Archive | April, 2016

THE SPECIAL GOLDEN TICKET

23 Apr

Matilda Thrush had never been the same since she’d bought something really special at the January Sales last year.
Everyone noticed, even her adult daughter who was far too nice a person to mention anything about a perceived change in the older woman’s personality. But it was her grandson who noticed it most because, well, she was almost a mother to him, taking him to school in the mornings and picking his up at the end of the school day and feeding him at tea time. He noticed, all right, especially when she wasn’t there any more.
Matilda Thrush had bought a little Bag of Delights in the January Sales and it was that purchase that changed her for good.
She hadn’t known why she’d bought it when she handed her money over to a smiling assistant with a cascade of red hair running like stranded rubies over her shoulders. She wasn’t even sure what a Bag of Delights might be, but it crossed her mind that it just might have something to do with Turkish Delight or liquorice. She liked both of those all right, sweets from Heaven she called them.
When she got home with her new purchase she made herself a nice cup of tea, sat in her favourite reclining chair, put her (by then) weary feet up, … and opened her Bag of Delights.
There wasn’t very much inside it but what she did find tucked in one corner took her breath away.
Inside her bag of delights was a golden ticket, maybe a bit like the one that Charlie Bucket used to gain access to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in the book she’d bought years earlier for her children to read, but this one was no entry pass to any factory.
This one had printed on it, quite clear in pitch black lettering, that it would take you to whenever you wanted to go.
Not wherever but whenever.
At first Matilda frowned and puzzled What could it mean, she pondered. And then it hit her and she smiled, then laughed. Whenever was a time, not a place. And this ticket, this small sheet of burnished gold from her Bag of Delights promised to take her to whenever she liked to go.
So she got to thinking.
History had always been a favourite subject years ago when she’d been a schoolgirl, back in the days when the Beatles were beginning to sing their Liverpudlian hearts out and the world was slowly emerging from the grey of the post-war years. So she knew a little bit about loads of different times and she’d always harboured romantic dreams about some of them.
The sixties had been great, hadn’t they?
She clutched the ticket firmly in one hand, closed her eyes, and thought. She thought of herself and her school friends back in the good old days. She remembered how the sun was always shining. She heard the fab four singing their Northern hearts out about love and hope and a future yet to be. Those were the days, surely they were, the best days ever…
And when she opened her eyes she was there. Gone was her little front room with its twenty-first century décor and large black television screen. Gone was her comfy chair with its electric motor that lifted her legs and lowered her back.
And gone was the catalogue of years she’d lived.
Gone was her family, her grandchildren, their little jokes, the laughter they shared, the joys of living.
And gone was the sunshine in her memory as the rain battered down from grey skies as her own mother stormed into the room.
“Just you turn that row off!” she ordered. “I don’t know how you kids can stand so much noise! Turn it off, I say, and get your homework out before your father gets home!”
And she did just that. She knew that she had to. This was too soon for rebellion. She turned the Beatles first single off and reluctantly picked an exercise book from a leather satchel and sulkily started writing in it.
Write an essay about how you see the future… she read, and she automatically picked up a fountain pen from an ink-stained pencil case. An inkling at the back of her mind reminded her that she knew that pencil case, and the ink stains on it… The English teacher had slapped her really hard because of one of them, calling it a mess, saying that no decent child would be happy with a pencil case that looked like that, and certainly not in this best of all schools where only clean and decent girls went.
The future, she wrote, will surely be a lot better than now because the music can only get better and grown-ups might get to eventually understand the kids of today… and she sucked her pen and frowned.
“What am I doing?” she thought as she found herself writing in her exercise book. “I’m on old lady … I’ve lived my life … I have very little future though I do have a golden ticket…”
There will be an end to the Beatles, she wrote, and John Lennon will be shot … Elvis will die and the world will carry on…
Of course it would! The days, the weeks and the months ahead all added up to her life and it had been a good life. Though she had forgotten some of it. Maybe most of it.
“Now don’t you go writing rubbish,” advised her mother, harshly, just behind her “you know what your teacher will say if you write rubbish … she’ll get that cane of hers out, and neither of us wants that, do we?”
Corporal punishment in schools will be banned by law, she wrote, and after that the Berlin wall will come tumbling down….
Mother was standing behind her, looking over her shoulders.
“What Berlin wall?” she asked.
And Boris Johnson will go mad… she wrote, trying to be as neat as she never was.
She looked up at her mother and opened her hand to reveal her precious ticket.
Her black and wrinkled, torn and battered precious ticket. The scrap of paper it hadn’t been.
“I’ll throw that away for you,” said a prim mother. “And who’s Boris Johnson anyway?”
And she did. She took the ticket, the blackened, ugly ticket, from Matilda’s hand and dropped it into the glowing embers of the parlour fire where it danced a moment on a wisp of smoke before bursting into momentary flames.
“Now you’ll have to stay where you’ve almost forgotten!” she hissed, “so do that essay right … or else!”
© Peter Rogerson 23.04.16

THE TAXMAN COMETH

18 Apr

There was a chill in the air that shouldn’t have been there, not in high summer, not when the sun was shining from the kind of blue sky that artists have always loved painting and talking about. Chandry Boniface shivered.
“It’s cold,” hr growled.
“No,” smiled Elaina, his wife, “it’s really quite warm The reason you’re feeling cold is because you’re dead.”
Chandry thumped the table and the breakfast pots rattled. He fixed his eyes on Elaina and there was no doubt in his mind that he could see her quite plainly. If there was one thing he didn’t feel it was dead and he had more than a suspicion that the dead can’t see.
“Dead people don’t do this!” he snapped, picking up the milk jug and pouring its contents onto the floor next to where he was sitting.
“They do if they’re on their way to hell and don’t want to go there,” she told him, smirking.
“Hell? What do you mean, woman? There’s no way I’m destined for hell!” he protested, “I’ve always lived a spotless and practically perfect life! I’ve supported all sorts of charities, made huge donations to the unemployed and ruffled the tousled heads of wounded children! Nobody could say I haven’t been more than the most perfect of people!”
“You were a naughty boy once,” she reminded him with a half smile on her lovely face. “And my, weren’t you naughty!”
He glared at her, tempted to bellow his response but something in his throat wouldn’t work.
“That was only me being natural!” he managed to splutter out. “And it wasn’t that naughty!”
“Well I always thought it was, and so did the creatures involved,” she told him severely. “You shouldn’t have done it and now look at you: shivering at breakfast on a beautiful day like this, with the sun shining and the promise of a lovely afternoon, and you about to fall to pieces.”
“I’m cold,” he mumbled, and his tongue fell out and ended splat in his cornflakes. “I didn’t want it anyway,” he tried to say, but speech without a tongue is well nigh impossible and it was just as well that Elaina knew exactly what he was failing to enunciate.
“Anyway, I didn’t mean when you were pulling the wings off bats for fun I meant when you were in politics,” she said quietly. “That’s when you were a really, really naughty boy.”
“I was a boon to the British people!” his head said, but the sound that came out of his mouth was “Mwa a boo to itish ple” and not even Elaina caught every syllable.
“It’s why you’re dead and on your way to hell, though,” she said quietly and ducked out of the way when one of his eyes popped out and flicked as if jet-propelled towards her. “I told you at the time: politics was never meant to be a route to personal wealth and happiness, though you couldn’t see it. Oh, I know you believe that it worked and you amassed so much wealth by taxing the poor that you could make teensy little personal donations to charity without noticing the change in the weight of your purse, but did it bring you happiness?”
“Blurr…blurr…awah!”
“Did it bring either of us happiness? You could afford anything your heart desired and what did you spend so much money on? A penis extension! I mean, a penis extension! You were Chancellor of the Exchequer and the absolute pinnacle of your desires was to have a longer willy!”
“Glug gar glug!”
“It never crossed your mind that the money you spent on an extra inch or so in your pants might have bought a new hospital or a few more teachers for overcrowded schools, which is what the people who actually paid their considerable taxes really wanted, did it? And when the surgery was over and the pain had subsided, what did it benefit you? You could never bring yourself to you-know-what with me for fear your you-know-what went wrong or fell to bits… remember?”
Chandry Boniface tried to stand up in order to swipe his wife across her face, but his right leg disintegrated and he lurched, out of control, to the floor.
“You look rather sad down there,” murmured Elaina. “But you won’t be aware of it for long. I’m told the dead soon lose all contact with the living world, just that their going is slowed down by the stuff they’ve encumbered themselves with in life. It’s like a weight holding them back, though for most people it might be slowing their progress to Heaven. But for you it’s hell, I’m afraid. And you’ll find a few chums there, fellow wastrels and bullies with whom you can scream your agony as the flames lick at your unburning flesh for eternity. By the way, have you any clear idea how long eternity might be?”
“Gag…gag….glag…”
“That’s it! Stars get born and die and still the fires lash every nerve of your body with unbelievable pain until you can’t even find another scream or wish for a merciful release for the millionth time…. But the Prime Minister will be there to comfort you whilst you comfort him, if you can…”
Chandry Boniface tried to heave himself on to his one remaining elbow, but that suddenly became dust as well. And the strain of all that effort caused his tongueless head to roll off into a puddle of milk. It felt a great deal better when he didn’t have the fragmented remains of his body to worry about, and he blinked his one remaining eye and tried to concentrate.
The bloody woman he’d married years ago, the one who’d spent all their married life mocking his approach to the more physical side of their life together, grinned hugely.
“So it’s goodbye from me,” she hissed, “and I hope you find a kind of peace with your kith and kin when you get there…”
And she stood up, brushed a few crumbs from her plaid skirt, and sauntered into the garden where a chorus of birds were singing fresh melodies and everything seemed suddenly brand new and shining and bright.
Meanwhile the last bits of Chandry Boniface, as if directed by an unseen conductor, disintegrated into a pile of rather dirty dust that somehow got stirred by a stray breeze and blown through a crack in the floor down into some unknown and dreadful depths.
© Peter Rogerson 18.04.16

THE OLD LIBRARY

16 Apr

Let me introduce you to Cardew Bonceworthy.
There are some who say I should tear straight into his story and to hell with what you might make of poor old Cardew, but I want to write this properly. I want you to know what’s going on in my mind. I want you to feel him. All of him.
You see, Cardew Bonceworthy is going on in my mind.
He was born about an hour ago in the dregs of a cup of coffee. Right at the bottom where the instant stuff is undissolved like it usually is because I don’t stir it properly. He was a bitter taste in my mouth and an echoing reaction in my brain and hey! Presto! There was Cardew.
Fully formed and growing old within the minute.
An all-knowing grotesque with too many words in his mouth for his brain to organise with any degree of propriety. Cardew Bonceworthy was positively objectionable and he leapt from my coffee cup with a frown on his face and a darkness in his coffee-eyes.
“I’m out of here, you moron!” he pronounced, and stormed off. Out of my coffee cup and out of my mind and into the world where any old ogre might knock him down or gobble him up or do any of the things that ogres do to newly formed Cardews.
He made it to the old library in town. I saw his image on the television, a brusque sort of pompous image, and he snorted the air as if it was toxic or coke or something like that, and he went in.
It was the old library – I mentioned that, didn’t I? The one in town that has been closed so long that even the spiders have forgotten when it was open… Well, he made it into the old library and went up to the reception desk, which was unmanned and unwomanned. (I wonder why the spell checker on this computery-thing likes “unmanned” but doesn’t like “unwomanned”? Is it a remnant of sexism from when women didn’t count?)
In fact, the library was so old that it had long closed its doors to everyone but Cardew, and by some miracle of space and time and its damnable continuum he managed to worm his way in. But then, doors would never present much of an obstacle to Cardew.
Old libraries are musty places, especially if all they’ve got in them are a few piles of old books due for the pulping works because nobody has wanted them for a decade, with the odd less tatty but equally unloved title amongst them, smelling just as unwashed and unwanted.
“Oh mercy me!” groaned Cardew Bonceworthy, “poor things, neglected wretched, what shall I do?”
“Cardew? Is that you, Cardew?” came a voice from behind a particularly large and fusty pile of unwanted literature, leather-bound hardbacks full of words arranged in particularly unwanted orders and read by nobody, newspapers announcing the end of the Boer War and half a dozen well-thumbed copies of “Soho Treats”, little tabloid magazines full of photos of naked women from the days when naked women were exclusively black and white and had their private parts tidily retouched out of existence.
“Mother!” he replied, knowing the voice instantly.
“Cardew, you’ve been a very naughty boy…” it began so severely he started quivering and shaking..
“It was the coffee, Mother,” replied Cardew, using a snivelling tone of voice. “I came here because I love you,” he added, “every breath you take and every heave of your mighty bosom! There was a time … I know, it was a long time ago … when we could have made something of the world, have maybe conquered it … and we can’t blame that nasty Mr Hitler for our failure, the fault was entirely our own…”
Cardew Bonceworthy found his way past an unused and splintered book-case until he was standing tall and unwashed behind that noxious pile of unwanted printing, and there was his mother. His breast swelled with sudden pride. A dribble of thick, black coffee trickled down his nose.
“THE WORLD AND ITS ANTS”, he read aloud from the cover of the topmost book.
“That’s my boy…” crooned Mother. “Totally unwashed and unread. Mankind doesn’t know what its eyes are for, not reading that masterpiece of the printed word… it’s no wonder things are falling to pieces just about everywhere…”
“THE WORLD AND ITS ANTS by CARDEW BONCEWORTHY” repeated the dregs from my coffee cup. “Unread, unwanted, not even with a date stamped on its issue page…”
“But your mother none the less…” it crooned back at him.
“Oh snot is me,” he sighed, and allowed the contents of his Cardew Nose to drip onto his mother’s title page and form and neat and coffee-coloured letter “P” before the dusty ANTS”
“Mmmm…” she whispered, and winked at him.

GRISELDA AND THE VICAR

7 Apr

Griselda thought that the knock on her door sounded most foreboding and she didn’t like it.
“What in the name of the Blackboil woman can that be … and who?” she asked herself as she peered through the little spy-hole that allowed her to see a great deal more than most spy-holes permit their users to see. Griselda’s had been modified in the kind of way that only a witch with a cauldron and more than a soupçon of magic in her finger tips can modify spy holes. Through it she could see for miles if she wanted to and if distance wasn’t her objective then she could quite easily focus on the oddities and even the complicated skin conditions of any visitors who knocked.
This time she noted the dog-collar before she noticed anything else, and once she’d taken in the dog collar she lifted her gaze up to an unfamiliar face.
The fact that it was unfamiliar surprised her, shocked her even. She reckoned to know all the clergy for miles around because they all had one thing in common: they detested her for not taking to their varied philosophies but daring to have one of her own. And they’d heard rumours about cauldrons and broomsticks and icky ingredients for this or that concoction, and those rumours were enough for them to despise her more than they despised their concept of Satan.
She opened the door, and scowled.
“Yes?” she snapped in her best satanic voice.
The clergyman smiled a broad benevolent smile back at her “I am the new vicar,” he said in that irritating booming voice that many clergymen have as a consequence of preaching enormously long sermons at a congregation of three.
“Well?” she asked in the same demonic tone.
“I have come,” he boomed, “in order to greet my congregation and explain about the roof…”
“The roof?” she asked, knowing all about the church in Swanspottle’s almost non-existent roof. A whole army of clergymen, starting with the Reverend Percy Sledgeright of some years earlier, had tried to do something about that roof and all had failed miserably. It had now reached the unfortunate stage when the vicar had to consult the weather forecast before deciding whether to hold a church service or not. Numerous were the sermons that had remained unpreached on account of this or that vagary of the weather.
“I’m appealing,” he told her, reducing the decibels in his voice to merely a loud boom.
“You are?” asked Griselda, a light in her eyes bright enough to warn anyone who knew her that something acerbic was on the way. “What might be appealing about you? And you might not know it but you were sloppy getting dressed this morning: your collar’s on back-to-front, and that’s far from appealing to a lady of a certain age and a respect for sartorial elegance!”
Her visitor checked his collar with the smooth fingers of one hand and smiled. “No, it’s perfectly all right,” he told her, “you see, I’m a man of God and it’s supposed to be like this. I’m instigating an appeal to buy the materials to replace the church roof.”
“Couldn’t you pray instead? You know, get your God to interfere with the weather round your broken roof instead of having to raid the pensions of poor old ladies?” asked Griselda, exuding a sudden air of innocence.
“Oh, it doesn’t work that way…” began the vicar. “Praying doesn’t by necessity bring results…”
“It doesn’t?” Nobody could have appeared to be more astounded than Griselda did when she uttered those two words. “What’s the point of it then?” she asked.
“The Lord knows that we might ask for what’s not necessarily good for us,” began the vicar, hesitantly. “After all, a child might pray for sweets and our Lord might not agree with too much sugar… and the same with church roofs… the Lord might consider them too much of a luxury for his buildings to have watertight roofs…”
“From what I know your church hasn’t got a roof at all!” admonished Griselda, “so I presume you mean your lord doesn’t mind the odd bout of weather-induced pneumonia amongst your parishioners? Or the occasional fatality due to colds and flu contracted in a draughty rain storm? Or haven’t you bothered to pray because you know there’s nobody listening and the whole idea of us mortals finding out that it’s all one big confidence trick goes against the grain of your belief system?”
“That’s not fair!” stammered the vicar, his boom melting away as he fought to find a proper answer to the tirade aimed at him by one he saw as just an old lady.
“What isn’t?” asked Griselda, warming to the subject. But the vicar knew he had met his match and decided to make a hasty retreat before the geriatric female in front of him deconverted him from his faith.
“I must bid you good morning,” he mumbled, turning to go. But Griselda was having none of it. This man had disturbed her peace (though she quite often found disturbance of her peace a welcome interruption to the solitude of Swanspottle when normal folks were at work) and needed to have the very seriousness of what he’d done brought home to him.
So she stepped out of her cottage and grabbed him by one shoulder. Her grip was both tenacious and firm as she pulled him to a standstill.
“Just a minute,” she said, severely, “it was you who knocked on my door with the intention of obliging me to part with some of my pension to your new roof fund. And don’t say you didn’t because it’s all you’ve been on about.”
“I wanted to introduce myself…” he said weakly.
“Then let’s do it properly!” decided Griselda. “You wanted to discuss your roof so let’s go and take a peek at it, shall we?”
“It’s above a mile away and you’re not so young as you might be…” he began.
“That’s all right!” she said brightly. “I’ve got transport. Do you mind garden rakes?”
“Garden rakes?” he asked.
“Yes. These.” she said with a decidedly wicked twinkle in her eyes. “Come on! It doesn’t have to be a broomstick… this’ll do!” and she gabbed an elderly garden rake that happened to be leaning against her cottage wall.
He didn’t know how it happened and no matter how hard he tried to remember afterwards he couldn’t work it out, but he found himself perched precariously on the wooden shaft of an old rake as it slowly rose, majestically, into the air and set course for Swanspottle church whilst the old lady who was sitting on it with him screeched loud and long and told him not to wobble so much, or he might fall off.
© Peter Rogerson 07.04.16

GRISELDA AND A COUNCIL MAN

5 Apr

The man from the council had the sort of eyes that Griselda disliked more than she disliked rice pudding, and she hated that. He had slate grey eyes and they seemed to penetrate every corner of her little parlour.
“It’s not good enough,” he said with a sharp, rather angular, voice. “We’ve had complaints after complaints going back for ever and it’s got to stop.”
“I should think it has,” responded Griselda in her best sweet-little-old-lady voice, which put quite a strain on her self-awareness. “People shouldn’t have to live in fear and trembling now, should they? So how can I help?”
“There’s silly talk of a broomstick…” began the man from the council, frowning. “I know it’s silly because the only good thing that a broomstick can do is sweep back yards and front passages. But when there’s talk of them flying…”
“What? Broomsticks flying?” gasped Griselda. “Are you trying to tell me there are people round here with enough gall to actually report their hallucinations to the council?”
“And they all come back to this very address!” snapped the council man. “Every last one of them! They say that an old lady, and if you’ll forgive me I must say that you yourself seem to be an old lady, has taken to swooping off perched on a broomstick with her underskirts floating and her knickers showing, and they’re sore offended!
“By my underwear?” gaped Griselda. “I want you to know it’s always pristine and clean, even when I’ve had a nasty shock like a visit by a man from the council! And anyway, they shouldn’t be looking! It’s not a nice thing for a person to do, spy up an old lady’s skirts and then make obscene complaints to the council! Who’s said all these dreadful things, that’s what I want to know!”
“That’s neither here nor there…” he began. “Now, I don’t know how you do it and why all these people have got the idea that you’re a … you know what they say you are…”
“Jealousy. That’s what it is!” snapped Griselda, “calling me a witch just because I can fly and they can’t! And if they could I wouldn’t so much as peep more than once up their skirts and snigger at their underwear, even though I could if I wanted to. But they can’t fly and that’s that!”
“Are you trying to say…” spluttered the man from the council, his angular voice breaking down and becoming a spitty kind of splutter, “are you trying to suggest that this sheaf of complaints I’ve got…” he wafted a wad of papers in front of her nose … “is true and not some hallucinated imagination gone wild? Are you, could it be, is it remotely possible, that you can fly a broomstick?”
“Broomsticks? Phooey to them! Who needs actual broomsticks, that’s what I want to know!” asked Griselda, using both of her eyes to penetrate into the man’s brain. “I can fly on anything properly proportioned, and don’t you forget it! But for your information and as something for you to enter into your report when you make it, come out here.”
She grabbed her visitor by one arm and he couldn’t help but notice the power in her grip as she dragged him our through the back door to a small shed she’d inherited from a former resident of the cottage about a century earlier. It was untold years old and looked as if it might fall to bits in a pile of splinters at any moment, but she opened its door with the same grip that she’d used on the man’s arm and pushed him in.
“What do you think of them?” she asked, proudly.
There were broomsticks, besoms with twigs for sweeping with, of every size and broomstick-shape. They were all stored tidily, leaning against the wall of the shed as if they’d been there for ever, and some of them might have been: it’s been well documented that Griselda only ever used her best or second-best broomsticks.
She grabbed hold of her second-best brush and pulled it out into the light of day and gazed at it lovingly.
“This is a little miracle,” she almost crooned, “just you feel that willow! Cast your hand over every knot and knobble and tell me it’s the second best broomstick that you might ever see!”
“Miss Entwhistle…!” began the council man, trying to pull away from her ferocious grip. “I can see you have a few interesting yard brushes and there’s no harm in any of them…”
Griselda, though, had no intention of concluding her unwanted interview with an official just yet. He had come to her, she thought, and should be able to take a sensible riposte from a law-abiding citizen like herself..
“Just a moment,” she almost squawked, and she thrust the handle of her second-best broomstick between the man’s legs and yanked it upwards until he came out with a sudden yelp of what had to be pain.
“Mind my balls!” he shouted, and Griselda’s neighbour, who had sneaked into her own back yard to see what all the fuss might be about, couldn’t help but start giggling.
“You poor man,” grinned Griselda, and she climbed onto the broomstick in front of him so that the arrangement was her, a council official and the sweeping end of the besom. Then she muttered something darkly under her breath and the combination rose at a huge velocity into the air.
“You’ll like this,” called Griselda, turning to face the man briefly and grinning wickedly at the sudden green tinge that was spreading across his face.
“Let me down!” he begged her, “I’ve no head for heights…”
“I’ll take you back to your office,” decided Griselda. “It is in Brumpton, isn’t it?”
Brumpton was the nearest town big enough to harbour a council office and anyway she knew exactly where the man worked because she’d once been in politics herself.
The man yelped something that may have been affirmative and Griselda cackled again. He was gripping her as tightly as he could for fear of being dislodged and dropping like a stone back to earth.
“We’ll have to go high,” she told him, “because when we fly high there’s not much chance of being seen by scumbags and spies who like to report elderly ladies to the council!”
“I promise…” he begged her, but lacked the ability to say what he promised.
“You promise to be a good boy…?” queried Griselda.
He nodded. She couldn’t see but knew, from a vast experience of taking novices for rides on bright summer days what a nod felt like when it was being done by somebody hanging on to her like grim death.
“Then off we go!” she laughed, and with a further dark-sounding mutter they zoomed off, she just about managing to stop herself from doing a loop-the-loop during which she might have lost one very confused and panicking town official.
© Peter Rogerson 05.04.16

GRISELDA ON A FERRY

3 Apr

There is, Griselda discovered, quite a lot of water between the United Kingdom (where she lived in a tiny village called Swanspottle) and the rest of Europe. It might not look so much on a map, but maps have always been deceptive creatures, and Griselda had been cartographically deceived or she would never have decided to go all the way to Austria in order to find out about foreigners. She might be a witch with what amounted to spooky powers, but she’d never been over-fond of water. She wasn’t even keen on drinking the stuff unless it was flavoured with tea or hops.
She squawked as the coach she was sitting on began driving onto what looked, to her, to be an entirely unsuitable vessel for so many cars, buses and lorries that were lined up ready to crawl onto it. And the gangway looked none-too secure to her inexperienced eyes. Her imagination could detect a myriad ways that might lead to drowning even before she was aboard the vessel.
“By the devil, keep me safe,” she muttered. Her spells (and you will recall that she was most definitely a witch) always seemed to include some kind of invocation to a satanic power. There was a slight ripple in the cosmos and nothing else. Maybe the English channel was a tad more calm after her intervention, but then it had hardly been raging before her coach mounted the ramp and parked near the other end of the ferry.
Once on the ferry and having forced her legs up a narrow steel staircase she found herself in a lounge area, with a bar that was open. Now, I don’t want anyone to start thinking that Griselda was a slave to strong drink, but she did like a tipple from time to time, to soothe her nerves, she explained if asked. She had, after all, seen what the demon drink can do to a soul when her close friend Henrietta Blackboil became inebriated on an extremely regular basis.
If it weren’t for Griselda magically replacing Henrietta’s liver from time to time she feared her old friend would have passed on to the great spit-and-sawdust bar in the skies where ale runs freely and gin comes in barrels. But Henrietta was still safely in the land of the living, cursing one and all on an hourly basis.
Griselda settled into a seat on her own and cuddled the whisky in its plastic “glass” that had cost her an arm and a leg, as she put it to herself. A few other passengers eyed her suspiciously and she glared back at them until the ferry started gliding effortlessly out of the harbour and Griselda felt seasick despite the uncharacteristic flatness of the English Channel.
“Oh mercy me!” she moaned to herself.
“What’s up, missus?” asked a boy in summer shorts and sporting a tee-shirt proclaiming his fondness for New York.
The look she returned him, the bile she forced into it, the piercing cruelty in her eyes, all seemed to pass unnoticed as he shrugged his shoulders and sauntered off.
“That old biddy’s weird,” she heard him say to his parents who were sitting round a table that was far too close to where she was sitting for comfort.
Under normal circumstances she would have reacted acerbically and in a voice dripping with venom, but her stomach was rebelling and if it hadn’t been for her plastic cup of whisky she might have vomited over everything within ten metres. As it was, her respect for what the golden fluid had cost her kept it inside her and she merely turned green.
She was at her greenest when the man who had sat next to her on the coach they had travelled to Dover in, he who had suddenly and unexpectedly lost a great deal of weight behind a tree on the motorway as a consequence of one of Griselda’s invocations, sat next to her.
“That was a turn-up for the books,” he growled, “me excreting like that…. It must have been in me and waiting to get out for years!”
This kind of conversation, perfectly acceptable on dry land, was totally unwelcome on a ferry crossing the salty briny, and the already green Griselda started bubbling out of the corners of her mouth, and something unpleasant lethargically wibbled down her nose. She was close to being very sick indeed.
“The devil make me better,” she managed to glug without spilling anything, and the rising tide of unpleasantness slowly receded until she merely felt sick.
“You what?” asked the other, “the devil, you say?”
She glared at him. “First it’s that child over there and now it’s you!” she snapped. “All I ask for is a bit of peace and a chance to enjoy this very expensive liquid gold! And being accosted by a man wearing trousers at least ten sizes too big isn’t my idea of peace!”
“I can’t help it if I lost some weight on my way here!” he growled in reply. “I got the shits, I did, and they wouldn’t stop!”
“Why don’t you go to the upper deck and sea if the wind in your face will calm you down?” growled Griselda. “I hear it’s quite an experience,” she added, as close to seductively as she could manage.
“I can tell when I’m not wanted!” he glared, and sauntered off, holding a considerable amount of spare trouser waist in one clenched fist.
“There’s no joy in sailing the briny oceans,” thought Griselda as the ferry rocked the tiniest bit and a dribble of something toxic rose up her throat for a second time and threatened to wash over the carpeted deck. “I’ve flown here, there and everywhere on a whole multitude of rotten old broomsticks and never felt anything like this!”
The ferry rocked ever so slightly again and her face turned from greeny-pink to pinky-green.
“I’m not putting up with this one moment longer! She growled loud enough for the boy in summer shorts and brightly coloured New York tee-shirt to hear quite clearly.
“That old biddy’s kicking off!” he exclaimed to his parents.
“Stay close to us then,” his mother whispered, pulling him towards her until he was as good as part of her.
“Cheeky young pup!” growled a green Griselda, and she grabbed hold of a wooden bar that had somehow got loose from a shiny balustrade.
“Just the job!” she snarled at the boy, and then she did the most outrageous and scary thing he had ever seen any grown up person do.
She mounted the wooden bar as if it was any old broomstick and with a click of her knobbly knees and a twitch of her bony bottom she zoomed skywards whilst her complexion returned to normal.
“See you in Vienna suckers!” she shrieked back, waving. “And I’ll be there before you!” she added, winking at a passing seagull.

© Peter Rogerson 03.04.16

GRISELDA AND THE FACTS OF LIFE

1 Apr

“One thing I never had,” mused Griselda, “was a baby, and I’m a woman! Women have babies, don’t they? I reckon I should have had one and I never did! I wonder how I’d set about it?”
Let me explain. Griselda was a witch – of that there could be no doubt, and like all witches she could fly on broomsticks and perform magic under the guidance of some unknown satanic power. She didn’t know how any of it happened, just that it did. And she was old, very old, having passed her hundredth birthday whilst remaining almost unnaturally hale and hearty.
Any normal person would assume that by the time a person reaches her age they’d have some sort of inkling about the facts of life, but somehow information regarding reproduction and pregnancy had completely passed her by, possibly because she ‘d been more interested in searching for blind frogs in the undergrowth when other young women were courting boys and, let’s be honest, participating in sexual congress with them.
Griselda had never contemplated sexual congress, possibly because she had virtually no idea what it might be. To her the mysteries of reproduction were a closed book, which was just as well, I suppose, because this troubled world of ours doesn’t want too many little Griseldas littering the place up.
And now, rather belatedly, she had started wondering where babies came from.
She could have turned to her friend Henrietta Blackboil, the local intensely drunken alcoholic, to explain the intricacies of coitus to her, but the truth was she was a little ashamed of her own ignorance and didn’t want to risk becoming any sort of laughing stock.
“I might Google it, but I don’t know what googling is,” she muttered to herself.
Old ladies, even old witches, can hear about modern things like googling and think they ought to know what the terms mean and so they pretend they do know in order to save their faces rather than search out real information. And this old witch was no different from any other old witch in this respect and allowed ignorance to dominate her daily life when that ignorance had to do with googling.
And reproduction.
“I’ll nip to the pub and see if a few glasses of Thomas’s weak beer will help,” she mused.
Thomas wasn’t Greek but he called himself Thomas the Greek because he believed it added mystery to his reputation as a scruffy old skinflint. He paraded behind the bar of the Crown and Anchor and spent most of his time wiping glasses with filthy rags when he wasn’t diluting the beer in his barrels prior to serving it to a thirsty clientèle. But besides being a publican (or because of it) he had picked up snippets of real information over the years and might, just might, be able to fill in gaps in Griselda’s usually vast personal knowledge.
Getting to the Crown and Anchor was no problem because Griselda had an assortment of broomsticks, and she selected her second-best one for the ride. Her best broomstick was faster but more knobbly and those knobbles played all sorts of tricks on her bony backside as she clenched its shaft between buttocks that were almost bereft of flesh and altogether bony.
“I need a private little chat,” she whispered to Thomas the Greek as she sipped her first glass of tasteless beer.
“Ask on,” grinned Thomas. He had a soft spot for Griselda because he was only too aware of some of the things she might do to him or his pub if he didn’t stay on the right side of her. He was wary of witches.
“Babies,” said Griselda out of the corner of her mouth. “Do you know where they come from?”
“Of course I do!” he replied. “Doesn’t everybody?”
“Well,” murmured Griselda guardedly, “some might have the wrong idea. I’ve heard about storks bringing them…”
“A story for kiddies!” laughed Thomas. “It saves having to mention body parts before they know they’ve got ’em!”
“And being discovered under gooseberry bushes,” muttered Griselda, more cautiously than a very cautious witch at a caution party.
Thomas laughed out loud and called across the bar to Janine Stretchmark who was sitting in an alcove. “Did you hear that? Is that where you found your nipper?” he asked her. “Under a gooseberry bush,” he added, as clarification.
“I wasn’t serious…” stammered a shamefaced Griselda. “I’ve never had any babies, you know. Been too busy putting spells on ignorant publicans who like to show their best customer up!”
“So you want to know how to go about it?” asked Thomas, whispering for fear of enraging her and being turned into something truly unpleasant. “You want to know the facts of life?”
“If that’s about babies, yes. I’ve forgotten some of the stuff,” gabbled a Griselda who’d never felt so awkward in her entire life.
Thomas beckoned her to the end of the bar as far from potential eavesdroppers as he could get. Then he went on to explain his understanding of the process, which was well nigh precisely correct in just about every respect, and part of his explanation necessitated him undoing his trousers and exposing himself to her as an example of this or that.
“There’s no need to go so far!” snapped Griselda, “I’ve seen things like that in the men’s toilets at the supermarket!”
“Isn’t it sweet, though?” crooned Thomas.
“It’s the least sweet thing I’ve ever had the misfortune to see and if you’re not careful I’ll make it sweeter!”
“You could?” asked Thomas, his eyes open wide. “You really could?”
“Just you watch me!” hissed Griselda, and in the quietest of whispers she murmured “The devil turn that floppy thing into a stick of rock!”
People in some parts of the world might not be familiar with the British obsession with sugary confections, and sticks of rock are among the most sugary of them, sold in great quantities at holiday towns on the strength that they have the name of those towns (usually in red) down the often white length of them, and that length can be as much as a foot (or, in the metric measurement favoured by some, thirty centimetres).
Thomas was blessed with the full foot in stark contrast to what nature had provided him with and the expression on his face turned from horror to immense gratitude as he murmured “well I never” in the kind of voice a flautist might use at Christmas when he discovers that Santa has left him a shiny full-sized concert flute.
Go on – Google it: Griselda doesn’t know how to!
© Peter Rogerson 01.04.16