Analysis

Hello Geoffrey, and how are you?

Bearing up I suppose, it was a shock you know.

Yes, yes I’m sure it was.

Oh, where are my manners, do sit down Ivor. Anywhere you like, don’t stand on ceremony, like me! Yes, about Oscar.. we’d been together since I was a pip.

Indeed.

We were two of a kind, peas in a pod could not have been closer. Big family of course – always some drama going on. Four hundred and seventy three of us in one bed; can you imagine it?!

But you and Oscar…

Yes, it was different between us. Same age but he was always smaller. I.. I was very protective. Perhaps we were too close – I’m sure there were times when he was overshadowed by me. And I may have been unaware, so wrapped up in my own development. I did protect him from the odd buffeting, and I did lean on him for support when I became burdened; I was so prolific you know!

Well that’s partly what I’ve come to see you about.

The produce? Oh, well you can have that. It’s mine to give but I feel it’s what Oscar would have wanted too. I mean, he never had any offspring of his own but mine regarded him.. recognised him as a guardian. I didn’t need to, but I have taken him into account.

Hmm. This is difficult.. you see this is where we have something of a sticking point.

Really?

Well you’re aware that Oscar endured health issues.

Yes. We all knew that.

Root compression, deformity of the trunk, mosaic virus?

All of these were common – these were hard times! No-one expected consistent watering, nutrients, unlimited room to grow, root run and so on. There was much I think he could have done for himself!

Geoffrey, you must see how this looks to the rest of the garden – heartless, cold.

I admit it! The tree surgeon said as much. I’m getting on you know and my kind have a brief but glorious sojourn upon this Earth. Look – Oscar could be thoughtless too you know. Remember the carpenter ants? He let them walk all over him. Of course he knew he was immune – they had no interest in a non-fruiting specimen. Up they came, slipping across onto my twigs and branches, running riot. Where would I be now without the tarwash and Bordeaux mixture you provided at that dreadful time?

Well, he’s gone now. No need to speak ill Geoffrey, and there wouldn’t be any problem, except for one little matter of which you may not be aware; Sheba.

Sheba? Who’s Sheba?

You remember the hurricane?

Oh! Eighty-four, yes, dreadful! What a night. I could have been uprooted – many of my siblings were! But what are you saying?

Oscar had a tough time of it too. Regardless of your protection. He was not so well-connected. Well, at some point during the night he shed a branch.

What?

Just a little one, not much more than a twig. Sheared off at the heel!

Well I never! He didn’t say anything.

Nor would he, so stressed after that night. I had to stake him up separately you know. You, of course got the scaffolding treatment, for a whole year.

Until after my crop was gathered, as I remember.

That twig, of Oscar.. I popped it in a bucket!

You don’t say… Wait.. wait, did it strike?

It certainly did! We called her Sheba. In a sheltered corner of the pottage garden she grew from strength to strength, and within five years she was in blossom.

Well I never!

And then the most remarkable thing happened.. she set fruit, and when Sheba’s fruit ripened, large and firm and juicy they were.. but seedless!

But.. but that isn’t..

Possible? Never before in a pomegranate… but Sheba didn’t know that. She just did what came naturally, and it was in her genes, the genes of Oscar. Unlike yours..

But Oscar was my brother!

So you thought, but this proves otherwise.

No! I won’t have it! It’s just a flook – one fruit, fortuitously seedless.

I’m sorry Geoffrey. There’s no easy way to say this. We’ve taken cuttings..

And?

And those cuttings took, and grew. And the first of those cuttings flowered, was pollinated and developed fruit this year. Seedless.

No. No!

They are a sensation! Full of flavour, easy to juice. I know these culinary matters would not normally concern you but you see.. the Old pomegranate’s days are numbered.

Oscar! That little traitor! To think that for years..

Oscar is long gone. We had him sectioned for analysis; even the rootball is now in cold store in the labs. The clones are doing well. But we do have a problem.

Yes?

Space. The cuttings need to be ramped up; polytunnels, nursery beds, all require space if the new clone is to reach market entry cohort big enough to engage investors before our lease renewal.

Ivor… I see you brought a chainsaw with you..

You know how it is Geoffrey. Times change. Needs must. Hold still old man, it’ll be easier if you don’t fight it.

.

 

 

 

Innocent When Ye Dream (pace Tom Waits)

The bawkie’s in the bell-tree
Dew roond the gowans dance
Whaur are the airms that claved me
An’ the loue she pledgit aince
The loue she pledgit aince?

It’s sic a sore glum measum
An the campsies couthy green
It’s mindins that I’ve nicked awa’ but
Ye’re innocent when ye dream, when ye dream

I made a geldy promise
an swore we’d never pairt,
A locken-booth I gied her
An clappit a’ her hairt
Aye fair clappit a’ her hairt

It’s sic a sore glum measum
An the campsies couthy green
It’s mindin’s that I’ve nicked awa’ but
Ye’re innocent when ye dream, when ye dream

We bolted roond the cremmy
An laughed my friends an a’
An swore we’d bind like cleavers
‘Til the de’il tak us awa’
‘Til the de’il tak us awa’

It’s sic a sore glum measum
An the campsies couthy green
It’s mindin’s that I’ve nicked awa’ but
Ye’re innocent when ye dream, when ye dream

Obversation; Windy weather

People don’t half come out with some daft notions in windy weather. Who knows what a hooley is?
You can sing that along to “An Officer and a Gentleman”.

Still makes no sense. 

Oh, I dunno. Before the trampoline everyone had a hula-hoop. Maybe it’s that.
OK here’s another one. On what occasion – in what weather – WOULD it be appropriate to hang your pet snake out the window?
What?
Well, they say that don’t they.
No they don’t.
Well obviously it’s a euphemism. But come a little bit of breeze, as if in order to digest the enormity of it, what do they do? They come up with the least likely thing imaginable and suggest that, if it weren’t blowing a gale that’s what we’d all be up to. Hula-hoop and pet snake dangling.
I’m not saying it was the hula-hoop.
Well it’s the best I’ve heard. What else could it be? Howler monkey? Not very common around here your Howler monkey. Very reliable in a crisis too from what I’ve heard, not like you domestic cat.
Oh no, here we go.
It’s not a real animal though is it?
When I sit on one..
All it’s evolved instincts, all its adaptations.. billions of years.. out the window!
Come on, that’s just cruel..
Put it in the realm of man.. out the window.  You spend half your time trying to compensate, grooming, dealing with its toilet, mating behaviour..
Just because it doesn’t suit the urban milieu..
It doesn’t. That’s my point. Why bother?
‘Cause they’re nice to look at?
Well..
‘Cause you can’t approach another human being and, unsolicited, chook them under the chin or scrunch your fingers into the fur behind its neck.
Furvert!
Well, I’m not alone.
Neither am I.
In a minority.
Worldwide?
I would have thought it’s pretty universal.
Well so am I.
Universal?
As a contingent.. I’m the voice of reason.
Oh, reason. That old chestnut.
You underestimate the appeal and the nutritional value of the chestnut.
I can take them or leave them. Don’t like getting the shell under me fingernails..
Anyway.. Cats.
Here we go..
What are they like?
You’re going to tell me.
Puff of wind and they start climbing the wall.
Ah, well, I think I can enlighten you there..
Mad?
“A cat is not mad; grant me this.” Lewis Carroll.
Another furvert.
Worse than that mate. Go on.
Yeah, cats. One puff of wind and they’re off up the curtains.
Well, wouldn’t you?
I’d rather not.
You have to put yourself in the mind of the cat.
I’d rather not… has it got a mind? As such? Not when there’s a gale blowing that’s for sure!
No, listen. It inhabits a world of smells.
My sister’s does..
It’s like.. that’s its geography.
Leather elbow patches.
What?
Mr. Richards. Yorkshire. Beard. Leather elbow patches.

Oh, yeah.
Go on.
Well, imagine a landscape of smells.
I don’t have to. I’ve got you.
You love me really.
Well imagine, you’re used to that, sweetly flowing. Flowers, Whiskas, Toilet Duck, all information about your environment, coming to you on the air.
Cue the music.
Gently rolling along. Lovely. Then there’s a little breeze. That’s OK, helps you locate. Upwind, downwind. Scent your prey, detect your predators.
The dustman? Number 27 bus?
Step it up a notch. 3 on the Beaufort scale.
Is that still a thing?
Far as I know. Leaves shaken from small trees. Anyway then things start to get a bit hairy.

Careful!

You know that thing dogs do in a car? Nose out the window?

Addictive I’ve heard. Crack for dogs.
Well for cats – nightmare! But a windy day, for cats that’s an earthquake.
Into the mind of the cat.. I still don’t see the appeal of the curtains.
Maybe it’s not curtains. Maybe it’s a tree.
Have I ever told you, you’re mental.
Frequently.

BareBnB

I was impressed by its convenient location close to the heart of the village, and by the charming courtyard garden. The bed-linen and towels were clean and the breakfast food left for me was plentiful and fresh. I did find it odd that the owner, Martin was never present at breakfast but pleased by his request to leave dishes unwashed.

I was surprised at the lack of an electric a kettle or toaster, and anxious about the loose toilet seat all of which he said were not an issue for him and he wasn’t in a hurry to have them fixed. The flat was rarely securely locked, and frequently on returning I noticed that the owner had left the front door open, with the keys left in the door; I entered and left without being challenged, as could any opportunist thief!

The flat smelled of dogs, including the guest room. I had been warned that I would need to be tolerant of dogs. It seems that as well as owning a dog and walking dogs for others for a living Martin “minds” dogs for others in the flat. Every time we returned to the flat we were greeted by a different set of dogs, sniffing and barking at us. Accustomed to the pets of friends I did not find this too alarming and Martin would be on hand to shepherd them into the living room off the corridor, to we which I was clearly told I was not allowed access. It is from this room that dogs would often be heard barking and howling late in the evening when Martin was out. He seemed to spend much of the day in this room and once, when I knocked on the door to ask if there was a spare toilet roll he answered the door stripped to the waist, wearing only grey fannel boxer shorts and a “tribal” mask on a thong, sweating and smelling of pachouli and dogs.

On first arrival I was shown the kitchen and kindly offered a cup of tea. There was some alarm when Martin opened a wall cupboard door and it came away from the cabinet, hanging on by only one hinge. Fortunately I have some experience of kitchen furniture and was able to come to his aid, detach the top hinge and lower the door to the floor. Martin said it had been like that for some time and he hadn’t got round to doing anything about it. He said now that he saw it without a door he thought he would leave it as open shelves. I was offered a choice of teas, mostly herbal, fruit or flavoured green teas. I said I would be happy with “ordinary” tea or Earl Grey. He had Earl Grey but only green variety. Martin explained that he had no kettle. He had one but it “sort of blew up” and he now boiled water in a small saucepan. The saucepan was provided with a china plate for a lid and sat above the gas flame on the hob.

When my tea was poured I saw that the pan had been repeatedly used and was encrusted with lime-scale. (This remained a cloudy pastel green for some time and when I eventually reached the last drop I discovered a little heap of lime-scale flakes at the bottom of the cup.) Martin said that I would have to do the same at breakfast times. Also, he said, he had no toaster either after a similar mishap, but that he had discovered he could make toast in a frying pan.

The kitchen furniture was an eclectic mix of styles, some antique or at any rate very old looking. The chairs at the small round breakfast table were cast-iron garden chairs. One was provided with a cushion; the other I gallantly accepted as mine but found it was extremely uncomfortable. Not wanting to make a fuss I found that I could plant my feet far underneath. Tensing my leg muscles, thus supporting most of my weight, I could minimise the pressure of the swirling Paisley tracery of cast iron on my bottom.

The kitchen appeared to be in the process of refurbishment, although I suspected that it had stalled and that the impetus to complete it had subsided. Areas of bare plaster showed where the chimney-breast met the ceiling and there were dark patches as if someone had occasionally thrown a mug-full of coffee against it. The stripped plaster in between was blotchy and had scraps of tattered wallpaper still clinging to it. There was no sign that redecoration was being considered.

My overall impression at this stage was that a relaxed attitude to hygiene had persisted for some time. Because the furniture was old and discoloured with age, it was difficult to see whether surfaces were clean. My suspicion is that they were not, so I avoided leaving any food in contact with them, using plates (the glaze of which was no less worn and discoloured).

I was shown the bathroom and the electric shower over a bath with a plastic curtain. The power for this was switched on by a pull-cord beside the door. Water from the shower was hot enough but the shower head did not disperse the flow very well. Many of the jets were blocked and a number of them squirted water sideways at the adjacent wall. Some also trickled over the top of the shower-head which I saw was lashed to the supply-pipe with a strip of cloth that had acquired a rusty tinge. Hot water to the vintage wash basin was inconsistent – one could not rely on a supply of hot or even warm water for washing hands and face. Like the kitchen, the bathroom was in need of redecoration; the cracked paint, discoloured grouting of tiles and the build up of lime-scale around taps created the impression of an uncaring lack of cleanliness.

Martin apologised for the fact that the loo seat was not secure – he said she could not fix it himself as he did not have any screwdrivers and had not got around to getting someone else to do it. It was safe enough provided one did not shift position once sitting down. The challenge was in lowering oneself onto the seat so that alignment would be perfect at the moment of contact. Provided one remains statuesque thereafter there is no problem.

There was no TV in the guest room, only in the living room and this was not for my use. The crackle of game shows could be heard from this room at almost any hour of the day. It was later explained that the TV was left on to pacify the dogs that were left indoors.

I was not the only overnight guest in the flat. Coming in during the morning or at midday I would occasionally encounter one of a number twenty-something year-old women either using the kitchen or emerging from the bathroom. They were of a type distinguished by their exposed midriffs and bra-straps, skin-tight jeans, body piercings and tattoos, with a style of make-up that relied heavily on mascara that was smeared and blurred onto their cheeks giving the impression of recent tearfulness or having been caught in the rain.

I t was difficult at first to sleep with one’s nostrils filled with the smell of unwashed dog, but after a while I became used to it. The thought strikes me now that this is because I too had acquired this aroma about my person and had become anaesthetised to it out of familiarity. One night however I was disturbed by the shadowy image of a women stumbling into my room, apparently having lost her way in the flat. In the orange glow of street lights that penetrated the net curtains, I could see that she was naked apart from a dirty white vest and, oddly, a wide-brimmed hat. She was carrying a pair of long woolly socks in her hand.

“What are you doing in here?” I demanded, though not as sternly as would have been appropriate, my voice being rather weak from sleep. “I’ve got to get to a cash point.” She said in a slurred flat monotone and I felt the whole bed frame bounce as she dropped to sit on the edge of the bed. She proceeded to pull the socks on before leaving the room and leaving the door ajar. My heart was pounding and it seemed like several minutes before I could haul myself up to close the door.

The following morning the same woman was sitting on a stool at one end of the kitchen wearing a Bugs Bunny onesie. She was slumped with her back against the wall, her legs forward with her knees and toes pointing together. She was entirely focussed on the smartphone in her hands, through which she was continually texting, her face now clean of make-up lit by the bluish glow of the screen. She looked about 15. She barely responded when I said hello. She offered no explanation for her behaviour during the night and I felt it not worth pursuing.

My overall feeling about this accommodation was of disappointment, and at times of shock at the lack of care given to the fabric and content of flat. I am surprised at the many complimentary reviews previously given on BareBnB’s website. I could understand this if the faults I noticed had only developed recently but they appear to be long-term and systemic.

Though I have had two really great BareBnB experiences my stay at Martin’s will make me much more circumspect in future.

Snag

On a walk on a country lane with drystone walls on either side I stopped at a gate and looked across a field. There were rows of young plants and I noticed, resting against one plant not far into the field, a pair of shoes.

They were soft leather black men’s lace-ups and I noticed the beaded texture of the leather. The toes were together pointing at an angle into the brown clay soil, the heels propped up by the struggling leaves and central shoot of the plant.

I was joined by my sisters ex-husband, Chris. These were early days of our acquaintance and he was relaxed and friendly as he often could be then. He leant against the gate on my left, spreading his hands across the weathered timber of the top rail.

I pointed out the shoes. “Do you think they were left deliberately – to make a connection between the leather texture and the leaves of the savoy cabbage?” I asked. “Dunno.” he said. “Typical of these flatlanders and their tricksy ways.” I said, gently mocking his Norfolk ancestry, trying to provoke a response.

I took out a camera to see what the scene could look like as a photograph, trying to layer the scene; shoes forground, crops in the field behind, a row of houses forming a skyline, then the big sky, blue with wisps of high cloud.

Then I noticed something realy unusual but very subtle. I took my eye away from the camera. At a certain point high in the sky the clouds seemed to be catching and eddying. It was as if something just beneath the surface of a stream was affecting the reflected light on the surface. I had a sense that the hidden object was in the shape of a letter ‘L’. I raised the camera to my face, without taking my eyes off the crucial point in the sky. I quickly found it through the eyepiece and zoomed in. The lens had only a moderate range but I could now make out more detail.

When I say it was an L it was an L on its side, as if it had toppled forward on the page, the column horizontal, eddies of cloud forming a parade of arching curliques across its back, the foot dangling with the serif of the toe snagging ragged wisps of cloud like the first gathers of candy floss, or wool on a barbed wire fence. My index finger trembled into contact with the Take button. Aware that my chugging breath was shaking the camera I took one long deep breath, locked the scene within the frame and..

Everything was black. No not black – very dark. Thudding beats form inside and outside my head. I rolled my forehead across wooden floorboards stinking of stale wax and stale beer. Beams of light, gold, blue and searing white clashed like lances in a joust, shattered and splintered across my eyes. Then something else, a glittering ball, or.. no it was the silver sequined behind of a woman wagging from side to side above me. A short sequined dress – I could see more than her behind. She turned, her legs flexed like she was riding a pony, arms crooked as if on an invisible rail. Her head was tossed back so that I could not see her face. I saw the shimmering undulating tower of her body flexed above me, the furrow and the cords of sinew at the base of her neck and her chin a distant golden pinacle. Then she flung her head forward and stared directly into my eyes. “FIVE FOUR THREE TWO ONE!” Her voice filled my head, obliterated the band behind and above her. We were only feet from the stage and the lights behind the band stabbed and straffed the floor. She flung her head forward, the lights caught her jaw and cheek bones, the sheer unbroken sheen of her cheek, the half-closed eyes and ecstatic grin. Then her face was inches from mine rolling like a bell within a halo of bleached curls. Sweat rolled across her cheeks and dripped from her wine-red lips onto mine. Her eyes were a pair of black holes, lidded with grey steel and sucking the breath out of me “Five four three two one!” I was mouthing the words as she sang them again. “Come on fish-face!” she was pulling at my arms, “You’re totalled!” I felt myself smiling and laughing at something, I didn’t know what, something I couldn’t explain “TWO ONE!”

Chris was pulling me up into a sitting position. The sun behind him, the nap of his jacket in shades of auburn and green. His tweed jacket, or “Svid yokkut” as he liked to say, mocking my sisters Swedish twang.

Our parents had come over in the early fifties and only I, as the youngest, had acquired English with no discernable accent. I was separate in other ways from my parents and siblings, having no memory of the country of my birth and my appreciation of its culture second-hand and academic, rather than soul deep. My culture was London. To my parents chagrin my affinity was with all of London and not just with the genteel customs and values of prim and leafy Maida Vale. My tolerable Swedish was, however an asset I was increasingly beginning to appreciate, having had a few sucessful encounters with the kind of wistful young and liberal female adventurers from the old country visiting the capital, swinging London.

So there was something of an afinity between me and Chris. Clearly he, like me, he had an eye for a young blond Swede and, though it was an effort for me to regard my sister as attractive in that way, the artist’s eye and objectivity I had developed in Art School allowed me to recognise the mutuality of our roles.

“Uffa Fox sake my son! You was a goner there for a mo’ Don’t tell me that was all about a pair of bleedin’ shoes?

Badger, Moon and the Magic Potion

One night Badger shuffled from his earthen cave and began to search for food. The moon shone brightly on the winter woodland and frost sparkled on the bare branches of trees. With his powerful short fore-legs and claws Badger scraped through the frozen crust of decaying leaves in search of worms.
“Badger! A fair night to you my brother!” said the moon. “Aye, and to you Moon, but a cold and a meager one for a hungry badger.” grumbled he, barely glancing at his silver-bright friend.
“Well then Badger, in your handsome coat of silver-grey, you should forage by day when the worms awake and rise to breathe the warm bright air.”
“Brother Moon you mock me” growled Badger, his voice rising in anger, “for well you know that your evil sister the Sun, the Witch of Dawn, detests me and would beat me with her fiery goads until my flesh were raw and hurtful!”
“It is true that sister the Sun has long been jealous of your handsome coat of silver-grey and for this she beats you with her fiery brands, for in all her tending of the garden of Earth no flower can she raise that hath such stark beauty,” said the Moon, ” ..but wait I have a remedy! The sap of the wild juniper has magical gifts. Mix this with the milk of a dozen milk-thistles and rub the cream into your shaggy pelt and to her you will be invisible, nor will the fiery brands she casts about do you harm.” “Good brother Moon” said Badger, “you have done me a great service. I will try your remedy. What may I do for thee in return?”
“Good Badger, in return I ask but this; do not share my secrets with Man. He is a proud and wily creature, but selfish and blind to the wholeness of things, and will turn this knowledge sour.”

But the Badger did not heed the warning of the wise Moon. he mixed the potion, rubbed it into his shaggy fur, but no sooner did he step out into the daylight than his own false pride in the magical cream overcame his caution. He walked beside Man and Man was astonished to see the once-secretive and shy Badger disport himself in the daylight. By and by, with flattery and cunning did Man gain the trust of Badger and soon the Badger unfolded to him the secret of the magical cream.
Delighted Man went straight away and stripped the Juniper of its sap, and threshed the Milk-thistle for its milk and made himself the potion, that he might go unseen by the Sun and no longer cower in the shade when the Sun shone in all her glory.
The Moon heard of this and was enraged. One evening as the Sun was setting badger was lying beside a quiet pool, thinking of the grand day he had spent in the sunshine.
Suddenly the Moon rose, angry and full and spoke roundly to Badger; “Badger you have betrayed my secret! Man now makes the potion and flaunts himself throughout the bright day. You now will suffer my wrath, for I have powers that you know not of!”
With that there was a flash of searing bright silver Moon-light and Badger was rolled onto his back beside the pool. In the water he could see his refection. His head, which was once covered in fine silver-grey velvety hair, now had broad stripes of black and white from front to back. “Now, Badger all may see you come and go, by day and by night! Perhaps now you will heed my warning; Fear Man! Hide from him and scurry from his sight, for he will call you vermin, cast you as the villain and the cause of all his woes, and bring you harm.”
And so it was from that day to this.