Archive | July, 2015

JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -2

28 Jul

This is Part 2 of a little something I’m quite enjoying creating as I go along

JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -2

“There is,” thought Maria Bigelow having arrived in front of a rather new and imposing front door, “something about a door like this that scares me. It’s intimidating, and I don’t like it… why would anyone want such a big door?”

She reached out to the bell-pull and might have given it a gentle tug, but something inside her head got in the way and she pulled her hand away. It was that door. She instinctively hated the power it represented.

It had been a weird day so far. Ma had warned her about Luke, the Benson lad. She had suggested that real trouble might come her way if she let him close to her. And although she was naive to the point of ignorance she had heard of unwanted pregnancies. Girls like her found themselves having babies and it was something to do with what boys got up to. She had never heard of any such thing as sex education, and maybe she should have. As it was boys doing naughty things and storks carrying babies and the roots of gooseberry bushes were all mixed together in her head as no explanation at all of where babies really come from.

She didn’t know much about boys at all, and even if she did she might not have been a great deal wiser. At fourteen she was little more than a child herself and her monthly periods hadn’t even started yet. She knew they would, sooner or later, Ma had told her (though no mention had been of what they were for) but she had a vague idea that they had to do with her becoming a woman and maybe even, one day, a mother. Such was her ignorance that she wondered whether boys had periods too. Is that why they were so dangerous to get near? Is that why it was called a curse?

She reached for the bell pull for a second time, and drew back again.

She was still carrying the card the stranger in the Rolls Royce had given her. There was gold printing on it, and a name, address and telephone number. She looked at it. In expensive-looking gold it said Lambert Mason. That must be his name – unless he was a mason of some kind, and he didn’t look like one. And there was a telephone number, also in gold.

Fancy that! A telephone number! Not many people had those! Only important and rich people, those whose lives were stratospheric compared with her own. And the man who had given her this card, this really expensive looking card, had said he would give her a safe job. He had said that the big man in the big house, Mr Benson, Mr Alfred Benson, had killed her father, and improbable as it sounded, buried him in the garden. And someone else had been put in the coffin they had buried in the churchyard, someone who wasn’t her dad. It was an impossible story, after all she had been at her father’s funeral, but Marie found herself wondering about it.

And at the same time that huge wooden door was scaring her. On the other side of it there would doubtless be that same Mr Benson.

“Hey you there,” came a sudden voice, “get away from there, bitch! You need the tradesman’s entrance and if you stay there like a scare-crow I’ll have a go at your entrance good and proper, see if I don’t!”

It was the boy of the house, standing at the corner of the house. She knew what he looked like, had seen him around the village on odd occasions, and at church on Sundays. He was three or four years older than her, and growing to fat, like his obese father. Everyone said it ran in the family, but privately she thought it was probably greed because Ma had told her in detail of some of the things they had on their table, things she could only dream of seeing let alone eating.

He sniggered at her, at the expression on her face, confused, not understanding – and he understood so well!

“At your front entrance,” he added “I’ll have a go at that all right, just you see if I don’t, rag-tag knickers or none, and you’ll like it, or else!”

“Luke! That’s enough!” came a voice from just behind him, and his thin, wiry and frightening-looking mother came into view, leaning on a stick for support and holding a large dog that threatened to pull her over on its leather leash.

“Aw, I was only teasing, mummy,” he grinned. “Girls like teasing, you know. They crave for it. It’s what they were invented for!”

“Go away, girl!” almost screeched the woman, Lois Benson. “I know who you are! There’s nothing for you here! Get off our land, or I’ll call the constable – and then you’ll be sorry!”

Maria was alarmed. Mention of the constable – an affable enough man, but still a constable, made her heart lurch. She had been brought up to have a respectful fear of policemen. “I was told to come here, ma’am…” she said, as boldly as she could muster. “For a job,” she added.

“Get you going!” squawked the boy Luke’s mother. “Your sort have no place here! In five minutes you’ll be taking advantage of dear Luke with your filthy mind and filthier body, and then he’ll be infected with your horrible diseases and doubtless end up sterile with scabs where there shouldn’t be any! So get off before the constable comes! And you can tell your mother the same! We don’t want her sort here either!”

“But Ma comes here every day!” protested Maria, more boldly this time.

“She makes the fish taste like poo, mummy,” put in Luke.

“Do you hear that, wretched girl! She poisons our food, that’s what she does, makes us all sick! Now be off with you or I’ll break this stick over your back, see if I don’t!” shrieked Lois Benson, allowing her dog to snarl and leap towards Maria until its lead tightened and stopped it.

Maria could take no more. She had spent the day building up her courage for what she had believed was going to be an interview, probably the most important interview of her life. She even had references of a kind, a paper from the vicar saying how godly she was, and everyone knew that only the best people were ever godly. And her recommendation from the school teacher saying she had never needed to be caned, not once in the years she was there, unlike most children. She was a good girl, was Maria. It would have looked more convincing if the name Laura hadn’t been roughly scratched out and the name Maria untidily written above it. But what use were those papers anyway, if she wasn’t to see anyone?

“Bah!” sneered Luke, and he actually picked up a hand of pebbles from the drive and slung them casually at her. One hit her sharply on the face, and sudden tears pricked her eyes. It wasn’t pain – the pebble hadn’t hurt her, but the humiliation of being treated worse than the Bensons treated their dog bit deep.

“Go inside, Luke, or you’ll be joining your sister!” rapped Mrs Benson.

“Can I see Jenna then?” ventured Maria. Jenna was the sister the wiry little woman had alluded to. There had been a time, years earlier, when Maria and Jenna had played together when Maria’s mother had taken her to work with her. Back then the Bensons had hardly ever been at home and the kitchen cook had been a kind of unpaid baby sitter. It hadn’t been so good for Maria because Jenna had something wrong with her speech and didn’t seem to understand the games they played properly.

“She’s away!” snapped the older woman. “Luke! Go and fetch the constable! The wretched child won’t leave our land!”

Maria turned away. Holding her papers in one hand and the bold-printed card in the other she walked at first, then ran, down the drive towards the road to the village. She felt almost totally miserable. The job she had expected to be starting, maybe even today, had evaporated like mist and she had never felt so unwanted or lonely in all of her life.

“So they didn’t want you after all,” murmured a voice just behind her.

It was the man in his Rolls Royce, and just like before he had wound his window down and was smiling at her as if nothing in the world was wrong. “It’s almost certainly for the best,” he added, “come in, child, and I’ll run you home. You might even see things very differently by the end of today!”

Ma had told her about strangers and had even hinted at what they might do to girls they trapped, but she felt so utterly miserable she did as he bade her. She climbed into the door that he opened, and sat on the plush leather seat next to him, and turned her tear-stained face towards him.

© Peter Rogerson 28.07.15

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JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -1

27 Jul

This is based on a small thought that may or may not go somewhere. Not even I know!

JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -1

The Great War was over, her dad had returned home, wounded but alive (though he was dead now), and Maria Bigelow hummed happily to herself as she walked down the cedar-lined avenue that led to the Big House. It’s as well she didn’t know that the Second World War was just round the corner, but then, few suspected the horrors that lay ahead…

But now she was after a job in service. Her mother worked at the Big House, had done all her working life as had her mother before her. Now it was Maria’s turn to donate her life to the Benson Family.

Mr Benson (head of the Big House) had made his fortune in cotton. His factories (he had more than one) churned out all sorts of cotton-based things and he had grown exceedingly fat on the fabric. And he was fat. It was said that the recent widening of the Big House doors was to permit his passage through them. His wife was a contrastingly little lady with a fierce temper and a scowl that could freeze anything liquid in the least of moments. There were also the Benson offspring, Luke who found it difficult keeping his tackle in his pants and Jenna who was said to be simple, and proved it to the satisfaction of all who knew her often enough.

Maria knew all that as she walked along. Her mother had kept her fully aware of the inhabitants of the Big House, and as a long-standing and senior (though part time, being a mother) member of the kitchen staff she knew more than her employers suspected anyone knew.

“Keep away from Master Luke,” she advised Maria as she set out for this interview, which was really a sinecure. The job was hers whether she liked it or not, but the Bensons liked to seem ordered and have things to be done properly, so there was an interview.

“Why, Ma?” asked Maria, knowing the answer. Everyone knew the answer to that particular query. Master Luke was famous in more than his home, his notoriety having spread for miles around, as had his semen.

“He’ll put you with child, and then you’ll be for it,” replied her mother, seriously. “I know it’s not easy to say “no” to the master’s son, but you’ve got to learn to keep your knickers on…”

“I’ll be all right, Ma…” assured Maria, exuding more confidence than she felt because, in truth, she had no real idea what her mother was talking about. She’d heard things, of course she had, but her awareness of the biology of humanity was, to say the least, sketchy. There were things that grown ups didn’t like to talk about, and she was mature enough to know that even though she wasn’t properly adult but she felt uncomfortable when Luke Benson’s antics were mentioned. Yet what those antics were she could only guess, and a more thorough knowledge of biology was needed for that guess to be anything like accurate.

It was a lovely morning as she walked under the cedars. The sun flickered and skittered as it found its way to the ground, the shadows it cast being almost hypnotic as they danced around her. She felt happy. At last she’d be able to put money into the family purse, pay her way in the world. She’d be living in at the Big House, which would cut down on Ma’s expenses at home but she’d still be able to walk the two or three miles home on her weekly half-day off, and keep in touch with her own flesh and blood.

“I wouldn’t be going there,” said a voice that made her almost jump out of her skin. A big car had glided up to her, its engine as near to silent as an engine can get, and a gentleman had wound down the window to address her. And “I wouldn’t be going there,” was what he had said.

“Pardon?” she asked, polite as ever because anyone who drove a car like this was definitely her better.

“I wouldn’t be going there if I were you,” repeated the man in the car. “You’re going for work, aren’t you? You need the money and you’re about to start on your first job, and you want to earn your pennies by serving the Master and his grotesque family, don’t you…?”

Grotesque family? She hadn’t heard they were a grotesque family before! Nobody had dared to suggest such a thing. They were the Bensons, and next to the King they were closest to God of anyone she’d heard of.

“They’re the Bensons,” she said. “They’ve always been here and my folks have always worked in the Big House. My father even worked in the gardens before he passed on…”

“I heard,” nodded the man in the Rolls Royce (for that’s what the car was, a Rolls Royce in the days when that meant something really special). “I even know where they laid him,” he added.

“What you mean, where they laid him?” asked Maria.

“Well, they didn’t want any kind of outcry… I mean, it might tarnish their cotton if the world got to know, so they buried him quiet, like, near the Rose Garden, where he could sleep in peace for ever, or until the worms got him…”

Maria shook her head adamantly. “He’s in the church yard!” she insisted. “We go there with flowers of a Sunday, we speak to him and in his own way he answers us from where he sleeps…”

“They told you it was your dad, but it wasn’t,” grinned the stranger. “He passed on, all right, in the gardens of the Big House, but they never put him in the church yard, though they put somebody there. Some other person, some other dead person, in his stead. That’s what they did. It’s the sort of things fat men like the Benson porky can do quite easily. Bury the wrong person in the right place… I suppose if we knew the truth of everything we’d discover that it happens all the time.”

“How…” stammered Maria, suddenly aware that a world existed outside the tiny place she’d inhabited all her life. “What are you saying?” she added, lamely.

“There are many stories I could tell you, but the truth’s an easy pigeon,” said the man, edging his car forward to keep up with her when she started walking again. “Your dad, that would be Mr Bigelow, died in the garden where he worked. He passed away quite sudden, with a spade in his chest and blood gushing all down him. It was old man Benson who put the spade there… he had to, see, because your dad had seen too much…”

“I don’t…” she wanted to say she didn’t believe him but she couldn’t quite bring herself to. He had a Rolls Royce and men with Rolls Royces were rich beyond the dreams of avarice and very, very much better than she could ever be. If there was a life-chain they were up the top whilst she lingered in penury near the bottom. She knew her place, and it wasn’t gainsaying a man in a Rolls Royce.

“If you’re wanting a job, young woman,” continued the man, “I’d work for anyone but a Benson. He’s no good, his kin are no good, and they’ll be the death of you like they were of your dad… if you really, really want a safe job … safe, mark you … then you could do no better than work for me…. that’s it, work for me. You’d be safe doing that, so think about it…”

Suddenly a need to fly seemed to erupt inside her when he came out with those words, but at the same time she was rooted to the spot. Fear, tinged with curiosity, did it.

He held a piece of gold-printed card out to her.

“It’s a lot to be thinking about here and now,” he said, “in just a moment, I mean. Take this card. It’s got my name and number on it. If you want to work for me, if you want a truly safe job, without a Benson in sight then give me a ring. Any time, but soon. I like the looks of you just like I liked the looks of your poor father when I knew him…”

She took the card, and ran.

The man in the Rolls Royce wound the window down, grinned broadly to himself, and drove off.

© Peter Rogerson 27.07.15

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY

26 Jul

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Bakelite microphone photo abxt_front_zpscwwa08oy.png
Mary Coppard winced and her breathing became more laboured and a lot more painful, moment by moment. She turned her head towards the microphone her grandson had wired up to an MP3 recorder, the Bakelite audio-wonder she’d bought as war surplus in 1947 and hardly used since then.

“As I said,” she wheezed, “this is my autobiography, and seeing as I can’t type any more – I can’t bloody well sit up and my fingers stopped working years ago – I’m having to say it aloud, and it’s easy to wander off sideways when you’re talking to a machine. Distraction was always the very devil, you know…”

Her face distorted, showing the pain she experiences as she enunciated every word. She could have squeezed the trigger that pumped a little more morphine into her blood – that would have numbed the pain all right, but it would also have numbed her mind, and she needed to be able to think. She didn’t have very long, she knew that full well, and she wanted to get this right first time. She may have no time for a second go…

“I could waffle on about being born, something I can’t remember at all, and I could reminisce about my childhood, which was pretty normal and as happy as a childhood could be. I wasn’t abused, nobody beat me and a lot of people loved me… so there’s no point in making a story about happiness. I was a happy child, and I’ll leave it at that…”

This time she coughed and the pain of every rasping spasm became etched on her face as even more tell-tale lines. When the bout had subsided she sighed and turned towards the old microphone.

“I suppose my story really began after the war. I was in my teens when the wretched violence ended and met my first boyfriend, though I didn’t realise that’s what he was at the time. But this lad, Lance he was called, which was an unusual name for back then, was a few years older than me and he’d been in the forces. He hadn’t seen any combat, the war being almost over when he joined up anyway, but he’d mixed with loads of other lads and learned a few things a lad shouldn’t learn. In particular, he’d learned that women had only one purpose in life, and that was looking after lads. He made that clear and I was fool enough not to take notice at first. But when I went with him to meet his folks, as he put it, I soon learned what he was about. His dad had died, before the war so he wasn’t so much a casualty of that conflict but he had died eventually because of a chunk of shrapnel he’d picked up at the Somme in the first world war, years after receiving it. So there was just Lance, his mum and a brother and sister. And how that mother of his suffered! She had to do everything for him, cook, iron, wash his filthy pants – and then she had to go out to work while he lounged about the house and ordered his sister about.

“You see, he was the man in the house and according to him that was all that mattered. His mother and sister were only there to tend to his every need. That was their purpose in life. He was never going to learn how to clean and cook! No, not him!

“That visit put me straight, all right. I was going to have nothing to do with a lad whose ego was so corrupted that he saw women as his lubricant in life. Yet we’d been going together for quite a time before he took me to meet his folks and we’d been behaving as normal young people sometimes do, though not so often back then! And, unbeknown to him, I fell pregnant.

“I daren’t tell anyone, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell Lance so that he could volunteer to do “the decent thing”, as they called it in those days. Nowadays it’s not much, for a lass to open her legs once too often and get into the family way, but back then it was almost a crime. Some lasses even got sent away to homes where they stayed incarcerated for years! I was more fortunate than that because my mum rallied round when she noticed that something was amiss with me and helped, but I had to go away to her sister’s at the other end of the country and put up with endless nagging criticism there. When my baby was born it died and I’ll say no more of it other than to comment that had it lived it would be a pensioner now!”

She paused and took a sip of water and this time had to help numb the shafting stabs of pain that were all she had left of life by clicking on her self-medicating morphine.

“My second boyfriend, Gavin, was, if anything, worse than the first and I proved I must surely be a really slow learner by marrying him. It wasn’t until we were settled in a place of our own that I learned his dark secret. He was a criminal who was perfectly happy using any amount of violence to get what he wanted, and we’d not been married a year when he was arrested and charged with murder. Apparently he’d been robbing a bank when a teller got in his way, and he shot him! Armed robbery would have been bad enough, but murder! I was mortified, but not as mortified as the poor teller’s family.

“Gavin was hanged after what seemed ages. They did that back then – the very worst killers got a sure-fire rope round their necks. I didn’t mind the fact that he was gone – I knew that he deserved it – but the shame that I felt, everywhere I went, was overwhelming. I know it probably wasn’t like it seemed, but I thought everyone was pointing at me, calling me, sniggering behind my back.

“I was still young, and I knew I had to go away.”

She coughed again, and sighed. She’d barely started. But the effort was draining her, the pulling of the right words together, and yet she had so much more to tell that Bakelite microphone. How she met Howard when she was living at the other end of the country, how she had known before their first date that he produced erotic films, artistic he had called them, and how she had finally found someone she could love and who loved her back in return. But that would all take so many words … did she have that many? She felt as if there were only so many words in her head and she had used all but a handful of them already. But she still had thoughts evoked by memories.

“I was in a dozen of his films before he properly noticed me,” she thought, “and I loved every one of them. I was so proud of what I was doing. Howard explained to me that there was an army of men out there, all in need of the comfort of a love life and all without one, and his films, issued on 8 millimetre film that most people could see at home if they went to the trouble of buying an inexpensive projector, filled a vital gap in their lives. And they were works of art, all of them, beautiful essays in the wonders of the female body, ten minute masterpieces…”

“I was a vamp and a harlot, a princess and a queen,” she sighed, loud enough for the microphone to pick it up. “A princess and a queen … and I married Howard… he had seen me in the arms of make-believe lovers in his studio, he had even seen me with other women, playing out this or that fantasy, and after I had performed for him in a dozen or so films he proposed to me. And I accepted! He was the first and only gentleman in my life….

“We were happy together. Of course we were! I produced two daughters for him, and you know what he said? I’ll tell you! He said that we must watch those girls of ours, make sure they stayed on the straight and narrow, keep them away from studios like his! And we did. They grew up and I have grandchildren and even great grandchildren….”

She flinched, and the pain became worse than ever. The room around her faded when she administered a second dose of morphine, and she shuddered. Then she sighed and closed her eyes. When she woke up, she thought, she would tell the last part of her story…

But she didn’t wake up. The dead can’t. So she didn’t notice when they took her microphone away, a hospital orderly looking curiously at it and smiling at a nurse.

“I wonder why she had this hooked up?” he mused, “pity she didn’t switch the little recorder on … we might have seen into the poor dear’s life a bit.”

“She wouldn’t have said anything,” replied the nurse, “the Alzheimer’s claimed her long ago… I’ve been here ages and never heard her voice, not once … it’s so sad, really.

©Peter Rogerson 26.07.15

DEAD LOVE

25 Jul

DEAD LOVE

dying man photo: DYING BREED DyingBreed03.jpg

Jerry Minkin looked around him through eyes that barely worked.

The room looked exactly the same as it had for the past several years when he’d gazed round in the morning, and in a way that surprised him. Surely it should look … different? After all, this was to be the last time he expected to see it at this time of the day, shortly after a new sunrise.

By this time tomorrow he would be dead. As a dodo. Extinct. An ex-person, and his trials would all be over. The doctor had said, sombrely and sorrowfully.

Life had never been kind to Jerry. His childhood had been marred by the miseries of others. His mother’s death had hurt him dreadfully at an age when he had been deeply in love with her and decided that one day he would marry her. It was the sort of thing a young boy might think, with nothing perverted about it at all. But she had died and he’d been a damned sight too young to understand exactly what that meant.

Time taught him, though. He never saw her again, and it hurt like mad.

Then, as if to rub it in, his dad was carried off by two burly policeman for killing a third one, and he was still short of being ten. His dad shouldn’t have done it, he really shouldn’t, not because it was wrong to kill policemen (though he knew it was) but because it meant that he, Jerry Minkin, was going to be left all alone in the world.

Well, not exactly all alone.

He went to live with his grandparents, two old fogies on his mother’s side (his father’s were both dead, granddad Joe in the war and Grandma Annie from excessive mourning). The living grandparents might have tried to do their best their best but weren’t so good at it and anyway their idea of discipline involved no carrots but plenty of sticks. And when they died in a train crash (the only two fatalities, which he thought an indication of the Good Lord’s attitude to them) he was still short of being twelve and a little too immersed in the consequences of death for his own good.

He went to a children’s home from there, his world having run out of blood relatives willing to care for him, and he began to learn that a lad could be happy after all. A slightly older boy called Colin fell in love with him, told him it was perfectly okay to kiss and cuddle and do other things when nobody was looking, and for a time his life was settled. Colin guided him down sort of straight and narrow mental paths he’d never known existed. He taught him that sometimes what people suggest might be bad could, actually, be good. And Jerry soaked it up.

The staff in the home were, to a man and woman, kindly and well-meaning people, and the early disasters in his life might have all been eroded by their generosity of spirit had it not been for a faulty toaster which caused the fire which burned the place down.

Only one boy was killed in the fire, the slightly older boy called Colin who loved Jerry with the sort of intensity that might be looked on badly were it discovered (which it wasn’t), and that set the seal of Jerry’s knowledge of life and death.

Life, he knew could be both good and bad, though in all honesty it was normally bad, and death, with much more certainty, rapidly took away everyone he might depend on.

Now many years had passed and he’d reached his own life’s ending, and the room looked just the same as it had for years. And the sad thing was it didn’t really matter to him.

When the doctor had told him that his life was coming to an end (a painful and incurable cancer which they’d tried to cure, and failed, and that failure had involved surgery that had been unpleasant, then the word remission and then its return just about everywhere) he’d almost celebrated.

His adult life had only taught him one thing, and that was the only real love in the world died in a children’s home fire way back in his teens. Ever since then there had only been wretchedness. He had met a young woman called Marge, found that young women can seem to be far more delightful than his first awkward stirrings of teenage desire with Colin, and they had married (in haste due to her pregnancy, something he had never understood because they hadn’t actually “done” anything.)

The baby had been all wrong. Marge had been a blue-eyed blonde, he a fair-haired pale-skinned young man, and the baby black as the ace of spades. It was clear that something was amiss and beautiful as the child was he found himself wondering where it had come from. Then he had discovered a suggestion of the anwer when Marge ran away with a local doctor, back with him to Africa where he had been born, taking the child with them.

It was a lesson in distrust. Severe, heart-wrenching distrust, and when he met and married Arlene it was what everyone said was “on the rebound”. She hadn’t lasted long and he soon discovered that she hadn’t visited the STD clinic on an almost weekly basis because she worked there but because her work involved being infected by this or that organism. Anyway, one of the organisms took her off and he was left alone again.

Arlene had been bordering on lovely, though. She mad made him, for the short time they were together, as happy as he’d been since … never, really.

His bedroom door opened.

It wouldn’t open so many more times. Not with him seeing it, anyway, not that he could see so well any more. In fact, he was as good as blind, but when you’re lying in bed with your eyes mainly shut that isn’t much of a handicap.

“I’ve come,” said the voice, quietly.

He knew that voice. It cheered him up.

“It’s been a long time,” said the voice.

He nodded. At least he tried to nod, but nothing moved. If the room hadn’t still been there, almost visible to his dim eyes, he might have thought he’d died already.

He tried to speak. But it wasn’t so easy, and all he could manage was a single word. A vital word. The most important word in the language.

“Colin…” he sighed.

“Come on. It’s time,” coaxed Colin, and somehow he took him by the hand and somehow Jerry Minkin was led out of that life into a vast endless nowhere, with singing so quiet all around him and something soft like clover beneath his feet and the charred soul of his lover holding his hand.

© Peter Rogerson 25.07.15

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT.

23 Jul

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT.

pansies photo: Maresfield Pansies DSC00940.jpg  Jobelia was a tiny woman with blonde hair and an intriguing nose. Standing a mere two feet seven and a quarter inches tall there never was a smaller woman anywhere. Yet, despite her diminutive proportions, in just about every respect she was perfectly proportioned.

You must know what I mean; quite a lot of people blessed with shortness are short for a reason, maybe because they have legs that never grew properly, or a short torso or something obvious and physical. Now, I don’t want you to think I’m trying to say anything about such people because I’m not. My concern is Jobelia, who was tiny in every possible respect.

Except, that is, in her choice of lovers.

Now, it must never be assumed that a tiny person has tiny expectations, especially in the love-life compartment of life, and Jobelia’s appetite in this respect was large. And because her proportions were ideal, albeit diminutive, she could see no reason why she shouldn’t receive the same range of physical affection as any other person. It was, she assumed, her human right to be caressed by whosoever she felt right being caressed by. Love, she explained to anyone interested enough to listen to her, is a universal verity.

And with that thought teasing the edge of her mind she met Shaun and took an instant and powerful liking to him. Most people did. He was a sportsman who excelled in several disciplines though he favoured the game of cricket because his sharp mind and teasing attitude to spin bowling meant he was virtually unbeatable. And to help him in his domination of such a cerebral sport he was fiendishly tall. In fact, he was all but an inch short of seven feet tall! He towered over everyone!

Jobelia met him one summer’s afternoon in July whilst she was sitting in her garden (she lived a very ordinary life, she had a garden that she was immensely proud of and when she wasn’t weeding it she enjoyed crocheting with her feet up on a stool in the sun, which she was doing at the time.)

“What a lovely bed of pansies!” he boomed at her from the other side of her garden fence. “I doubt I’ve ever seen such a fine display of colours so cunningly woven together into an eye-blistering delight as that! You are truly clever!”

She looked up, and sighed.

What a handsome figure of a man – and how tall! She had never seen a head so far from the ground before – it was almost as if he was on stilts. And that hair, waving free like a young man’s hair should be, teasing his ears and scuffling down his neck – but not too far! Not so as to look scruffy! And when he spoke to her he smiled a broad white-toothed smile, and it seemed to send arrows straight to her heart.

“Oh, what kind words!” she blabbered, hardly aware of what she was saying she was so overcome by the sight of the man.

“Do you think it would be too much for me to ask … would you mind if I came through your gate and took a closer look? I’d like to have a garden like yours…” he asked.

“Please…” she stammered in reply.

Her gate had no arch or anything to impede a tall person, but she noted that he instinctively ducked slightly as he walked through it. She stared at his face and agreed with her initial instinctive decision, that he had never seen such a handsome face before. His eyes were spaced just right for her – she put a great deal of trust in the spacing of eyes – too close together and they were deceitful and too far apart and they were mean. And his mouth … she had theories about mouths as well, though she’d never put them into words until now when she decided this tall man had the most perfect mouth.

It was a mouth she’d love to kiss.

It was a mouth she could linger over. It was the nicest and most alluring of all mouths. In short, it was sexy.

“Tell me,” he said quietly (his voice was practically perfect, his modulation warm and alluring), “Tell me, did you grow these from seed yourself, or did you buy them from a skilled gardener?”

“I bought the seeds,” she murmured, “I always buy seeds when I can…”

“And you arranged the colours just so?” he asked, his eyebrows raised.

“They turned out like that,” she confessed. “There’s no better arranger of flowers and colours than Mother Nature,” she added.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

Out of the blue! Just like that! Her heart fluttered and she leapt to her feet, all two feet seven and a quarter inches of her.

“You what?” she asked, hardly daring to hear the reply.

“I said, will you marry me?” he repeated. “Any soul who has such a garden and is in possession of the skill to allow Mother Nature to strut her colourful stuff without interfering, and who ends up with such spectacular results must be the most perfect soul in creation and would surely make the perfect, most loving wife!”

“But … we are a mismatch…” she almost protested, “you being so tall and me being a dwarf!”

“That is insignificant,” he grinned, “now answer me … will you marry me?”

“It’s a question I’ve never been asked before,” she whispered. “People like me don’t get asked that kind of question very often, you know…”

“But will you marry me?” he persisted. “I can care for you. I can provide for you. I can take you to bed with me and make love to you all night long if that’s what you want! I can dance with you in ballrooms with romantic orchestras playing special tunes for us, I can hold your hands under the moonlight, I can kiss your perfect lips…”

“We would look … odd,” she sighed.

“I hold no truck with odd! I’ve been odd all my life, little lady! At school I was mocked for my height, called names by grubby boys because I was different bullied because they had to look up at me. I know all about looking odd! So will you marry me?”

She smiled a radiant smile at him. “Then I’d best reply,” she whispered, “and the long and the short of it is … We’ve only just met here under the sun but yes, I will!”

He laughed aloud. “And in between our kisses, sweet lady, you can tend my garden,” he laughed, “but I warn you, there may be very little time for weeding!”

She sighed.

And the two of them went off down the street together, she sitting on one of his shoulders for ease, and by the time they were out of sight an old man with a briar pipe who’d watched the whole affair from his bedroom window cackled to himself and shook his head.

“I guess it’ll never last!” he croaked.

But it did because, despite all pessimism – and there’s plenty of that in the world – good things come in all manner of packages and really can stand the test of time…

© Peter Rogerson 23.07.15

NARCISSUS IN MY GARDEN.

22 Jul

NARCISSUS IN MY GARDEN

Narcissus in my garden bloomed in spring and summer this year, wildly sown into wood chips last year. Looking at the flowers’ faces it’s easy to see why they are named as they are.

In Greek mythology Narcissus was a hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a crystal clear pond as he bent down to scoop some water to drink. It’s hard to see how anyone could be so ego-centric, but the young hunter’s name has passed into the language as a person who was dreadfully overfond of himself.

In the end, when he realised his folly, Narcissus took his own life – though had I been an ancient Greek with a quill (or whatever they used to write with back then) in my hand I’d have been a tad more adventurous with my ending. This is something like it would turn out by this ancient Greek!

Picture now a sweet lad (the traditional description of Narcissus) walking along glades and through verdant woodland, and he comes, in the heat of day, upon a crystal-like pool of clear water. The hunting has gone none-too well (possibly because he’s been distracted by thoughts of himself) and his in need of a rest and refreshment.

“Oh,” he says to himself, “look what we have here, and I am becoming thirsty under this sun… I will drink and quench my thirst before I carry on….”

The water is so inviting and looks so perfect that he stoops down to scoop a handful. And as he reaches out to assuage his thirst he notices that a handsome young man, strangely beneath the surface of the water and oddly reminding him of himself, is looking back at him. And that young man is so perfect in Narcissus’ eyes, with a beautiful complexion and skin like the sweetest skin he’s ever seen, unblemished … and eyes that beguile him, so clear, so honest, so wonderful, that he starts shivering and quivering with joy, just looking at him.

“What have we here?” he asks of himself, “what manner of god is this that my heart is twisted by the very sight of him?” (We must remember that in Greek times a great deal of what happened was attributed to a wide variety of deities, even manly attractiveness).

And then his reaching hand touches the water’s surface and forms myriad ripples, and the image breaks up as rippling images do.

“Where have you gone, sweet youth?” he asks, frantic suddenly for another glimpse of human perfection (it does make you feel a bit queasy reading this, I suppose, but stories must out! I dared say there was a wide variety of human sexuality then as now, and the world was doubtless better for it.)

But the youth in the water is fragmented. He has gone. And in his quaking sorrow Narcissus rips off his own clothing intending to dive into the water and unite himself with the vision of manly beauty that he had glimpsed.

He stands there for a moment next to a pile of his clothing, naked and tackle-out, and in his own eyes as glorious as any man could be, and then he dives into the pool. But alas, that pool is but a few inches deep and he bangs his head on its stony bed and, sorrow of all sorrows, he loses consciousness. And as his mind goes blank, at the very moment when sense and vision desert him, he touches his own thigh with fingers searching for the least contact with the vision, and knows, in that fleeting, final moment, that he is touching perfection. And he sighs his gratitude to the beautiful youth, and drowns there and then, inhaling vast quantities of the purest of waters. Poor Narcissus.

That’s better than suicide, surely?

And the flowers in my garden … the sun’s been more than just teasing them and they’re dying too. Shame, really. Meanwhile, anyone who seems to be inordinately fond of themselves, who always puts themselves first and enjoys dominating others, who just cannot admit that he or she is ever wrong, they’re often referred to as a narcissus, a flower much too fond of itself for its own good….

© Peter Rogerson 22.07.15

THE PAGES OF HISTORY

21 Jul

THE PAGES OF HISTORY

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Many will be aware how excited I get when I let my mind wander across the extreme corners of human history. I’m particularly fond of the bits that describe the slow and probably painful evolution of our dimmest ancestors until they could stand on two feet and think a few thoughts.

This happened, according to archaeological evidence, on the plains of Africa, and Owongo the First (my name for him) had to battle for survival against a whole host of hungry predators. Life will have been tough back then, and consequently life expectancy short.

It will have been as a consequence of the hardships he found as he teetered along that he (and his progeny) started to look elsewhere for peace, harmony and a decent place to bring up their kids. And they slowly wandered off, hoping to leave the angry and hungry big cats behind.

This was the beginning of mankind’s conquest of his planet, and it was almost certainly inspired by the need to find somewhere better. There’s an instinct in just about all of us to hold a metaphoric umbrella over the heads of our offspring, and protect them, and put down roots in solid ground so they can have a stable future.

So the adventure began. Hills and mountains, rivers and streams, deserts and pastures were crossed. It was slow, though. Maybe they’d pause and rest until Owongo 3rd replaced Owongo 2nd who had already buried Owongo 1st beneath African sods. Temporary homesteads that lasted for generations would have been built. That’s the way people under the kind of pressure that involves escaping from a savage lion’s territory move: a few dozen miles until everything seems okay … for the time being. And if you want to gainsay me remember that you weren’t there to check my facts. And yes, I know I wasn’t, either.

As various tribes spread they found themselves occasionally feeling in need of planting their tents on the same lump of soil as each other. It was bound to happen: the human race breeds at an absurd rate as a consequence of having evolved a broadly beautiful sexuality. Anything that feels so overwhelmingly good as sexual contact is going to work out just fine, isn’t it?

I dared say that if we tried to assess the number of hearts that were stopped violently in this or that skirmish for a nice piece of real estate we’d be horrified at the enormity of the number. It’s how wars were invented, of course. We might be led to believe that ideology and principles drove the impetus for battle, but it was probably a pastoral knoll and tempting passing brook rather than a philosophical treatise.

Eventually all but a few acres of desert were called “home” by somebody (though not necessarily in the English language) and if there was an impetus to move on then the movers had to cast greedy eyes on someone else’s turf.

It would be about then that homo sapiens (our lot) finally dispatched Neanderthal Man to the happy hunting grounds (probably over a disagreement regarding territorial rights) and started on each other.

But it’s time to narrow the vision I have and concentrate purely on the turf I’m most familiar with: the UK. Not that it was called that back then. It was home, purely and simply, and became the target of many attempts to wrest it from those who considered themselves native (though, of course, go back far enough in time and nobody inhabited these islands so there were no natives capable of tracing their line back to the start of things. We are all, in fact, rooted in Africa if anywhere). But occupation being nine-tenths of the law, there were tribes that accounted themselves as native to the islands we so love.

And there were other tribes, some of them in the next valley and others across the sundering seas. And there were inevitable conquests. In fact, floods of them, across the English Channel from the bulk of continental Europe (which wasn’t called that, of course) and the North Sea (from northern Europe). Some of them were probably quite peaceable. Others would have involved violence. And the net result was that our country became a kind of repository for those hardy enough to come and conquer. Natural selection on a grand scale!

The last successful attempt at pinching the grass from beneath our feet was in 1066 AD when the Normans came and conquered. After then invaders have come by invitation only.

And there have been invitations over the centuries. The Huguenots came in the seventeenth century (from France, trying to escape from religious persecution – I guess that rings a bell) and there are ethnic enclaves all over the place.

That’s what has marked our country as different from some. Those in need of shelter have been welcomed peaceably, probably because the opposite to peace is war, and there’s always been too much of that). And by welcoming those in need we have strengthened ourselves. We have absorbed the good and tended to reject that which is less than good.

When I was growing up there was, just round the corner from where I lived, a huge complex of temporary-looking buildings that constituted a camp for Polish refugees following the second world war, and that was part of the story. The camp’s gone now but some of those who lived there have stayed, have become us.

And now we live in very uncertain times. Remember the Huguenots and the religious persecution they fled from? There’s a great deal more of that going on in far reaches of our planet. Back in the seventeenth century it was persecution, in France, of protestant Calvinists. Now it’s Islamic persecution using weird interpretations of an ancient text that would be best placed into a bonfire and consumed in flames. It’s not ideology because there’s nothing ideal in religions that disenfranchise those who disagree with them, but it is very much the same old story, and those in greatest need should be welcomed in our midst like they long have been.

Maybe the future will mark our names with respect for so doing. And maybe our nation will become all the stronger for the wisdom of strangers.

© Peter Rogerson 21.07.15