A LIFE OF LOVE (3)

22 Jul

3. THE PRINCESS DANCE

It was a busy time. It was May the eighth in the year 1945 and Maureen Rosebush was having her seventh birthday, and it hardly crossed her mind that the war might be over. After all, being seven is more important than a war that that had persisted for all of her conscious life somehow being at a peaceful end.

There were going to be celebrations over the days and weeks to come, but not for her birthday. That had to be celebrated on the proper day and with a party (of sorts). Parties weren’t always easy things to organise because the war might be over but rationing of most foodstuffs wasn’t, and what’s a party without foodstuff?

She was given presents, though, a model car made of wood that you pushed along until you got bored to tears. It had been Uncle Jack’s as a boy, and for roughly five minutes he had treasured it before forgetting it ever existed until he rediscovered it in a toy cupboard when they moved into the vicarage a few years earlier. Her mother, on the other hand, gave her a story book, which she loved.

But none of that mattered to Maureen because her very favourite person was going to be at her party. It was her cousin Wallace Pratchett, and she loved him with all of her being. She had even let her uncle give her second favourite doll (she did have two until that decision) to a poor family who had lost everything as a consequence of the war because dolls were nowhere near as wonderful as Wallace. That poor family had a shrivelled daughter, at least that’s how Maureen saw her. Malnourished might have been a better word, and that girl welcomed that doll with the sort of indifference that meant that her feeling of hunger was more relevant than her need for a doll.

The party was a dull affair. Whilst most of the people in the neighbourhood were busy erecting bunting and talking in jolly tones about loved ones returning from the front, Uncle Jack, or the Reverend Jack Pratchett, thought it best to spend the time thanking his Lord and Saviour for the outbreak of peace. So the girl’s birthday party was intermingled with prayers and even the odd hymn sung mostly in baritone. Maureen didn’t like it very much and she managed to escape (with the toddling Wallace in tow) to another room where she could pretend to be a princess from a rather tatty old story book that she had loved for ever.

I am Princess Beauty,” she said to Wallace, who loved playing with Maureen because she was always, without exception, totally kind to him.

Beauty,” he managed to pronounce. He might have found the word difficult had she not been Princess Beauty for as long as he could remember them playing that game, which was for as long as his memory went back.

And you are my handsome Prince,” she said, twirling around and making her hair swirl like a halo around her head.

Prince,” he said, smiling hugely. He loved it when her hair swirled like that.

I’ll show you,” she said, her smile so sweetly close to that of a real molly-coddled princess that any genuine prince from a far off land would have been hard pressed to tell the difference.

In the corner of the room was a box, and in that box was her Princess paraphernalia. It didn’t consist of much, but she made the best of everything in it.

For starters, there were lengths of an old net curtain that had been replaced before the war when it was possible to replace old net curtains. Her mother had washed them (two years ago, before her father was killed in the war) and they’d been the main ingredient of her dressing-up box ever since. But, and this was glorious, in her hands they stopped being redundant and almost tatty net curtains and instead became a marvellous gown that even managed to sparkle when she wore it. Every time she came upon an unwanted glittery thing she added it to her princess costume: bits of old foil, discarded lengths of tinsel, that sort of thing.

But that wasn’t the entirety of her Princess splendour. She had a coronet. A cardboard coronet with buttons sewed on it so that, along with her magnificent gown, it glittered when the light caught it, and it being a lovely May day with sunlight finding its way into the room it glittered very often.

Then she became the Princess rather than a seven year-old girl in fancy dress. She felt it swamping her with magnificence as she walked serenely round the room, avoiding two chairs and a split pouffe as she went.

I am Princess Beauty,” she said majestically, “and I am looking for a prince to marry me. He must be tall and dark and handsome and wear velvet breeches. And he must look at me, his eyes glazed by my rapturous splendour, and vow to love me for ever. He must sweep me off my feet and take me from this dark kingdom to one where the sun always shines like it did in days of yore…”

She didn’t know what the days or yore might be but thought it sounded splendid, like things in her storybook sounded splendid in her head when she read them to herself.

Yore,” grinned Wallace.

And we will dance together. Sweet music will play and angels will sing, and you and I, my prince, will be arm in arm and rapturous. And we’ll move to the music gently swaying while our worshippers look on, and moonbeams will light us our way round the dance-floor…”

Like this?” he giggled, and held out his arms to her.

Like this,” she agreed, and held him by his hands and dressed in her finery and with each hand holding the hand of her consort, she glided round the tatty pouffe.

Maureen! What do you think you’re doing to Wallace, dressed in those rags!” barked a voice from the doorway.

She looked up. It was Uncle Jack, the Reverend Jack Pratchett, and his face had the reddest tint of anger to it that she had ever seen.

Put Wallace down!” he ordered, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you’re not to do it with little Wallace, not now and not ever!”

She couldn’t help releasing Wallace’s hands and bursting into tears as she ran to a corner of the room. The thunderous dark reality of existence had wormed its way through the weasel words of her uncle into the shining fantasy of her birthday.

Wallace started crying. At eighteen months he found everything too confusing for words, and his daddy, usually benign and even loving, had spoiled things.

So he ran towards the Princess Beauty and as he did so his nappy, wet and aromatic like moistened nappies are, wormed its way down his legs.

Now look what you’ve done!” barked the Reverend in his most accusatory yet somehow musical voice, “you disgusting, disgraceful little girl! Don’t you look at Wallace like that, not now and not ever!”

© Peter Rogerson, 2019

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A LIFE OF LOVE (2)

19 Jul

2. THE THREE WORDS

Wallace Pratchett had managed his first two words and repeated them so often that it might almost be assumed they were devoid of meaning and merely sounds that he enjoyed creating. “Mama!” he would squawk, and reply to himself with a resonant “dada!” when the worst possible news arrived at the Vicarage.

A telegram had been delivered to the Rosebush residence. A dreaded telegram that simply advised them that the man of the house, Maureen’s father and their battling hero somewhere in Europe, where exactly had been a secret kept even from himself, had been slaughtered in the name of freedom. A good man had been sent in a moment of unimaginable violence to meet a maker he couldn’t believe existed.

Some freedom when you’re not alive to enjoy it,” spluttered Amy to her sister Helen, clutching six year-old Maureen by the hand as if she was afraid that letting go would lose her for ever as well.

The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” intoned a sombre Reverend Jack Pratchett.

Both Helen and Amy wanted to shout that’s gobbledegook at him, but there was already too much anger in the world for them to want to add to it, so they remained mute.

Can I go and play with Wallace?” asked Maureen.

He’s in his playpen in the front room,” Helen told the girl, “and of course you can, but don’t upset him and make him cry.”

I love him,” averred Maureen, “I wouldn’t make him cry, not ever.”

So the girl wandered into that front room, and when Wallace saw her his eyes lit up. This was his cousin, he sort of knew that fact, and she always cheered him up. So he smiled and she laughed at him and knew, deeper in her heart than anyone dare penetrate, that Wallace was the most perfect of all babies, and she loved him.

I’ll climb in, Wally,” she said.

Of course she would! It wouldn’t be the first time she’d climbed over the slatted side of that playpen and joined her cousin. And it wouldn’t be the last.

Meanwhile, in the other room, what the vicar liked to call the Reception Room, Helen held Amy by one arm, gently so as to show her sympathy and love for her sister, and asked the one question that really needed an answer.

What are you going to do now?” she asked, “and where will you live?”

This was an important question because William and family lived in a tied cottage belonging to Squire Penarly and available to the family at a modest rent because William laboured on his land. Ever since William had joined the forces Penarly had grumbled about a good cottage being rented by someone who wasn’t pulling his weight on the land, and he really needed it as shelter for a couple of land girls that were doing the work of that one good man.

We’ll have to move,” wept Amy, “Penarly never wanted us to stay on in the cottage once dear William was called up. He made that much clear.”

Poor Maureen,” sighed Helen.

My own father perished in the Great War,” put in the Reverend Jack Pratchett, “he was killed on the Somme before I was born and was on his way to Heaven the same week that I found myself crawling into the world. I can’t remember anything about it, of course, but nevertheless I know what it’s like. The number of times I heard my own mother grumbling about the hardships she had to go through!”

Has the squire said anything yet?” asked Helen.

Amy shook her head. “I haven’t told him, but I’ll have to. Then I guess I’ll have to find me and our Maureen a shelter somewhere.”

You’re my sister, and you can stay here until you find somewhere permanent, can’t she Jack?” said Helen, almost defiantly.

Feeling cornered, Jack nodded. He would have suggested it anyway. As he’d said, he knew only too well the kind of troubles that erupted on the home front as a consequence of wartime fatalities. His own childhood may well have been immeasurably better had his mother been made a similar offer.

It’s a big enough place,” he conceded, “and you’re welcome, Amy. You and Maureen. Our Wallace seems to think the world of your lass anyway. She’s certainly got a way with him! I’ll inform the Bishop. He’ll have to be told, but he won’t object. We all have to make sacrifices because of this damned war.”

Jack didn’t say words like damned very often. He was notorious for his clean living, clean speech and holy countenance. It was even mooted in the village that he must have required holy guidance when it came to the conception of Wallace, though little did any of them guess the real truth. How, folk said, had he known what to do? Was there a hitherto unread chapter in the good book that dealt with fornication in an educational way so that he could read about where to put what? There was many a snigger in the Knight’s Arms when the news of a birth in the vicarage was publicised.

Only until I find a place of my own,” said a grateful Amy, “I think I’ll tell our Maureen. She’ll want to know.”

Go ahead,” advised Jack, “I’ve got a few words to say at the Pugh wedding tomorrow. Steve Pugh is getting married before he gets shipped out to wherever the young men are currently getting slaughtered by the score, and I hope and pray that his Audrey doesn’t lose her own young man before they have a chance to learn to love each other properly.”

Or at least produce cannon fodder for the next war,” thought Amy bitterly.

He wandered into his office, grateful for the boyhood injury that meant he, himself, was deemed medically unfit for active service. He’d volunteered, of course, but been turned down flat because of that permanently twisted ankle of his that was evidenced by a pronounced limp and inability to walk or run any distance. Colin Beesall had tackled him during a game of football when he’d been ten, and Colin was big and strong whilst he had been physically quite feeble for his age, like many sons of the poorer classes. He rather suspected that it had been no accident but that the Beesall boy had deliberately gone in hard on one of the rare occasions when the ball was anywhere near him, and ruined his ankle as well as any chance for him of glory on the battlefield.

He felt no sense of glory when he learned that Colin Beesall had returned to England, minus one leg and both testicles.

Anyway, he had those few words to say and he wanted them to be of comfort to the newly-weds as well as offering hidden advice when he suggested that there’s enough danger in the world without brave men going out to seek for more. He knew what he meant even though they might not, but then his own and loved (by bis mother) father had been killed during a volunteer excursion into no-man’s land in a lull between futile rushes over the top at the Somme.

Amy made her way into the front room where she could hear Maureen’s voice coo-cooing at Wallace, and she paused when she caught what she was sure was the baby’s reply as he shouted “Maury, maury, maury” in a voice filled with laughter and joy.

That’s three words, then,” she thought, and smiled rather secretively to herself.

© Peter Rogerson 2019

A LIFE OF LOVE

18 Jul

1. THE FIRST DAY

It was nineteen forty three, war was raging over much of the world and somewhere, away from the fuss and bullets, a baby was helped into the world following a difficult labour.

It was never quite certain whether Wallace Pratchett took and notice of Maureen on the day he was born but the general consensus of opinion was that it was unlikely. He did, after all, spend a great deal of that first day with his eyes shut.

Maureen Rosebush, on the other hand, noticed him, and it was from that first day that she loved him. It was a beautiful kind of love, the sort that only a five year-old can feel for her brand new cousin when his predecessor in her affections has been a wooden doll with woolen hair and sour looking lips.

I love him, Auntie Helen,” she said with the broad and beautiful smile of a truly pretty child.

And sitting in a comfy chair in her hospital ward with the weary lady lying exhausted in a bed next to her, holding her Wallace as close to her as she dared, Helen Pratchett smiled at her niece and whispered, “I know you do, darling.”

Wallace, on the other hand, appeared to take no notice of that brief interaction.

Can I feed him, please?” asked Maureen after a while when it seemed that auntie Helen was going to spend too long cuddling her baby and not enough time acknowledging the important role the pretty little girl was going to play in the boy’s future. Because Maureen knew, right then and there, that her role was going to be vital to the life and well being of the little lad she looked on as Cousin Damien.

Not now, darling,” murmured Auntie Helen, “but maybe one day soon when his mummy’s too tired to manage.”

Then can I call him Damien?” asked Maureen, loving the name because when she’d been at nursery school last year a boy called Damien had showed her a picture of his pet rat and being allowed to see that picture had somehow seemed the sort of thing that cemented a friendship that hadn’t existed until that moment. Since then the rat-owning little lad fad faded into obscurity when his family moved to the posh end of town, but Damien had remained as a name inside Maureen’s head.

I’m afraid we can’t, darling?” smiled Auntie Helen, “his daddy and I have decided to call him Wallace. It’s such a lovely name, don’t you think? And don’t you think he looks exactly like a Wallace should look?”

Maureen thought he looked more like a Damien, but had the sense to merely nod her head.

He’s going to be my friend,” she confided in Auntie Helen, “I know he is because he’s a brand new person and I love him.”

We all love him,” sighed Helen Pratchett, “and his daddy’s coming soon to see him, he’s bound to really love him. It’s a pity he couldn’t be here when he was born, but there was a funeral…”

I know,” smiled Maureen, “old Mrs Fotheringay is dead, isn’t she? Mummy says she’s gone to Jesus and Uncle Jack’s got the special job of showing her the way. I like Mrs Fotheringay. She liked knitting and she gave me sweets sometimes.”

Yes,” sighed Helen, “she couldn’t have waited and died a week later, could she? Then Jack would have been here and seen his little boy after he’d been safely delivered. But life’s what it is and she died when she did die, and on the very day our little Wallace said hello to us all, she was put in the ground.”

Mummy says it’s poetic,” sighed Maureen, “one out and one in is what she said, one out and one in.”

I suppose you could look at it that way,” murmured Maureen, “but Mrs Fotheringay was really very old, and poorly for ages and ages. It was best that she … did what she did, and passed on.”

So Uncle Jack’s showing her the way to see Jesus,” sighed Maureen.

Uncle Jack, or the Reverend Jack Pratchett as he was more commonly known, had actually muttered a few very unChristian words when it had transpired that he had to lead a funeral service at exactly the time when his lovely wife Helen had found herself taking delivery of their first baby. They’d asked if the time or the day could be in some way altered as if the baby had no say in the matter, but a long list of reasons reeled off by the hospital staff explained why that was plainly impossible. So Jack had to guide the spiritual remains of Mrs Fotheringay into the Afterlife whilst his wife was having their youngster introduced to this one. It was all very unsatisfactory from the point of view of the Reverend father, but what could they do?

He won’t be long, will he?” asked Maureen.

Who, dear?” asked Helen a trifle absently.

Uncle Jack,” sighed Maureen. “I like Uncle Jack, but he can be ever so serious,” she added, “and he talks about stuff I don’t understand.”

He’s a very serious man,” smiled Helen, “but I love him anyway.”

Like I love Dami … Wallace?” asked Maureen, “because I love him very much indeed.”

I suppose it’s a different kind of love,” sighed the new mother, “a kind of love special for mummies and daddies.”

Like when my daddy makes my mummy go to the bedroom with him on Sunday afternoons, and I’m to stay downstairs watching cartoons?” asked Maureen.

Helen didn’t want to answer that question and fortunately was saved by the arrival of the dog-collared Jack Pratchett.

At last,” he boomed, “you clever little things, both of you!” He eyed the exhausted woman in the bed and then his wife, sitting in her chair and smiling as if that’s all she had to do, ever. “Let me see him? Is he anything I prayed he would be?” he asked, curiously.

Well,” said Helen with a broad smile, “he’s not in the shape of a biblical angel printed in an old book and coloured in by monks of old, and all blotchy with damp patches on his face. Take a look, darling, and see what we’ve promised to care for.”

Before he went closer to his new son he scowled in the direction of Maureen. “What’s she doing here?” he asked.

She’s keeping me company,” replied Helen, “Amy’s gone to the café for a coffee. She was with me before the surgery on dear Edina, and needed a break, and Maureen was sent in to keep me company. And she’s been a big help, haven’t you, darling?”

I love Dami … Wallace,” smiled Maureen.

Darling, go and find your mummy,” suggested Helen, “while the Reverend and I have a very grown up conversation about things.”

Maureen looked at her quizzically. “What things?” she asked.

Grown up things,” snapped the Reverend, still in a tetchy mood having been denied what he looked on as the father’s right to be the first visitor after the birth of his first-born.

Maureen, pretty as she was with fine fair hair and a rose-bud complexion, scowled at that and backed out of the room.

Mummy’s coming,” she said, “and I’m telling her!”

And it’s probably perfectly true to record that the new born Wallace Pratchett had no idea that his most ardent fan had ever been anywhere near him as he slept in his mother’s arms.

Ignorance, maybe, can be bliss!

© Peter Rogerson, 2019

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.

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