A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE

13 Jan

Sorry. I don’t appear to be able to copy the next episode onto this site. The whole entitled A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE is on WritersCafe under my own name.

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A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE

10 Jan

30. THE WITCH AND HER SPELL

It was early one Sunday morning and the Blocksleys were in bed but awake. Primrose was still asleep in the next room and the twins, being adult by then, had recently moved out, to live with relatives somewhere south of London. But the Blocksleys were slowly, remorselessly, growing apart, and it was all down to one particular problem.

I think we married in haste,” muttered Ursula to Greendale, “I think we should have waited…”

With you growing ever bigger with Primrose?” demanded her husband. “And it was you who agreed before we were married. It was you who wanted to carry my child before we had a chance to get wed in case the bloody war meant I’d never come back. And don’t forget, I nearly didn’t.”

Maybe,” sighed Ursula.

We both know what this is about,” said Greendale, more quietly, “We both know that it’s my inability to satisfy you because of that damned wound that I got… the doctors said I’d be all right, but I’m not. You can see that. I’ve not been able to … you know what …. ever since.”

I don’t like it when you call it satisfying me,” grumbled Ursula, “you make it sound as if it’s my fault, that my demands are unreasonable when all I want is a normal married life with normal relations with a husband I find myself falling out with because there’s nothing normal left.”

Because I can’t do it,” said Greendale bitterly, “if there was something I could do, one little thing, or even one ginormous thing, I’d do it. You can’t think I like being like this: what do they call it? Impotent? You know I’ve been to see Doctor Blegg and he said everything should be all right… he’s got the reports from the services hospital I was treated in, they said that the little wound had healed properly.”

But everything’s not all right and I want another baby before I’m too old to have one,” Ursula told him. “Time’s ticking by, you know, I’m in my forties and might dry up with my menopause any moment now.”

Well, I’m sorry. What more can I do?” he replied, a little petulantly.

There’s one thing that I mentioned,” almost whispered Ursula.

You mean the old woman they call a witch?” demanded Greendale, “you’ve got to be joking!”

Old? I don’t think she’s a great deal older than me and there are lots of people who say she’s better than any doctor when it comes to herbs and cures.” Ursula sounded uncertain, but knew they had to try something, and even the old Entwhistle woman would be worth a try as a last resort. Beyond that … well, she knew she was fond of Greendale, but there had been a time when she had said she loved him, and she didn’t say that any more. It was all because of the physical thing.

I don’t want you to think it’s just because I want a baby!” she blurted out, “I want to do it with you, too. I want to feel the warmth of you so close that we’re like one person! I like the feel of it, Greendale, or think I do, though so long has passed I might have forgotten!”

We do some things together,” he protested, “I do try…”

I know, I know, I know … but there’s one thing my body needs, one … oh, I can’t put it into words without sounding greedy and perverse, but I do really need it somewhere closer than in a distant memory.”

Then I’ll go and see her, just to please you,” grunted Greendale.

And I’ll come with you,” she said, determinedly, “this afternoon.”

How do you know she’ll be there? Hadn’t we better book a time with her?” He felt as if already, moments after agreeing to see the old woman, he might be trying to wriggle out of a meeting with someone widely regarded as a witch. And probably he was, but he was terrified of talking to anyone about his problem. Talking to the doctor had been hard enough, and he’d been another man, older, true, but understanding. Talking to an old witchy woman would be impossible, surely.

No. We’ll go this afternoon,” insisted Ursula. “I’ll take Primrose round my mother’s and we’ll walk there. It’s not far.”

This is going to be embarrassing,” grunted Greendale as he climbed out of bed. “I’ll go and put the kettle on, then.”

That afternoon Ursula and Greendale set out for the Entwhistle woman’s cottage. Griselda was already a force to be reckoned with in Swanspottle, though she didn’t seem to think she was anything special. But she was constantly pursued by rumours, and rumour can be a mighty powerful force. In particular it was rumoured that she was in touch with magical forces, that she could perform deeds with spells and tinctures brewed up in her cauldron that would put scientists to shame.

She lived down a lonely lane that wound its way out of the village and out into the countryside. The cottages down there were small and mean, but she loved hers and as a means of discouraging unwanted visitors she crossed two besom brooms across its tiny porch as a kind of mystical gate. Most people knew what that kind of broom indicated and went away.

Ursula knocked the door whilst Greendale hung back, wanting to be anywhere but where he was. He might even have swapped positions with his former self when he’d been shot down piloting his Spitfire during the war, but dreams and fantasies rarely come true, and he remained on Griselda Entwhistle’s doorstep, shivering.

And her door opened.

Griselda has always been one of those women of indeterminate age. She was probably born looking fortyish and by the time she passed through her teens she arrived at a physical appearance that might have been anything between twenty-five and a half and a hundred and something.

I’ve been expecting you,” she said, with what Greendale saw as an evil leer but which was in actual fact her very best and most welcoming smile.

This is a mistake,” he stammered, grabbing Ursula by an elbow and pulling her away.

Stop it!” hissed Ursula, who saw the old woman’s smile for what it really was, and “my husband needs your help,” she said to Griselda.

A man needs to be a man,” observed Griselda, speaking directly to a reluctant Greendale. “A man needs to be able to procreate. A man needs strength in his armoury. A man needs life in his tiddlers!”

What is this woman waffling about? thought Greendale, perplexed.

That’s exactly right,” smiled Ursula. “And we’ve come to see if you can help us before our marriage falls to pieces and we end up fighting for the custody of little Primrose,” she added fiercely.

Such a sweet child,” sighed Griselda, “so innocent and young, and a shame if she becomes a battlefield! But you’ve left it rather a long time, young man! Let me see, it must be ten years since you were shot down, ten long years of wanting old Griselda’s magic in his life.”

I saw the doctor…” stammered Greendale.

Ah, Doctor Blegg. Such a fine gentleman and so good with measles. He did warn me you might call. Says you might benefit from a few spoonfuls of my penile tonic…”

Your … what?” stammered Greendale.

Come in, come in, come in,” invited Griselda. “I have just the job for you, and, mark you, it works like magic though there’s no magic involved. Just the right mixture of herbs and minerals in the right proportions. No silly ingredients like slugs’ testicles or catfish gizzards… just pure, simple ingredients that I gather from the hedgerows and back gardens. Nothing complex. Here, take a sip…”

And seeming from nowhere she produced a small bottle and wafted it under his nose. “Smell this,” she encouraged him, “Just get your nose round this! Isn’t it heavenly? Here, take a spoonful, just for the fun of it…

And he couldn’t help it. A spoon that also mysteriously appeared from nowhere, and somehow filled with part of the contents of the bottle, found its way into his mouth and within moments his face was flushed, his eyes sparkling and his trousers bulging.

My goodness me!” he spluttered, and fainted.

What a size,” gasped Ursula, “oh darling Greendale, love of my life, wake up and take me home!”

And he did manage to open his eyes and slowly climb to his feet.

What happened?” he asked, blinking.

Everything!” laughed Ursula, “now hadn’t we better thank the nice lady and ask her what we owe her … and get back home while it’s working!”

Oh, that’s all right,” cackled Griselda, “think nothing of it! Just take it as a gift from one who might have been saved from eternity had you not shot my enemy out of the skies in 1943!”

And she pressed the bottle and mysterious spoon into his hands, and shooed the two of them out.

You’ve got ten years of hanky panky to catch up on,” she said, “so be off with you…”

© Peter Rogerson 08.08.18

A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE

6 Jan

29. SWEETIE DAY AND ONE LITTLE SPERM

Ursula knew there would be problems one day in February 1953 when sweets finally ceased to be rationed and even children could visit her shop with their pocket money and freely buy them, so long as she had stocks sufficient for the day.

It had been a long drag since the second world war had ended, a drag during which sugar had been rationed by the Government to ensure fair distribution, and was a pretty fair example of the long shadow still being cast by that conflict. But all these years later some things were still hard to come by and there were still bomb sites in some of the cities.

Her one concern, though, was for the health of her daughter. She’d read as many books on bringing up children as she could find in the mobile library that called at Swanspottle once a week and believed she knew a thing or two, especially when it came to health. And there was a question mark in some of them about sugary treats.

She was on her own during the day. Greendale was at work. The solicitors firm of Dustcrotch, Dustcrotch and Featherington had taken him back once his recovery from sky-diving into a haystack on the end of a parachute was as complete as it ever would be, and for that he was grateful, as he was to his parents for forgiving him for what they called marrying beneath his station. So he quite happily drove to work in Brumpton every day and, yes, he did have a car, which marked him as being one up on most men of the post-war years when the ownership of any kind of motor vehicle was considered a luxury. His one problem, and this was considerably personal, had to do with the more minor of his original injuries, the one that to most intents and purposes had healed almost straight away.

Try as he might he found himself unable to provide Ursula with the wherewithal from which she could conceive a second child, and she really wanted a brother or a sister for Primrose … it didn’t matter which. At first he’d been more worried about his mobility and the possibility of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair had been more horrifying than and reduction in his sexual potency, which from a weakened position seemed of secondary importance. But his bones had slowly mended (with the help of cleverly positioned screws and rods) but he was still unable to do what Ursula wanted him to do even though he tried and she sympathised. Maybe anxiety made it worse for him, but he couldn’t get that one vital part of his body to even stir from its rest. It was another part of the long shadow cast by that bloody war and he found himself having to increasingly fight off despression.

But back to that particular day in February.

It was a school day and half a dozen local children, their pockets bulging with pennies which in those days had been rather large and heavy for small pockets, flooded in. Then they all bought far too many sweets than would be considered healthy in later years, and vanished with their white paper bags in the direction of Swanspottle Primary School. Primrose had gone with them, happily accompanying a group of friends with loud voices.

Ursula was still sighing her relief that what she called sweetie day in her mind was over and done with when the shop bell rang and Jane came in, with Susan’s hand clutched in her own.

Not at school?” asked Ursula of the little girl, who still had a few problems with her speech.

Jane shook her head. “She’s had a bad turn,” she said, speaking for her, “it’s a shame really because she really likes school, don’t you Susan?”

The little girl nodded but remained mute.

They’re so good to her,” continued Jane, “even though she’s the only child in the class with her set of problems. I think they can see beyond the fact that maths and English won’t do her much good, and the teachers as well as most of her friends like her for herself.”

So they should,” nodded Ursula, “she’s got the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen!”

But she had a funny turn in the night,” continued Jane, frowning, “she scared me good and proper, and almost turned blue on me! But whatever it was went away before I had time to run to the phone box and call the doctor, but I’m taking her along today anyway, just to be certain.”

It’s happened before, hasn’t it?” asked Ursula.

Once or twice, and every time it scares me. Doctor Blegg is worried, says she has heart problems and that it goes along with a rare condition that she’s got. You know that she’s not as big as your Primrose? And that they’ve kept her down at school?”

Yes, I know,” sighed Ursula, “Susan, as it’s a special day, would you like a sweetie?”

Lizbeth,” said a smiling Susan, “Wooden teeth.”

What’s that?” asked Ursula, alarmed that something may have happened in the village that she had no knowledge of, and she was the shop-keeper after all, the shop being the focal point of all gossip.

Tell her, Susan,” urged Jane, “it was something she learned at school, and the thing is she remembered it!”

Lizbeth…” began Susan, “Queen…”

Oh, you mean the new queen?” asked Ursula, “with a coronation later on in the year?”

Jane shook her head. “No, not that one,” she laughed, “but the first Queen Elizabeth of hundreds of years ago. What did Queen Elizabeth have, Susan? Tell Auntie Ursula…”

Lots of sugar and wooden teeth,” explained Susan quite clearly, and she giggled.

She was told that back in Elizabethan days the rich people had loads of sugary sweets, being the only ones who could afford them, and the Queen’s teeth went bad because she ate loads. Susan was told that she had wooden teeth fitted. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s stuck in Susan’s mind.”

So do you want some sweeties, Susan?” asked Ursula.

But the girl shook her head. “Wooden teeth,” she said.

You see, she’s got her eye set on her future,” laughed Jane, “and she won’t take any sweets off anyone because she doesn’t want to have a set of oak or mahogany gnashers made for her!”

That makes her the most sensible child in Swanspottle,” smiled Ursula, “how about some chocolate? Does that count as sweets?”

Like chocolate,” nodded Susan, and Ursula handed Jane a bar of chocolate to break into small squares and give the child.

Talking of having an eye on the future, that’s what brought me here,” said Jane, “You’ll never guess who I’ve heard from, out of the blue?”

Ursula frowned and thought, then “Not…?” she asked, indicating Susan.

Jane nodded. “The very man. Her father. He wrote to me. It’s really quite a nice letter and he put some money in it for Susan. He wants to see her.”

Charles Snootnose acknowledging his responsibilities? That’s a new one on me!” exclaimed Ursula.

In his letter he says he’s been a fool,” went on Jane, “he’s really very apologetic, and when he lived in the Manor I never heard him apologise to anyone, not once!”

What’s he so sorry about?” asked Ursula, tidying the sweet display up.

Your guess is as good as mine,” sighed Jane, “anyway, he asks me, asks mind you, not tells that he’ll come to see us this weekend if I agree. He wants to get to know his little girl. I mean, Ursula, his! As if he’s brought her up, bought her toys, fed her… as if one little sperm gives him life-long ownership!”

Are you going to say yes or no?” asked Ursula.

Probably yes,” sighed Jane, “I dared say one day in a lifetime is fair exchange for that one little sperm…”

I know exactly what you mean,” sighed the shop keeper, “But I only wish my man could find even one little sperm, even so…”

© Peter Rogerson 07.08.18

A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE

27 Dec

28. THE ARTIST AND HIS WEASEL

The history books explained it.

In 1851 there had been a great exhibition in a place called the Crystal Palace in London in which the best and most innovative of British as well as international invention and manufacturing was on show for the world to see.

The British have always been good at blowing their own trumpets. They even got half the world to blow them too when their Empire was at its height. And buried in that simple fact, sad to say, is a great deal of shame that won’t be gone into here!

But these were different times. The British Empire had all but crumbled away like all empires do given time, and its bank vaults were virtually empty due to the wretched second world war. But it was 1951. A century had passed since the Great Exhibition and someone had the bright idea of remembering it via the gift of some sort of reflective celebration. It would take the mind off all the destruction that still lay around in bomb site after bomb site. And what was produced was a show-piece of British ingenuity rather than the International giant of a century earlier.

But none of that mattered to Ursula as she and Greendale took Primrose to London for a day.

By 1951 Greendale had regained most of his mobility, though he still had a limp that would accompany him down the years for the rest of his life. But other than that he was mobile and even considered himself to be reasonably fit.

Ursula had rarely travelled far from Swanspottle, and even the ten mile trip to Brumpton was a rarity. To take a train to London was an adventure beyond belief for her as well as for young Primrose. Greendale, of course, had seen a great deal of the country from the skies and a journey by train held, he claimed, little excitement for him.

It was early in the morning when they stood in Brumpton station and the train thundered in, reflected light from its firebox giving it the appearance, to Primrose at least, of a mythical fire-breathing dragon intent on mayhem and murder. She huddled towards her mother, gripped by an excited sort of fear, and Ursula held her hand firmly as they watched the train pull to a standstill.

Come on, then,” she smiled, and the three of them nervously climbed aboard the brutish vehicle and into a calm, serene compartment, and took their seats amongst half a dozen strangers all on their way to the Festival in London.

That Festival may have offered a great deal to interest them, and with its eye clearly on a better future it was both informative and fascinating to the adults, but so far as young Primrose was concerned it had all been in the railway journey to get there! Even the huge and magnificent Skylon tower that seemed to be floating in mid-air as it reached its cigar-shaped shiny edifice apparently to the heavens themselves paled into insignificance in the child’s memory whilst that first ever railway journey remained sharp and clear and exciting.

But to Ursula there was to be a second focus.

They were walking, a curious threesome, along the South Bank walkway when what, to Ursula, was a familiar voice interrupted them.

I say, it is you, isn’t it? It can’t be, but it is!”

She let go of Greendale’s hand, and turned round.

Sitting on a path-side bench and surrounded by a display of scenes from the exhibition itself and a small artist’s easel, the pictures in glorious colour and signed by the artist himself, was Charles Snootnose.

He hadn’t aged well. He was thin and gaunt and wearing a paint-smeared smock, and next to him was a weasel of a man, nervous and twitching.

Nice paintings for sale,” said the weasel.

It’s you, Ursula, isn’t it?” grinned Charles.

What … what’s happened to you?” stammered Ursula. “I mean, you’ve lost weight…”

I’m an artist, and life has its ups and downs,” said Charles. “I’ve got some paintings, all my own work, and make a decent enough living selling them.”

Enough to buy your route to Paradise, anyway,” sniffed the weasel.

Billy!” rapped Charles, “Shut up or there’ll be no treats for you tonight!”

The weasel seemed to melt into himself as he settled down on the bench seat next to the artist.

What are you doing here?” asked Charles, and then he seemed to notice Primrose for the first time, “and the little lady … who’s the little lady? It isn’t..?” He left the sentence in mid-air, but Ursula know who he meant. He was thinking of Jane’s child, the ever-happy Susan.

No,” she said flatly, “it’s Primrose, Greendale’s and my daughter.”

Are you a painter, mister?” asked Primrose, peering earnestly at one of the pictures laid out around the man.

What a pretty name,” sighed Charles, “and yes, Primrose, I do try to be an artist, but it’s not always easy, not when you’ve got creatures like Billy tormenting you.”

I never do, then,” whined the weasel.

Charles sighed. “He never gets enough,” he complained. “He asks for wine and I give him too little, he asks for powders and I’ve never got enough…”

It’s good,” concluded Primrose, still staring at the picture, “mummy, it’s really good. Will you buy it for me?”

I don’t think I can afford it, darling…” began Ursula, frowning.

Of course you can,” put in Charles, “here’ let me look…”

He took the picture that Primrose had been admiring and placed it on a small easel that was propped next to him. “Here, let me look at you … Primrose, isn’t it? What lovely hair you’ve got … I used to have nice hair, too, but it started falling out when I looked at Billy…” and with a few deft movements of his brush he created a new figure amongst the crowds in his picture/ “There, I’ve put you into the picture!” he said, smiling, “and you can take it, a present from me to Primrose!”

It is me, mummy, look!” gasped the child. And, in all honesty, it could have been nobody else. Somehow, with almost no effort, Charles has produced the child’s likeness.

You’re very good,” sighed Ursula, “don’t you think so, Greendale?”

Greendale nodded. “A real talent,” he agreed.

I hear they’ve sold Snooty Manor,” said Charles, changing the subject, “not too soon, either. There’s no room for that sort of thing in this new age we find ourselves in.” He turned and faced Greendale, and sighed, “you’re a lucky sod,” he said, “and a war hero too, I believe.”

Greendale went close to blushing. “But not quite Mentioned in Despatches,” he said, “I got my name in the papers for parachuting into a haystack!”

I know,” smiled Charles, “but in order to do that you had to be shot down first, didn’t you? Whilst all Billy here did was allow me to rescue him!”

I’d be dead if you hadn’t,” whined the weasel.

Then it’s a crying shame I got the Mention,” snapped Charles, “now come on, lover-boy, help me pack away my pictures and I’ll take you home for tea. Meanwhile, Ursula, it’s been damned good to see you again. Damned good.”

He faced Primrose, “and you, little lady, enjoy the picture and when I’m famous you can tell the world that it was me who put you in a picture!”

And then to Greendale. “And you, you lucky sod, have a good life…”

And then, with his artwork put neatly into a folder by Billy, he sauntered off, easel under arm, whistling a wartime melody and disappearing into the crowds as if he’d never been there.

And Primrose, proudly, held on to her bright and cheerful picture, and smiled like the angel she was.

© Peter Rogerson 06.08.18

A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE

20 Dec

27. GRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Primrose Blocksley, aged 6, was about to burst into floods of tears.

School dinner had been a meat stew with potatoes and carrots, and she had liked all of it except for an obstinate and very rubbery slab of gristle in her stew. It looked what it was: totally inedible, like solidified slime.

The teacher on duty that dinner time was furious with her when she put it on the edge of her plate, uneaten. It glistened there, opaque and hideous, but apparently that teacher, a Miss Girdler (with a scarily long neck which prompted the nickname of Gooseneck amongst the braver children) eyed it with assumed relish.

Then she began.

Blocksley,” she said in icy tones, “do you realise that there are little children, little dark children in darkest Africa, who would die for that delicious chunk of meat that you’re leaving on your plate?”

Primrose, just about in tears, shook her head, which Miss Girdler interpreted as dumb insolence, and made her voice freeze beyond the point at which words turn into ice.

Blocksley,” she said in those frighteningly jagged freezing tones, “do you not realise that we have only recently finished fighting the most savage war in human history, a war in which thousands of children went hungrier than hungry and would have done just about anything for that lump of meat you are hoping to throw away in such a cavalier fashion?”

Primrose didn’t know what cavalier fashion meant and tears finally started to run down her pretty pink cheeks.

Blocksley,” grated Miss Girdler in a voice that sounded very much like an icicle scraping on glass in the depths of the coldest winter ever, “I have a stick in the cupboard in my room. I have a thin and whippy stick, and if you don’t put that gorgeous chunk of meat back into your mouth I will thrash you with it! I will make you bend over, I will remove your filthy little knickers and I will stripe your bottom with my stick until you won’t be able to sit down for a month of Sundays! Now put that meat in your mouth!”

Miss Girdler was so good at italicising her words that Primrose picked up the offensive and offending chunk of opaque gristle and, trying not to vomit, put it into her mouth.

You see, Blocksley, that wasn’t hard, was it? Not hard, not difficult, not impossible, was it?” And proud of being a walking thesaurus, she sauntered off to torment Tommy Hancock who had left a slice of carrot on his plate.

Primrose’s piece of gristle stayed in her mouth while the children were dismissed from the dining room and went in to the playground to run and jump and have fun. But Primrose didn’t run and jump and have fun, she had a lump of gristle in her mouth and she didn’t know what to do with it.

She thought of spitting it out into the toilet and flushing it away, but the toilet was an old black tar-stinking block in a corner of the playground and a voice in her head said that the toilet doors were all small and low simply to allow Miss Girdler to spy on whoever was sitting on the lavatory seats and take note on who was spitting her gristle down into the toilet’s grimy depths.

So she didn’t.

The end of the school day came and Ursula was at the gate, ready to meet her delightful daughter, but the little girl made her way out unusually slowly.

What is it, darling?” asked Ursula, and she noted the lump in Primrose’s pretty little mouth. “Are you ill?” she asked, horrified, “have you developed a tumorous lump in your mouth? Shall we go and see the doctor and let him look at it? Oh, you poor little darling!”

But Primrose was an honest little girl and she didn’t want her mother to worry unnecessarily about her health when she knew that the only thing amiss was a lump of horrible gristle, so she spat it out into her own hand so that her loving mother could see what was wrong with her child.

What on Earth is that?” asked a horrified Ursula.

It’s my dinner, and Miss Girdler said she would hit me with a stick if I didn’t eat it, so I kept it in my mouth because I don’t want to be hit with any stick…” And now the agony, the obsession with trying to chew and swallow a nasty chunk of gristle was all over, Primrose burst into floods of tears.

She actually threatened to hurt you because you wouldn’t eat that nasty thing?” asked a horrified Ursula. “Come with me, darling, and we’ll sort this out!”

And she took the lump of gristle from her daughter’s hand and marched into the school, straight through the entrance marked “BOYS” and to Primrose’s classroom.

Mrss Girdler was still in there, making a pile of books look as neat and tidy as she could before wiping half the blackboard with a felt board rubber, thus removing any evidence there might be in chalk that she didn’t know how to do simple subtraction herself.

Ursula went right up to her and held out Primrose’s lump of gristle and tapped her on one shoulder, making her turn so that only half the board was wiped.

Eat this!” she commanded in the kind of voice her daughter had never heard her use before, slamming the gristle on the teacher’s desk.

What?” asked an astonished Miss Girdler.

I said eat this,” said Ursula. “This is what you threatened my daughter with a stick that you’d punish her if she didn’t eat it, so I want to see how you feel about eating it!”

It was on the girl’s dinner plate, not on mine!” snapped Miss Girdler, needing to take command of a situation that was beginning to spin out of control

But I asked you to eat it, so let’s pretend that it’s on your plate and that you’ve got to eat it… come on, teacher, look at it and eat it!”

It’s been in that child’s mouth, and I happen to know she’s had a runny nose for the past few hours, so I’m not prepared to risk my health putting something into my mouth when it’s been in hers!” snapped Miss Girdler.

Would you have eaten it if it was on your dinner plate?” asked Ursula, “would you have picked it up and put it into your mouth? After all, it’s a lump of gristle, of sinew, and has no nutritional value at all. So would you, could you, have eaten it?”

There’s been a war … there have been shortages … there is still rationing and meat is hard to come by…” began Miss Girdler, “there shouldn’t be any waste by children. It shouldn’t be allowed. And there are starving people in Africa…”

But this isn’t meat!” snapped Ursula, “it is inedible, lacks any nutrition at all and would make most people vomit if they had to swallow it. And as for there having been a war, don’t you think we don’t know that? Don’t you see that we are reminded of it ever waking moment of our lives? Don’t you wonder whether we were affected by the damned conflict, because I can tell you we were! Primrose’s father was a Spitfire pilot, you know, and a brave one at that, and he was shot down during the war and carries his injuries to this day! So don’t you start pontificating about wars!”

But…” began Miss Girdler, but somehow words deserted her and she couldn’t find anything to say.

And to threaten a child of six with corporal punishment because she has a normal reaction to something that is totally indelible… I warn you, Miss Girdler, if you ever, ever, ever touch Primrose with any kind of instrument of punishment when all she has done is react in a very human way to something that is impossible, then you’ll never hear the end of it!”

And before the teacher could say anything in reply she turned and started walking off. But she paused at the door. “By the way, half the sums you’re rubbing off that board are wrong. I hope they’re not what you were teaching my daughter…”

Miss Girdler turned to face the blackboard, and it was suddenly her turn to cry. Quietly to herself. And as she did so her moist eyes caught sight of remnants of Primrose’s school dinner, and in a moment of anger she swiped it off the desk where Ursula had left it and watched it as it flew across the room and came to rest against a central heating pipe.

© Peter Rogerson 05.08.18

A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE

14 Dec

THE WILLIAMS EFFECT

Time chased itself along. Soldiers and airmen had all returned to the bosom of their families and everyone said that they’d just fought in the war that must surely end all wars. And still time rolled along.

The flags and bunting had been put away, life was beginning to resume the pattern it had enjoyed during the pre-war years, but with in Swanspottle there was one noteable exception.

On the death of Squire Snootnose, suddenly and from a suspected heart attack at the young age of sixty, the only thing that his good wife, Lady Patience Snootnose, could think of doing was selling the family silver and the building that housed it. Death duties, otherwise, would have been hard to find. The Snootnose family may have had its roots in the past, but that fact alone doesn’t contribute much to today.

By then her only remaining son, Charles, had decided to become an artist living in a garret in London in the company of his servant Billy Gently, though servant was only how the general public assumed the relationship ran. The reality is possibly best glossed over as Lady Patience, who had seen two sons die in the war, couldn’t face the disgrace of her third born.

But Charles began to make a name for himself. He had experienced some harrowing things whilst in France, and somehow they entered into his paintings (no longer etchings, he’d grown tired of them), and he produced a series of highly lauded works on the subject of the bloodiness of war, but always with a hint of the erotic in them.

So Snootnose Manor was put up for sale and became in remarkably short order the Snootnose Academy For Disturbed Juveniles despite a half-hearted protest from a group of single ladies who feared that Disturbed Juveniles might disrupt their harmonious lives. But, thought Lady Snootnose when she thought anything of any consequence, it would be more useful to the planet than being a mausoleum holding the spirits of generations of Snootnoses, going back, they reckoned, to the Norman Conquest.

Her one connection with the past was with her chauffeur. On her return from the land army, Angela Tightbottom had returned to the Manor and been re-employed as the only family chauffeur, and on the death of the Squire Lady Snootnose kept her on because it was too much trouble not to. Anyway, she had questions to ask, like

Did you find him any good between the sheets?” to which the answer was always a variation of,

I could have done without it, madam,”

And Lady Snootnose chose to believe it.

Ursula still owned and ran the village shop, but she employed Janet, the orphaned twin, to run the place when she was otherwise occupied and whilst Janet’s brother, John, had a job working with Farmer Bismuth, who by then was really feeling his age. And anyway, Ursula was otherwise occupied bringing up little Primrose and caring for Greendale, who was only slowly recovering from injuries sustained when his Spitfire was shot down. The little problem that might have affected his fertility proved not to be a problem at all, but a shattered hip was. And with the bones mending (with the assistance of a few screws) he had a pronounced limp and couldn’t stand for long. But he was making progress, with help from Ursula.

Jane Smith became a regular visitor to the shop, and that wasn’t because she was always requiring to do shopping. It had to do with her Susan, who was looked on as being strange or abnormal by those who met her, even by her doctor once the National Health Service meant she could afford to see one. She had been slow to develop through the normal childhood phases, such as talking and walking, and yet she was a warm hearted and happy little girl. As yet no name had been given to her condition and she was just referred to as “backward” which, though there may have been an element of truth about it, was cruel and unkind. There were fewer more delightful little people anywhere, but it would be over a decade before her condition was given a name: she had a genetic disorder that would be identified by a New Zealand specialist called John Williams and named after him. She was an undiagnosed Williams Syndrome child.

What it meant was that she was a sociable and loving little child, and that meant she needed to be in the company of people to love. Hence visits to the shop where she delighted other customers and formed a close fondness for Ursula and Primrose, who, though younger than her, gave every impression of being a great deal older.

Does her father know?” asked Ursula when the question as to what might be causing her slowness cropped up.

No, and I’m not telling him,” replied Jane, moodily. “He did try to see her when he came back from the war with that friend of his, what was his name? Billy something or other, but not for long. It was strange, really.”

How?” asked Ursula.

Well, the bloke who he was with, Billy or whatever, seemed, I don’t like to say it but it’s true, he seemed jealous of us. As if he and I were after the same thing.”

Jealous of Susan?” asked Ursula.

Jane shook her head. “No. Not of her as much as of me. It was almost as if he was jealous of me, that I might interfere with whatever was going on between them.”

And what do you think that was?” asked Ursula.

Like they were a married couple. I know it sounds … disgusting … but that’s what it seemed to be like.”

Ursula nodded. “I got the same idea,” she said, quietly.

Anyway, I don’t want Charles to know anything about her. I love her, she’s so easy to really love, and it crossed my mind that if Charles starts interfering he might want to see if she can be cured.”

Be cured, Jane?”

Yes. From whatever makes her … different.”

She’s lovely just as she is,” Ursula assured her friend, “and I wouldn’t like to see anyone change it.”

She’s already behind your Primrose,” pointed out Jane, “and they start school soon, when they’re five. I know she’s months older than your little lass, but to look at them you’d think it was the other way round.”

Almost a year,” sighed Ursula, “but I wouldn’t let it worry me, Jane. Maybe she’ll catch up. And maybe it isn’t important if she doesn’t. Now listen to that! Here comes trouble!”

That was the sound of Greendale struggling down the stairs from the living accommodation upstairs, his crutch banging on every step as he tried to avoid making a noise, and failed.

Hi there, ladies,” he said with a wince as he eased himself into the shop. “And who’s this little lady there?”

Susan ran up to Greendale and flung her arms round his legs, her bright smile huge on her broad face.

Su-san…” she said, and laughed.

She’s a real delight,” he told Jane.

And what about me?” demanded Primrose, “aren’t I a delight too, daddy?”

You’re two delights,” Greendale assured her, seriously, “two very delightful little girls and I’m trying to work out who to give a sweetie to first.”

Me!” both children shouted in chorus.

It must be remembered that sugar products were still suffering from wartime rationing, and would be for a few more years yet, and the gift of something as simple as a sweet meant a great deal more to children in those post-war years than it would to children in a later age.

You’ll spoil them,” smiled Jane.

And when Jane and little Susan had left the shop, Susan still in a push-chair, he turned to Ursula and grinned the boyish grin she’d first fallen for before the war had come along to spoil things.

I do love you,” she whispered.

And I love you,” he said, “now how about shutting up shop for the day, sending Primrose out with Janet and spending an hour with me?”

© Peter Rogerson 04.08.18


A WOMAN OF EXCELLENT TASTE

1 Dec

25. THE NAMELESS LOVE

Charles Snootnose had a Mention in Despatches as the dreadful war against Germany dragged on towards its end. Countless men had lost their lives on both sides, and if asked before they died not one of the dying would be able to give a real reason why they were fighting. They might spout some slogan hammered into their heads over months of turmoil, but slogans are rarely a reason and even more rarely properly understood.

But the Mention told how Charles Snootnose had saved the lives of three men whilst exposing his own mortal soul to enemy fire. It was as simple as that, and as complex.

He would never admit to what motivated him, not to his comrades and certainly not to himself, but in the final analysis it was love.

Despite his past experiences, love was a stranger to Charles. He had known lust, all right, had wasted his early years lusting after the unattainable, and even when he had lusted after Jane Smith and somehow seduced her in the name of creative art, finally as good as raping her in that his physical attention was against her will and resisted by her for as long as she could resist a man so much her social superior, even then he didn’t know love. But he had loved lust and the explosions it wrought within him.

Then when the world was a black and repulsive place, when he felt he must surely be on the eve of a personal journey to Hell, he met Billy Gently. And, without knowing how or why it happened, he fell in love with the youth. And not just in a fancying a night in the cot with him sort of way, but with a deep and meaningful desire to protect him and be with him at all costs.

And youth Billy Gently was, being almost a decade younger than Charles. And much to his own confusion and absolute delight that love seemed to be returned in the tiny ways that love can be when the world’s against it. Billy was equally confused. He hadn’t a clue why his heart was lifted every time he cast his eyes on Charles Snootnose. It seemed an impossibility, but he was aroused by the older man’s very presence in the same space as him. All he wanted to do was touch him, just lightly on the arm, maybe, or on the cheek, or, and this was risque, more intimately.

It reminded him of another time when he’d been at school and been besotted by Mr Dernier, the no longer young history teacher who’d satisfied his own lusts by inflicting pain on boys with his cane. In the end, and as a conclusion to his mental disarray, Mr Dernier, who had an elderly Ford motor car, had offered him a lift home from school because of the threat of heavy rain, and as he was nervously and gratefully thanking the teacher from being saved from a soaking, the middle-aged man had kissed him. As simple as that.

Their lips had touched, and at that precise moment the lust he had experienced at the very sight of Mr Dernier turned, through dislike, to hatred, and all in a twinkling because of the wave of pyorrhoea that flooded past the kissing lips from man to boy. Mr Dernier’s breath stank, and Billy Gently had been brought up to value cleanliness above all things.

Now there was Charles Snootnose, and Billy knew that he loved him and prayed that bad breath wouldn’t get in the way. He didn’t think that it would: he’d watched Charles as he cleaned his teeth and knew how fastidious he was.

Then came the rescue.

Three of them were manning a mobile gun unit in France as their forces tried to regain the Maginot line and hence get a chance of putting a foot into the enemy’s own territory. That mobile gun placement was put under heavy fire and one of the three soldiers was badly wounded. Another of the three soldiers was Billy Gently, and when Charles Snootnose saw the danger the youth was in (he was old enough to fight, but still in Charles’ eyes he was a youth) he saw red and, single handedly and with weapons being discharged all around him and at him, he made three desperate forays to the gun unit and rescued all three, including Billy, who was scared stiff but uninjured.

It was on the first evening after the rescue that the two fighting men exchanged brief words that were more of affection than mere friendship, and much later with darkness pressing in during the depths of a moonless night, when they managed a few moments of privacy, some gentle, loving and very warm kisses.

Charles did not have pyorrhoea, and Billy’s happiness was complete.

Months after then and when the war had ground to its inevitable end Charles invited Billy to Snootnose Manor as his own home had been blitzed out of existence. His parents were billeted in temporary accommodation that was totally inadequate for them let alone a third person fresh from the war. And after the demob of their unit Charles and Billy made their way to Swanspottle and to Snootnose Manor.

And they went via Ursula Blocksley’s village store.

Little had changed during the war years. The twins were still there and several years older. Having been orphaned by the war, efforts were being made to trace living relatives, but with the exception of one set of elderly grandparents, without much success. Ursula had said she didn’t mind them staying on. They were due to leave school soon, and thereafter they would be able to find employment and independence for themselves. Janet already had a boyfriend, one of the Pumpkins family, and the two of them seemed close, maybe even a bit too close for Ursula’s peace of mind.

So Charles walked into the shop. Ursula was busy loading a shelf with tins, and Greendale was leaning on a crutch and trying to be helpful with a duster.

A tin of beans and a loaf of bread,” called Charles.

Why, Mr Charles,” greeted Ursula, “back from the wars and in one piece, I see. And what was that I read in the papers, about a certain Mr Charles Snootnose being Mentioned in Despatches?”

Suddenly Charles felt shy.

And confused.

Two complete emotional episodes of his life were on collision course. He might have fathered Jane Smith’s child, now a five year old with attitude, but he had always had a soft spot for Ursula, ever since she had spied him doing something rather forbidden to himself behind a hedge in the happy pre-war years. And with him, standing next to him, was the smart and clean cut and even fragrant Billy Gently. The boy he’d rescued from a gun placement. The boy he knew that he loved.

Have you see Jane?” he asked, changing the subject even though no subject had been properly started.

Yes. And Susan who, may I say, takes after her father a little bit,” smiled Ursula.

Charles turned to Billy, a guilty look on his face. “I don’t think I told you,” he said, quietly. “Jane’s a local girl, or woman should I say these days, and Susan….”

Yes?” asked Billy in a heartbeat.

Susan’s my daughter,” said Charles.

© Peter Rogerson 03.08.18