand why it was so necessary to deprive 6500 people of life before they had the chance to live it.

Just think:  a little down the line the USA might have produced the Great President; the saviour of the western world – might have, if some deluded teen hadn’t shot him dead in 2016.

Maybe Aristophanes had a point?

So, What Now?

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Well, it happened!

Those of us who did not sit up through the night of 23rd June woke in the morning to a country that is new to most of us:  an independent nation no longer huffing obediently at the heels of the ‘burgers’ of Brussels.   The UK has voted to leave the European Union.

And the question that engages me is – what happens now?

I have no doubt that the creature emerging from its chrysalis is a shadow of the voracious caterpillar it once was, in those days before a grocer’s elitist son glued it to an over-tenanted portion of the northern hemisphere known as the Common Market, more than sixty years ago.  Small, damp and rather blousy, it must spend time drying its wings before it can become what?  A glorious and beautiful butterfly, or a trundling, zeppelin of a moth?   Does the Britain that now looks so crippled soar brilliantly into the sun, or sacrifice itself to the naked flame?

What comes next will depend upon who leads.  Prime Minister David Cameron’s rather pathetic attempt today to persuade his nation that he would fall on his sword was tempered by his intention to wait three months before doing it.  He will, in his own words, ‘steady the ship’, thinly disguised rhetoric for ‘I will delay this as much as possible’.  And those of us watching got the uncomfortable feeling he has not given up,  though we may rest assured that, even if he succeeds in his tactic, the Tory Conference in October will have a finely honed blade ready.  So who?

Boris Johnson seems the obvious candidate, Theresa May is also in the running, as is Michael Gove, despite his insistence he seeks no high office.   Exciting enough, but there is an odd further possibility, which I will explore, if only because I like odd possibilities.

There is no doubt the referendum on Britain’s EU membership was the result of discontent within the Conservative Party.  Nonetheless it would not have happened had not Nigel Farage’s UKIP party given it voice.

What occurred on June 23rd was a rare example of true democracy.  For a large proportion of UK population government is an irrelevance, something to amuse the ‘educated’ which costs them money, but about which they can do nothing.  They are unrepresented, principally because the British Labour Party is a grotesque, stuck in a quagmire of trade union megalomania and neo-communist dogma that was rejected by a thinking working class (there – I’ve used that damned word ‘class’) thirty years ago.   The referendum gave everybody a simple, straightforward access to a political process:  ‘yes’ or ‘no’.   It brought The Unrepresented from their houses, many of them for the first time in thirty years.  It gave them an influence otherwise lost to them, and it raised a political map of the United Kingdom which showed starkly how little Unity there really is.

In all of England only London really came out strongly in favour of the EU.   The Superdome, the Bankers’ Bubble stood tall amidst a seething sea of doubt and dissent.  Atom City against the real world.

It is futile to even imagine the Conservative Party, or any leader arising from it, will do more than quantify the risk that carpet of inconvenient intelligence outside the dome represents.  And then dismiss it.   But they’ve been wrong before!   Suppose they decide to reinforce their post-EU mandate by calling a General Election, and suppose Farage’s UKIP steps into the breach the Labour Party have left unguarded?   Could UKIP manage to draw those same Unrepresented from their houses – is it possible UKIP could form a government?

It is intriguing, and I admit very unlikely, but what a proposition a Nigel Farage-led government presents!   A commodities trader turned Prime Minister is a very Trump-like prospect for a future independent UK, and I relish the thought because the pot needs stirring, and I can think of no better man than Farage to hold the spoon.

So there we are.  Newly independent of Brussels, free of EU federalism.  Brushing fantasy (and Farage) aside, I honestly don’t know what the future holds, but I am experiencing the optimism of youth once more, and I love it!

Referendum

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I can’t avoid it.

All talk in UK this week is concerned with a forthcoming referendum vote – a choice to ‘remain’ with the European Union, or ‘leave’.   Still, at this very late stage, there is a thirst for information from those who want the element of chance eliminated entirely from their decision, which suggests there are large numbers who want to vote to leave, bbanker 2ut daren’t.

This nervous indecisiveness is, of course, prime meat for the ‘remain’ campaigners, who wade in with dire warnings of financial Armageddon, forfeit of international influence and a variety of other terrors lurking in the black chasm that awaits a friendless UK, condemned to wandering in outer lands.

Why, they reasonably plead, take that chance?  Why leave the safe harbour of your European friends and brothers for the sake of an experiment;  why follow where the inexperienced shepherd leads?   Is it not safer, more prudent, to remain obediently within the fold, where nations may work together for a brighter future?  The EU will progress, will improve and prosper, with you or without you:  why sacrifice your part in that process?

It’s a challenge I can’t resist.

Let’s question the position if the ‘remain’ argument prevails in the vote.  If UK stays Brussels sees all 28 member nations coming under the umbrella of a federalist alliance which must, eventually, mean one government for all (presumably in Brussels, BTW) and one currency for all.  Otherwise any major step forward will be lost in a quagmire of conflicting interests.  28 separate governments, all with their own electorates to appease, already provide plenty of ready examples of this.

The UK is a major culprit.  The Westminster government has exemptions essential to its national interest in many matters, including that vital component, free movement.   The UK will not surrender the pound sterling, nor will it agree (it says) to the admission of further member nations.  Thus it is, in a sense, already halfway out.   It occupies precisely the ‘offshore island’ position Brussels has threatened it will have if the ‘leave’ vote holds sway.   And that is a position that would be untenable anyway, if the federalist plan comes to fruition.

But there is another pivotal question:  just how stable and secure is the EU?   Terrorist activity is on the rise, government response sluggish.  Growth within the EU is negative, decision-making is ponderous, its government unrepresentative of its people.  Greece, Italy and Portugal are treading close to the edge of liquidity, and the cost of living, especially in Greece and Italy, is prohibitive.  Unemployment, especially amongst the young, is outrageously high.  The immigration issue is seriously destabilising, with no prospect of diminishing in numbers in the immediate future.  To grasp the immigration issue the EU has to renege upon Schengen, to resolve its financial imbalances the Franco-German Alliance has to consent to a very much smaller slice of the cake.  Neither of these are feasible without the collapse of the EU.  So, how ‘safe’ is an offshore island tethered to this leaking hulk?  How long, indeed, will it stay afloat?

By contrast the UK scores highly in its ability to trade.  Unemployment is low, growth is positive, and where diplomacy and guile will secure a new market, or negotiate a lucrative deal, the British will succeed:  this is their history as one of the world’s great maritime trading nations.  Although the playing field may have changed, those innate abilities are never lost.  The UK also harbours one of the world’s great financial centres – liberated from EU constraints, its banking sector faces a profitable future.   So, fiscal chasm there is not: a process of levelling, maybe, a lot of sound and fury, maybe, but ultimately signifying nothing.

In making this case I have not emphasised the UK’s status as the EU’s largest trading partner, a market they will be unwilling to forgo.  Nor am I, despite your thoughts, a ‘Little Englander’.  I don’t harbour dreams of national glory, or seek to relive the days of Empire.  I do remember times before the EU, though, and I have some perspective upon all the UK has lost.   With others of my age (I, too, was young and optimistic once) I enthusiastically declared myself a ‘European’ when the clarion call came, and even absorbed gladly the sudden rise in the cost of living that came with it.   But now?  No.  For too many years I have watched various European interests – mainly French, German and Spanish, and more recently Eastern European – rape UK’s assets for their own advantage; and I have watched as the UK gave way, too many times.

The nation has a chance to begin to reclaim some of its own resources.  Maybe it can regain some of its plundered fishing industry by reasserting its territorial waters:  maybe it can subsidise and remodel its agricultural policy, begin to police its borders properly, deport the foreign criminals it is forced to detain here by EU law.

I am all for breaking down the insularity of nation states, all for the ideal of a united world.  I also see these are ambitions that can only succeed when component nation states refrain from using them as a tool for conquest, and show respect for the needs and views of people, rather than their own financial gain.

With regret I have to say of the European Union;  this has not happened – it will not happen – here.

A garden Universe

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Earth Secrets

I steal an hour beside my garden table; hard wooden upright chair and book, watching sparrows to-and-fro from the dense forest of hedge to my left; that which I have named Leylandii Hotel.   Some have their bath-towels slung over one wing as they head for the bird-bath, some are involved in passionate discussion, others have beaks stuffed with detritus to embellish their comfortable beds.  Everything with wings is engaged in breeding  – the pleading of hungry children punctuates the silence warmly; an almost-melody only broken by paranoid blackbird fury.  He loudly insists the entire garden is his.  I’m sure the sparrows tease him mercilessly:  in their place I know I would.

A tiny fly, a fraction of an inch in length, settles upon the table and I half-notice it, absorbed as I am in my reading.  At taxiing speed it heads purposefully towards the table edge.  It clearly has a mission; a plan. It does not stop, or even pause, until it senses it has my attention.  Then it freezes, ready, I suppose, to fly.  Yet it does not.

Rightly, it does not.

In its tiny head is a clear objective, for one moment set aside.  Yet the look that has startled holds no malice – does it know?  A few seconds of wariness then it crawls on, leaving me, admiring, in its past.  It reaches the table edge and is gone.Insect

Immaculacy.  No other word could describe that slender thorax of iridescent blue, wings of powder-fine lace, the minute white dots behind those tiny cellular eyes or the sinuous dance of its feeling hands – fibre-thin antennae so fine as to be scarcely visible, but sentient nonetheless.  So neat, so faultless that I cannot help but marvel at the natural god whose creation this is.

I am struck dumb sometimes by the slow intelligence of those who claim to understand the relationship that exists between time and size in this great universe, who seem to dismiss the brevity of a tiny life as of no importance. Do we imagine this miniscule miracle of nature perceives its life to be any shorter than our own?  Do we think it sees its span to be a mere moment, or a full and rich lifetime?  In that same scale, how short are our own lives, and how much slower is the rhythm of the planets, the movement of the stars?

Within a head little more than microscopic to my eyes there lives a brain no greater or lesser than my own:  a mind capable of decision and scheme, aware of danger, equipped for its defence.  To say it is no more than a basic life-form, that it is there merely to breed and then die, is to acknowledge a state not dissimilar to my own:  for what else, when all’s said and done, is our function?   Yet I would not accept that as a full assessment of my life and its worth; and no more should I dismiss the life of that small creature.  For inside its head I am sure it worries, and thinks, and dreams just as I do.  The secrets of the earth and the keys to the universe may lie within that little brain.

And so it is, in that much greater mind above us, with the stars.

Betrayal

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Crow“So, what d’you fink?”  The crow is back on the lamp post outside my window.  It is his third visit this morning, but the air outside is still cold so I have been pretending to ignore him.

“About what?”  I ask, through my grudgingly opened casement.

“This, mate.  This!”

I stare cluelessly at him for a moment while he turns to face me, then away, and finally perches on one leg with his shoulders hunched and his head lowered.  At last I comprehend.  He is posing.   “Very nice!”  I try to sound enthusiastic.

“Nice?  Nice?  Do you know how long this took me?  Look at them fevvers!  Look at that shine!  Sex on wings, mate, that’s me.  Irresistible, in’ I?”

“You look very…”  I grope for a word…”personable.”

“Personable?”  I have ruffled those magnificent feathers.  “No, mate, I ain’t like no person.  Not like a person at all.”

I have neglected to remember the world outside is heavily engaged in the machinations of Spring.  Cherry blossom is on the bough, clouds are white and fluffy, and there is romance in the air.

“So, you’re going courting?”  I say.  “I thought you guys were supposed to be monogamous?”

Crow fixes me with a reproachful eye.  “You ‘ave to do that, don’t yer?”

“Do what?”

“Remind me!  Listen, mate.   One lot of kids – out the way.  They’re gone.  Me, I been workin’ me beak off fetchin’ an’ carryin’, stuffin’ the little buggers wiv’ anything I can find just to keep their crops full.  Now they’re big enough to do their own stuffing, and I got four days – five if I’m lucky – ‘fore it’s all twigs and mud again; know what I mean?”  He refers to the next clutch of eggs, of course.  I nod my understanding.

“See, it’s not jus’ me, is it?  You should see ‘er!  She’s down the playing fields hoppin’ around wiv that chuffin’ chough from Number Three Elm, makin’ out like she’s just two again.  She’s been comin’ home wiv ‘er tail fevvers in a ruck for a week!  It’s disgustin’, that’s what it is!”

This drift in our conversation is making my crow agitated.  He is stamping his feet on the top of his lamp-post perch and pecking the plastic cover repeatedly.  “How do I know whose chicks I’m goin’ to be slavin’ over next month?  Do you know what chough eggs look like?”

I admit that I don’t.  “You’re concerning yourself unnecessarily.  I’m not sure what you’re suggesting is even possible.” I stop myself from chuckling, because my friend is obviously a soul in torment, caught in a very human dilemma.

“Maybe you do need some recreation.”  I say, more to placate him than anything else.  “What will you do with your four days?  Do you have a seduction plan?”

Again I am treated to that askance look.  “If yer mean am I goin’ to pull – too right!   I’m off down Carter’s Farm this very mornin’, I am.  They’re sowin’ the twelve acre, aren’t they?  Twelve acres of hedge to hedge talent, mate – you wouldn’t believe!”

“Mind you don’t get your beak caught in the drill.”  I warn him sardonically.  “Aren’t you getting a little mature for this?”

“Are you talkin’ about my age again?  Here, watch this.”  Crow launches himself from the top of the lamppost, executes a near vertical climb, then an immaculate stall turn, which he recovers with vigorous wing flapping.  Just as suddenly, he turns the ascent into a nose dive, wings near-folded, only to convert into a banked turn a few inches from the ground.  To complete this curious demonstration of corvid aerobatics, he does an upward swoop, landing back on the lamp-post with elegant precision.  “Does that look ‘old’ to yer?  Does it?”   His wing is dragging a little and clearly hurts him.  He stabs it with his beak in annoyance.  “In me prime, mate.  In me prime.”

I give him a twisted smile, with as much of my face as remains unfrozen by that inclement morning breeze.   “You’re not really going to cheat on your wife.”  I tell him.  “You’re dreaming.  Those young birds would laugh at you.”

“Nah.”

“Pardon?”

“Nah.  Alright?  Nah, I’m not goin’ to cheat on ‘er!  She’d peck me ‘ead in, she would.  I’d lose me tree rights.  I’m a territorial, I am!  I got a nest site, I have – and a good one, too!  I’m respected!  See what I mean?”

I do see.  The winter has been mild, leaving a sky full of spring survivors, and only a few of those young birds will be able to breed because there is simply insufficient space.  The older ‘territorial’ birds will monopolise the breeding as they always do.  But there will be squabbling and fights.

“So you intend to seduce some poor young innocent into thinking you’ll settle down and have chicks with her, when all you really want to do is ruffle her feathers?”

The crow pauses to consider my euphemism for a second.   “Fink so, that’s about it.”

“If that isn’t cheating, I don’t know what is.  I’m ashamed of you!”

“Yeah, but….”   He looks at me uneasily.  “What do we do it for, eh?  I mean, what do us males get out of it?”

I am flattered by this inclusion.  I find myself briefly checking to make sure I am displaying no feathers of my own.  “Us?”   I try to answer truthfully.  “What does anybody get out of it?  Nothing, I guess – maybe a kindred spirit to cleave to when the wind blows; maybe another voice in the silence.  Perhaps that isn’t the way to think of it.  We don’t do it for ourselves, do we?  We do it for our children.  It’s what they get out of it that counts.”   Trying a smile, I add:  “And a few precious moments following the seed drill on Carter’s Farm.”

My crow is suddenly still.   “But then yer chicks grow up, don’t they?  And that’s us left chasing dreams.  An’ every summer is a summer less, and suddenly there’s no chicks anymore, and we can’t fly as high as we did, or as fast.  An’ sometime we have to stop, and ask ourselves really, what was it all about?”

I find I cannot answer.  To try to do so would be to confront my own broken dreams, and in my own defence I must close that portal or it will consume me; so, with sadness, I reach up to the window sash, to gently pull it closed.  As I do so, I catch the eye of my crow watching me, sharing my thoughts, exposing my innermost dread.    I might almost imagine his sigh, but of course, that is impossible.  With a graceful shift of balance the bird takes flight, away into the grey morning, and away from me.

In my heart I know I will never see him again.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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