There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.
First Love, First Light: Seduced by Adam Bede
I have not addressed the wider world for many moons. I lost any belief that I have new things to say, nor could I find any convincing reason why anyone should heed them if I had. Writing my memoir was an exercise to keep an old brain flexible, and discover whether my life had really had the importance I ascribed to it. It always seemed hell bent on commanding my energies towards something that evaporated as soon as it was accomplished. Anyway…
In recovering my own innocence, so that my disillusionment should shine the brighter, I have been revisiting the books that I now realise shaped not merely my ideas but my very life itself. I searched out what started as fiction and became my reality. The first critical vision of noble loyalty (whether accurate historically is beside the point) was John of Gaunt in Anya Seton’s Katherine. What a mensch he was! But that was all courtly, braided, curtailed and remote from my own world. It fed a kind of velvet dream but could not be dragged back into every daylight. It was a scented sachet of a book that spread lavender at unexpected moments, mostly a vision of an England I longed to know. A place of history and self confidence, a romantic hero of constancy.
Far more binding were the ropes of Adam Bede. In my school we were only permitted to read ‘approved fiction’ that were ranked in a dusty room under the keys held by the Latin teacher- the book room. There we could sort through Dickens, Trollope, Walter Scott in uniform bindings and bear away one book that we could read when prep was over but before the bell release. Adam Bede was my literary initiation. I was smitten at fourteen with a complete hero, but equally with a world I felt I knew. It was the recovery of the best beloved, both exultant joy and weepful gratitude!
I have just re-read it, with some trepidation, for I was afraid to lose the first work that gave me not only a world, but a passion for what literature was. I suspect I was unconscious of that directly, but it lay as undisturbed as the thatched hayricks await the need for food before they are dismantled and borne away. I do crave the recovery of that food, my own innocence that can be aroused, and here is where trepidation begins because I doubt that many now would read it without a curled lip- oh really! Too much! People aren’t like that!
Innocence is now disdained in fiction, yet George Eliot was far from innocent when she wrote her first real novel. Yes, like most writers her first work is autobiographical, but for a sophisticate critic, long a Londoner, always a travelling, now in Berlin at the Opera, now with Franz Liszt for breakfast, she immerses herself back in ‘Loamshire’ in the village of Hayslope and gives us her own innocence amongst the characters that are scattered in steady farmsteads or tumbling cottages, where bright brooks well from the ground and all travel takes much walking. They all have dogs, Gyp, Juno, and Vixen and the dogs are ever present, monitoring and observing.
This was my first visit to rural England, where the seasons turn with dependable benevolence, and currents are harvested by small children in stained pinafores, and workers treated after the fields lie to stubble. It was that steady antiquity of tradition that I longed to be part of, and to be encompassed by. I realised again the power of its portrait, back along. In South Africa there was no such antiquity, nor communities of such steadiness. We were all tossed by more violent seasons, and more cogent fears, and a spectacular landscape in which we had had small part. The country was not shaped to fold its cloak of steeples and hedges about our shoulders; we had hardly penetrated its autonomy. We could love it for its beauty, its wild storms, its cirrus or cumulo-nimbus skies, but if we walked away it would not notice our departure.
So the England of Adam Bede held out such a hand of comfort. But here’s the thing. It still does. It no more exists now, than it did for a 60’s South African. But in the mind rural Loamshire remains perfect, for what it said about George Eliot’s love of her country, her family’s experience among such people. There will be many (probably most) who would find the book improbable, for its almost universal redemption of error, or disgrace. The Methodist sermons of Dinah the preacher are overlong for today’s literary scrimping, that must apostrophe for scant concentrations but they reflected George Eliot’s own rejection of her father’s Church observance, and the hostility she faced. She was exploring their appeal as much for herself as the rough workers who gathered on the hillsides to be captivated by a woman in a white cap and grey dress.
Then there are the long entertainments of dialect and the acidic or philosophical in Mrs Poyser’s pithy put-downs. George Eliot had a wicked enjoyment of language, its metaphors and disrespect; her characters did not ‘give-over’ nor, even when moved to change, do so easily. So at then end when all ends well, I was not provoked to disbelief. They were their best selves in a society small enough to temper, and close enough to reject. Rather pleased they had survived their trials, more or less unchanged.
I did not start this piece with a review in mind, but rather an examination of my own naïveté, and in the hope of taking up the pen with greater conviction. I might now, and allow myself to entertain rather than follow the plot of my life. I shall do what George Eliot does, reading a reader’s thought, break off and speak directly to counter their misgivings, plead for my prejudices as though prejudice is permissible, and acknowledge that the point of a book is to share what is important to the writer, not conform to expectations. If a reader knows beforehand what they seek, they might as well write it themselves.
My mother did not often speak of her monotonous schooldays in Staffordshire, where she boarded for six long years without ever going back to Uganda for holidays. Instead she and her sister spent them with a Welsh Methodist preacher’s family where Sundays meant chapel and no swimming. But she did tell me of school Easter Sundays walking to church in heavy cloaks, with the snow falling on the daffodils and on the straw boater, and ‘Let us pray’ dripped melted snow onto the prayer books. That was why Easter was always more important than Christmas. Literature is built of single moments and may need nothing more than capturing them, without asking for more.
By di ablewhite, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13434662
By Joan Sykes, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13882295
Involution: Read Poetry; Understand Science.
Blowing a trumpet-Sorry!
DNA. Evolutionary Memory Storage?
Yeah? Nah. Never.
Look again. The PHI. Fee Phi Fo Fum
Now, still so sceptical?
Nearly fifty years ago I wrote the Theory of Involution. I jumped across a void and suggested that the entirety of Evolutionary memory was stored in ‘junk DNA’. Science had been simply the recovery of that record by the mavericks, aka the Geniuses, given access to the stacks. All those diligent contemplatives in dust coats sifting through the aisles. Aha got it! Move over. Try this instead.
No I never put it quite like that. I ennobled these minions of the library with their Eurekas as the bright sparks cannoning into God; God being the field of memory shared out in every cell, the Internet of information. I made that suggestion after studying the chronology of recovery, which went back in time, while evolution goes forward. And I further suggested that the Internet was simply the model of what we had had access to; always.
It tanked: My wonderful hypothesis. A few notables like Arthur Koestler, and Konrad Lorenz gave it a cautious thumbs up ( maybe they recognised my recognition since they were both of the got-the-badge brotherhood of genius) but on the whole I was derided, spat out, dragged before a Cambridge Committee and made a coconut-shy guy.
So I rewrote it as poetry. The advantage of poetry is that those disposed to understand it will; those who wouldn’t are not quite sure what you have said. Or whether it is quite wise to reject it, until they are sure. A bit like hiding a secret doctrine behind a combination code; poetry is just like DNA in that regard, a spiral of information that only the deft can unwind.
Which brings me to this week’s news. And a satisfying validation. Unesco’s Memory of the World Archive have synthesized DNA that encodes (and will store forever) two songs from the Montreux Jazz Festival a mere 140 MB of data. This storage is smaller than a grain of sand, and if they want to encode the rest (6 Petabytes) it will be smaller than a grain of rice. According to the people who measure, the entire internet would fit in a storage container of DNA the size of a shoebox.
Well! The size of anything is irrelevant (although the perfection of DNA’s coiled structure wound on protein spools makes even its size and protection of information a superlative secretary. A perfection of PHI and Fibonacci). I cast my net of conjecture upon the shining net of DNA throughout the cosmos and even unto DNA’s precursors in RNA and unattached nucleotides not then organised.
The Russians worked out DNA storage in the sixties ( roughly at the same time I was suggesting my hypothesis) because Pyotr Gariaev had divined that DNA was not a ‘structure’ as much as it was a language; a language in which context gives meaning, and there are homonyms that look the same but mean different things depending on their surroundings, and what comes before, and what comes after. Infinitely flexible, infinitely rich and multidimensional, universally readable, universally modifiable. Gariaev spoke to seeds destroyed by Chernobyl with laser light re-instructed by healthy DNA and they sprouted. Miraculous? DNA responds to sound waves, its language read throughout the biosphere. Mantras work on DNA. The biosphere speaks, hears, changes, remembers.
So in suggesting that DNA was the language, not merely the 3% encoding protein structure, but a language of memory and memory of experiences, the basis of ‘re-cognition’. Cognition aka science. The cosmic record.
Still they have managed the two songs; they have managed to synthesize what nature has perfected for millions of years. They are getting there. I was fairly ahead of the time, by half a century.
There is some comfort in that. It would be great if someone else noticed, but it’s unlikely. So forgive me.
I hate the word ‘content’. It means nothing. But this ‘content’ seemed worth storing in my own shoe box of cuttings- resprouting.
If you want the full monty you can find it here
Read poetry and understand science.
The Dangers of the Memoir
Move Over- Book Seeks Space for Indefinite Period. Period
I don’t suppose anybody has noticed my absence, but in case anyone has I must include you in some reasons. The minor medical scare was not a reason but a release. I may never have to write again! Marvellous. I’ll tidy out the cupboards, sell the beloved cello. Weed the garden and wait. Maybe I’ll need a crucifix? Shall I dig a trench next to all the dogs and make life easier for everyone all round?
Instead the ‘all clear’ verdict has re-locked my ball and chain, fastened me to the throne of myself, and re-filled the Parker pen. Metaphorically speaking. Get to work. You don’t escape that easily.
Now here’s the problem. Or some of them. What I write does not have commercial appeal. Never did, never will.
I know ‘page turning’ ( I do it myself) means plot, means tension, means the hero’s quest, means structure. But the only quest I can call on is to understand my extraordinary life. I have been trying to puzzle it out since I had teeth to chew upon. Too much extra-ordinariness IS the PLOT. A wholly improbable life that implies something; orchestration, purpose, intention. Towards what? I still don’t know how it ends, though it is fairly imminent. Maybe time for one more book?
But, and here comes hell, there is simply too much of it, and a life is a whole. A book, any book must make a judicious selection and pull out threads from the tapestry, and weave a hair or wrist band and leave it at that.
Here have been some under consideration.
1.The view from the bridge over the chasm between Africa and England? End up offending both sides? Boer the reader with the Boer War, teach them to ride bareback over the koppies, and my grandmother’s views on Cecil Rhodes, Jock of the Bushveldt, Baden Powell et al. Then transport them to Mary Quant and sixties hip London for the blast-off, that fizzled out? You get the drift. Mandela followed by Zuma- no absolute heroes, a fair few villains. Margaret Thatcher? Over-cooked. Yet there are distinctive flavours.
2. The Search for love. Now that is a kinda quest. Literature as a kind of painting by numbers ( choose your own heroes) and all the seductions of wrong directions. Just William and Ginger would never have welcomed you in their gang. There is no John of Gaunt for you girl, and Rhett Butler? Nah, never.
Oxbridge and Virginia Woolf? Getting warmer but all that racism and preciousness? You don’t know about the overt racism? Just you wait! I took Harold Nicolson’s letters home personally since they were written while he was a guest of my Zulu speaking grandfather, who was forced to endure the company of a man who despised the people he loved. And said so. Explicitly.
But wait! There is a story and one with a literary bite. George Eliot picking up the odd stitch until I faced her full frontal at a graveside in Natal. That could make a novella for a discerning small publisher? But how I came to find her, and find the grave, weaves back into the fam-damily and the WHOLE narrative. Otherwise it looks flimsy, or contrived. It is neither.
So okay a memoir. Threads of all the above discerningly selected. I probably won’t have time to manage more than one.
Can you see why I have been silent? Six beginnings, all expiring at the third chapter.
Last night I had a rescuing dream. I had summoned my Daimon and appealed. ‘Give me a sign’.
In the dream I was contemplating the need to accommodate a guest I had never met. I was apprehensive because I knew it would be a long sojourn. I drifted through my beach shack house ( clapboard, glass, and sparsely furnished swept rooms with a lot of light but few creature comforts).
This small room at the back? Too dark. I want her to be able to read and entertain herself.
This large room I like? Where will I spend time? She’ll command the only bathroom.
Ah, this pillar that holds up the roof? With a well supported ledge? She could curl round it to sleep and would, in consequence make herself scarce during the day? A sort of Simeon Stylites guest?
Imagine being looked down upon all day? I woke up.
On contemplating this signal dream, I understood my wrestling dilemma. I was trying to accommodate this book by avoiding her, as much as possible. Confining her to an isolation ward, that would not infect me, keep her distant; feed her scraps.
I have created the shack of myself over the years. I go there when I am overwhelmed. It sits above a cove of beach, and tidal plashing sea; its enfolding arms stretch to the horizon. The shack has a porch with a grass chair and a hammock. Below, through an arch of rock, where the tide leaves small pools, and crushed shell is the opening to the beach. Across the sands lies a moored boat with a single sail. The mariner never faces me but I know he waits to unfurl that sail when I have the courage to enter through the rock and walk towards him.
I realised that if she were to be welcomed she would have to occupy, (and be invited to occupy), the whole house, from foundations up. Wander from room to room, and interrupt. I will probably end up hating her.
Because it is the whole house of myself I seek to understand. Perhaps when I have finished, the mariner and I will depart
Other writers recognise it as a kernel from which green things will sprout.
Tick moon gorging on blood from the sun
proceeds to suck dark the impervious sky.
Blushes under scrutiny, slowly winks, shutters half an eye.
Blind to waistcoat watches, eluding expositions…
Slicing its oyster along, along
the incessant speculating tongue. Far out
novice stars, newly born, flicker excitedly.
Dim television drones on; ‘new initiatives,
forty wounded, fifteen dead’.
The Virgin kneels to annunciation, accepts
a necessary puberty and the cowl.
Darkness in the grace of yes.
The Blindfold of Hope.
My neglected followers need an apology: The silence over past months has been deafening. We writers are used to fallow periods of doubt, fatigue, burn-out, depression, which tend to express themselves in a whinge. This will not be another whinge but some kind of awl; puncturing the inflation of self-importance, which keeps us afloat, like a blue bottle bladder on the salt seas. To ensure another stinging, mettlesome incisive contribution. Another that will sink without trace.
I am here to prick out the air of hope that inflates this persistent bubble.
Hope is the real narcissistic betrayer. The less of it there is, the more irrational its high maintenance, the stronger it grows. Like the death throes, the final gasping is more laboured and more desperate than those earlier rhythmical currents of disappointment followed by resolve. Breathe out; breathe in. Take up your pen and scribble.
There I was thinking I had come to terms without hope, hope of readers, hope of publication, I had accepted the accelerating speed of ageing and sifted out a few ‘manageable’ tasks that might be squeezed in before dementia started clacking its teeth.
Out of the blue came a letter of fulsome praise for a work I had almost forgotten writing. A seeming blast of enthusiasm (in its original sense- or so I thought) re-inflated that wrinkled bladder and set it a-sail. ‘Surely you must have been inundated with requests of this kind but might we meet? So much I want to ask.’
Instead of the rational response ‘Nice idea, but why?’ I took wing. Well, car. Travelled some distance, well, three hours one way. Was I discouraged by horizontal pelting rain? Not a bit. Was I afraid of winds strong enough to hurl cars across the lanes of the Severn Bridge, well, yes. But hell. A man liked my book. Was interested to know more. Death had no dominion.
So the funds that might have formatted the one that might come next, was spent on a dull hotel room in windswept Wales. We did encounter one another, a man reluctant to remove his hat and an old woman carried by hope like Mary Poppins, legs flailing.
I think maybe he really did initially like the book, but I think he liked the idea of being paid to ‘re-launch’ it a little more. That was the slow rising yeast within the monologues that assured me…err… of his estimable connections, his… err… family history of building err worthy stately houses. No mention of books. ‘Books are not really my field, though I do read a lot’. He would like ( you said you could spare it) a few hundred to read it for an audio, because he was a bit short, and ‘and by the way I need you to jump start my car to get home. It’s a tad unreliable’.
That was all the fault of hope. Bastard. What ignominy! How low will hope take one?
It puts a blindfold around judgement, and twirls you around, and pushes you towards every insane sweet smell of approbation. I have circled through five such hopeful proposals. Each thought I would pay handsomely for deeper disappointment, I would grant copyright for five years; I would print for reviews; I would pay to pulp; a disappointed author is a tree dripping plums. Hold up an apron and it will fill.
But this was the final gasping expiry of hope. I hope.
Advice? Avoid hope. Call it to heel, and grind it to ashes. You can recognise it whenever you start to breathe deeply. Instead like any woman in labour, just pant, and something might be born, or not. If it is, its appetite for attention will be modest, and it will not be a blue-bottle. It may be a sprat and swim. If it sinks you might plant a garden instead.
You will avoid humiliation. Promise.
A dream restarts the writing engine. The spark plug reset.
The Infected Splinter and a Dream
I have neglected the friends who do read my posts for a long time. I have neglected writing anything much for months. Before Donald Trump gave me every reason to stop I felt that words of any kind were inadequate, worse, self-indulgent. Instead of writing I tossed from pillar to pillar (no post) leaving a wake of wrappers, half eaten programmes that would find me ten thousand readers, book funnel avenues that would hook and land and lead to the sunny uplands of clamouring fans thirsty for my next succulent offering. All the writing I did was the writing of cheques to pay for dead-cert best sellers.
But I have passed some of that time reading other people’s posts. Many expressed my own despair (so endorsed no need to add to them) and apart from the successful nose- to-the-scent success stories of the series, the sequels, the genre specific authors, they exuded a waft of artificial hype. So many WRITERS chasing too few READERS, and many of those writers lamenting that their raison d’etre had evaporated in blockage, depression etc. In essence the unspoken question seems to be ‘why can’t I accept failure and give up?’ I have repeated that mantra for years. I am trying to detect a labyrinthine escape route from boring myself.
Following an arresting dream ( which I will come to) I realised that all this inflamed despair stems from an infected splinter; the splinter of hope. None of us can tweezer it out. When we try it is like getting a ball from a dog…it just moves further away and dares you to try. It now strikes me that there is an implied hypocrisy in the professed inflammation of despair. If we believed in it and knew we would not find readers, then the lack of them should cause no grief, no? We could either give up (if despair was as total as we pretend) or we could carry on regardless without disappointment, shaping beautiful stories for a single friend.
That’s my thought for the day.
What has greatly added to my particular disillusionment was being introduced to two new Amazon stratagems. The first was the discovery that writers who put books on Amazon unlimited will get increased payment upgrades per page depending on their twitter follower count ( Facebook too I think). So go to work on behalf of Amazon befriending , liking and licking, (all you writers prepared to stuff its Christmas stocking), and you’ll be rewarded! The other one was a new service by which you can feed in your book idea before you write it, through a narrow slot and see if it emerges to fly. So write books that Amazon can sell and don’t bother with any other kinds of book!
Now rolling that around my particular situation and I come out like coffee grains from a grinder. Which brings me back to my forays into the treadmill of marketing. All are based on what you write being ‘useful’ ( non-fiction) or entertaining ( fiction a la genre). Which is why I have flirted (pointlessly) with approaching agents- pointlessly because there is no money in the literary places I lurk. Not one of my books is an indicator of any other. So what started as a personal attempt to accept my limitations has now turned into social commentary. There has never been a better time to be a writer? Provided…….You are Neil Gaiman, and young. I used to think it was my advanced age but now I know that is neither a reason or an excuse.
I promised you a dream which has consolidated something, and those of you who help out with dreams may see what I have not. It was an admonishing dream.
I was in a crowded and chaotic kitchen, sitting at a nice scrubbed table, talking to friends, listening to snatches, pots a-boiling, carrots a-chopping, thinking that order might have given some serenity, but maybe at a cost of spontaneity. My daughter entered through a distant door carrying something in a cloth between two hands. It looked like a grapefruit. She pushed it at me across the table and I saw it was a very tiny baby. I sort of took it from her, leaving it on the table, but went on talking to neighbours for some time. They drifted away and suddenly I remembered the baby I had neglected and with a rush of horror I saw it had melted. On the table was just a puddle of milk, dripping over the edge onto the floor! I woke
My first thought was a cliché.’ No use crying over spilt milk’
I know what I think this meant (and it is not hard) but I would value your impressions, observations and remedies?
All I can say is I am grateful to the grapefruit for prompting this rather odd post. You never know I might keep at it. A dream prompted my last book. I wrote it in the dream/examination, and handed it in and woke up. I have just been brave and asked a few to read, perhaps that spilt milk might yet be drunk by a cat- there is a cat character in the book, an important cat.
Stimulated by a post from Nicholas Rossis that disabused me ( I thought this idea had been original) instead I offer a short short story for your delectation! A collection soon due. Free taste.
Yesterday was my best Valentine ever; the day when I, nobody from nowhere, knew that God loved me. You can keep your red roses. Usually on Wednesdays I have two hours to meself, seeing as how Tuesdays is the night Dad spends with his bit-on-the-side and comes in late. After I open up the factory I makes a cafetière of decent coffee and I sets out some fresh scones or rock cakes, and then I open up me magazine and usually have two hours fancying a new hairdo or planning a recipe with duck. I love duck.
Not this one. I didn’t have to wait for Dad to appear and start complaining that I ought to at least look busy.
‘Can’t have my own daughter slacking, sets a bad example’ He always says that and I always takes no notice.
So it was the last thing I expected when, instead of Dad, his Land Rover spat through the gravel and hand-braked like a rally stop in front of the stores. Who do I mean? Well that’s the something! It were Heil Hitler Walthorpe hisself. Not his manager, not his driver, but Lord High-an-Mighty at the wheel with his farm hand in the back holding on for dear life. He got out, slammed the door and stood waiting for service like we was his herd of cows and would come running. He’s a right arrogant git in his combat trousers trying to look like a man of the people, when everybody knows he inherited his millions from Daddy who made it selling hardware from the back of a van in some concrete Midlands jungle…
He seemed in a hurry. Well I wasn’t, so I took me coffee with me and strolled across the yard.
‘Your father, where is he?’ No good morning, how are you, nice day.
‘He could be anywhere’ I says, ‘Maybe up at mother’s, maybe down at Mole Valley…’
‘Well fetch someone, will you.’ I obviously wasn’t a Someone.
‘Righty ho’ I says.
‘And don’t say righty ho, just do it’
That’s the sort he is. If I hadn’t had the coffee I might of given ee the Nazi salute with me finger under me nose and practised me goose-step back across… He just stood watching me like I was a mangy dog, too old to bark.
I found Marcia doing her cuticles in the cloakroom and told her that Walthorpe wanted something from the stores so she’d better take the keys. She looked right smug to be doing the honours; bustled out with that person-of-importance clip-clop she puts on. Marcia is Dad’s PA, she thinks she’s a cut above and she resents that Ed, me brother, and me will inherit the farm when she is pensioned off. She will have to take her see-through blouses and her shorthand with her.
I watched her open up and then, blow me, Walthorpe and the farm boy start throwing all the metal cheese moulds into the back of the Land Rover like they was due for scrap, sounded like a harrow chewing barbed wire. Anyway they moulds had only been made last month. Just then Dad arrives and I see him trying to talk to Walthorpe who ignores him. Then he points to the stores and Dad nods. Then he drives off with the same mad frenzy. Dad tells Marcia to lock up and he comes in looking real puzzled.
‘What’s going on, what did he say?’
‘Not much. Just that we’re not to make any more of those heart-shaped cheeses’
‘Well you never wanted to make them anyway. You should be pleased’
I had never thought dad should get involved with that rubbish. The formula was crap, the milk organic but only just, and the method? Well let’s just say MacDonalds would not have batted an eye. They could’ve made it in their sleep. I mean who in their right mind would want to give their Valentine a plastic cheese looking like raw liver?
‘Don’t get sarky with me girl. You know why I agreed to it. It was just to keep the work-force on through January instead of laying them off till March. Now I’m going to have to pay compensation for breaking their short contracts…’
‘Didn’t you tell him that?’
‘Some things, girl, you just have to let go. I knew I shouldn’t trust him…I was a fool to ignore it’
‘What’s he planning to do with they moulds?’
‘Scrap, he said’
A week earlier we’d had six hundred of they cheeses stacked like outsize German Lebkuchen waiting for custom. It weren’t no Christmas. It was horrible seeing those swollen hearts sweating in the dark at the back of the stores, not like Dad at all. We make good Cheddar and we get lots of prizes at agricultural shows. I couldn’t really understand why he’d agreed to put our reputation on the line with a short order for Johnny Walthorpe. The only good thing was that although Dad had agreed to make them, he said no to marketing or distribution; so maybe the damage was done. Nobody would need to know we’d had anything to do with them. All but eight had already gone.
On the whole I think Dad was relieved, but worried that he couldn’t get a handle on the why’s and wherefore’s. Dad deals with real farmers like hisself, not these tax-loss Johnnies whose farms are left to rot while their Statelys are rebuilt, and their driveways re-surfaced. Walthorpe had set up his so called ‘vintage organic’ cheese five minutes after his farm was registered ‘organic’. How do you get both vintage and organic that way? No wonder he sealed it in plastic after it was punched out with cookie cutters like fat biscuits. A cheese that can’t breathe, can’t age. Dad had to watch Walthorpe’s fleet of trucks bustlin about the country with ‘vintage organic’ written everywhere, when he’s spent his life trying to improve already good real cheese.
Walthorpe wasn’t the sort Dad could talk to. He couldn’t ask the proper questions, like ‘why have you changed your mind’ but had to content hisself with the ‘what’s and when’s’ instead. Dad may be slow but he’s used to being in charge, understanding things. I made him a fresh cafetière and put out a rock cake as well. You know what they say about a man and his stomach.
What I couldn’t understand was why Walthorpe had cancelled the operation just after the whole consignment had been bought. Didn’t make sense. We’d had a sudden phone call from the other side of the County and told they had to be delivered that same day, which was last Friday. Seeing as Valentine’s Day was yesterday that figured and Joel, the driver, had put on a clean shirt and managed to take the whole afternoon off, and stretch the delivery into Saturday when he was due to be off anyway. I had a hunch that the two was connected. So I went to find Joel. He didn’t seem too co-operative but went on cleaning his nails with a screwdriver, not looking up.
‘Joel, where did you take that consignment of hearts?’
‘Bridgewater way, leastwise in that direction…’
‘Look Joel I’m not bothered about the time it took, or what lay-by you parked in to snog Tracey just say where exactly…’
‘Cherington Manor first, then on from there… Cherington unloaded ninety two himself, and then gave me fifty quid to take the rest to Butlin’s Holiday camp. He said I was to say they was a gift for their Valentines Day bash from a nonymous well-wisher…He also told me about a place, St Valentin, where heart cheeses has allays bin…intrestin’ bloke Cherington…’
‘Lord Cherington?’ I could hardly believe it.
‘Yup’ No wonder Joel had kept it dark. Fifty quid bonus on Dad’s time was out-of-order. Still, we could think about that later.
This was big time fishy. You have to realise that Cherington is the cat’s pyjamas when it comes to cheese. He never has to exhibit. His entire output goes to the Palace, or to Fortnum’s. His is the real crème brulée. He even imports the linen from France to wrap the truckles and ages it for five years. What would Cherington want with a load of plastic cheese tasting like soap?
I decided not to tell Dad about Lord Cherington. It was hard enough that his Lordship knew who had made that cheese, let alone that the only time we had any contact with him was through jumped-up Johnny Walthorpe. Cherington is Dad’s God on two counts; first when it comes to cheese, and second on the Countryside Alliance. He reckons Cherington is one of the few gentry who understand country ways.
I need not have bothered keeping stumm.
That evening it was in all the papers; our bleedin’ cheese, worldwide! When we turned on the telly Dad went white. To start with he thought it was a plant to get him banged up for being so mouthy on the Countryside Alliance. It was much worse than that. It was first in the six o’clock headlines.
‘Today, both Houses of Parliament were evacuated due to a bomb scare.’
It turns out that heart-shaped ‘bombs’ had been left first thing outside MP’s offices in the House of Commons. Major panic! No wonder Walthorpe was going to destroy the evidence…There was pictures of all they politicians being shepherded out, and the Lords being escorted like a crocodile of vintage schoolboys across the bridge, with their fur and flaming gowns a’flyin. The Japanese tourists were snappin’ away while the bomb squad was shunting them back. There was serious interviews of MP’s nodding in that know-it-all way, sayin it was clearly an Al Quaeda plot because they timed it for Prime Minister’s Questions, being Wednesday… Bingo to the British Government.
Then someone reckoned that Al Quaeda had got together with the Mafia (it being the anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) and there was pictures of the police in Palermo rounding up every Mustapha wid a moustacha…..with helicopters hovering…
Of course I knew it had to be Cherington and I was sure it was supposed to be a joke, a political joke; ninety two cheeses, ninety two hereditary peers. Work it out. Come to that, some of the MP’s seemed miffed they wasn’t important enough to get a personal heart-shaped explosive.
The bomb squad likewise took it po-faced. They marched off all the cheeses and x-rayed and scanned and reckoned by the weight it was semtex; but they couldn’t find no detonators. They did a controlled explosion on one and everyone agreed it tasted like semtex. Anyway one swallow does not make a summer so they took the lot off to a disused quarry and blew them up. At this point I realised Dad was crying… tears of laughter.
‘If they’re so keen on re-cycling why didn’t they use them to demolish the Dome’ he says. I decided not to tell him there were still 500 unaccounted for via the Butlin’s knees-up.
They are still running around trying to decide how the terrorists got into Parliament and why they chose the people they did. After they let them all back in they found three more under the Dispatch box. ‘ Sorry fellas, out again’ Then there’s Blair tryin to find his emergency face and swingin between ‘ Churchill’ and ‘Plum scared,’ and stroking his tie the way he does for the cameras, like it was a ferret. Loved it! Much better than Question Time.
You know the best bit of all, the hug yourself forever bit? I, Emmy Johnson, who yesterday wasn’t even a somebody, is the only person in the Country that knows the recipe. The last cherry on the top was added after.
In today’s local paper there’s a small paragraph which is going to put egg on everyone’s face. It says that Butlin’s have started this new tradition, the anti-Valentine Party…you send a present to the person you hate most in the entire world (hate being more common than love they say). All they cheeses were given out to start the ball rolling. No wonder some got three. Cherington must have got the intelligence early somehow. I can’t decide whether to show it to Dad. Best not probably; less he knows, less he’ll hang hisself. He’d never be able to keep it quiet.
No wonder Lord Cherington is God; wiping the smile off the Prime Minister and doing in the scam of the local Ponce. That’s what dad calls economy of effort, that is.
What I must do is get me brother Ed (he’s the local post-man) to drop they last eight at the Grange. He could drop them in a sack by the kitchen door. Better still, I’ll put a candle in the middle of each and leave a flickering line to Walthorpe’s oak portal after dark. I’ll light up his ‘Fetch someone!’ He’ll never know which local nobody might be a Somebody. It’s put paid to the ‘vintage organic’ that’s for sure.
My sweet secret is like chocolate on me tongue.
IMage By Myrabella – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6814083
A post from Ashen reminded me today was Poetry Day and since she wrote a portrait of a friend I thought I’d follow suit. This is in memoriam to the home a painter and mother of five filled, that now lies empty, unchanged. When I wrote it she was alive and I wrote it for her.
Sailing Folly Cottage
Boat, below the saddle of hill, rides the sway-back hummock grass
Moored against the end of the lane; tilts a chin to the drifting cloud,
Blows smoke kisses to the wind and rain; hails all elements as friends
None entering or passing by need wipe off feet or hands.
The door in permanent spasm can neither close nor stay ajar.
Bless-me sun has a needle stuck on a gap-tooth grin of spring
Shadows that have shed their shoes pull at bramble and wild colt,
Bulging tool-shed tethered with chain on the off-chance it might bolt.
Two gumboots, silent gaffers, relax on the broken step
Ignored by planters, iron pots, overflowing matted grass…
Closing their sun-blinded eyes; chew at smothered bulb…
The old boat rocks at anchor strain, its song a creaking hull.
Kneaded by fingers of babbling babes; kicked by bruising boys,
Stage for smashing arguments; quiet nights of mutual bliss…
Wringing out cold compress to bleeding black-eyed divorce;
Serene it coasts vicissitude; gives two masts to local reproach.
Beyond the marina of teak-oil stone; exiled by the well-heeled wharf,
The flotilla of circling circumspect homes; each with a view of the green,
Sailing across the well clipped grass where shaggy goats were tethered..
The Common much less common since corduroy Colonels moved in.
Beyond the watch at double door the Labrador flicks a frown
To passing ladders, green eyed cat; the Thatcher with next season’s quote,
Pop-in friend with lists and flowers…
The trial of the fancy-dress demand of the children’s annual fete…
A narrow jetty stretches into the hill to the quarantined boat, patently ill;
Moored out of sight; buckled by hedge, swift sluicing course…
Peeling skin in scrofulous flakes onto cracked and rising flags,
Rusting pails and harness for the broken-winded horse.
An isolated case of trust in a simple right to decline
In company with the Captain who is eighty (if a day)
She’s the tiller on her children’s lives, the tea-caddy of their coin;
She wears a waxed all-weather cape below a sharp white crown
She doesn’t stop to give a damn, nor does Sparky her clown.