Saturday, 27 March 2010

Memories are made of this 4

Every morning Warren used to stumble along the pebble beach behind his Uncle Reg, while the man worked up a “thirst” for a pint at the Fisherman’s Tavern. Mindful of opening time as Uncle Reg was, you could have set your watch by their procession. He would leave the house early enough to deflect any comment from Aunt Amy (as if she still cared) and stride purposefully along, pausing every thirty yards or so, to breath in the sea air with much ceremony and a complacent pat of his impressive paunch. Warren would try to keep up, scuffing his toes in his detested sandals. They would reach the Fisherman’s just as the pot-man was unbolting the door,
One memorable day their progress was arrested by a showy couple, reclining on loungers with an ice bucket between, containing a bottle of Champagne Perry. The man, in brilliantined hair, polo shirt and slacks, interrupted Reg’s deep sea breathing to ask a favour. Reg eyed his alarmingly coiffed wife suspiciously. It was a touch chilly for her cantilevered one-piece and sunglasses.

The man handed Reg one of the new, sporty little 8mm film cameras, and gave him detailed instructions. Warren watched excitedly, as Reg anchored his heavy boots in the stones, pointed the camera and announced he was ready. The couple then went through an elaborate pantomime of pouring out the wine, clinking glasses and luxuriating ostentatiously in the sun. It went on a long time. Their friends and family were going to be very impressed and, no doubt, envious.

Finally Reg handed the camera back and moved off quickly. He had time to make up and Warren had barely enough breath to ask, “Did you get all that in focus?”

“Oh yes,” muttered Reg, “They’ve got five perfect minutes of sea wall.”

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Memories are made of this 3

Throughout her career as a dancer, Amelia’s mother had kept a scrapbook. Amelia used to leaf through it as a girl, retracing endless tours in working men’s clubs, on cruise ships and overseas military establishments, the occasional foray into variety shows and sporadic appearances on regional television. Amelia’s mother appeared in many guises and various ensembles. As well as a jobbing chorus girl, she had been a founder member of the Go-Goettes, and of their successors Rhythm!. She stared out from ancient Variety Showcall listings, dressed in ball gowns, mini-skirts, slashed tango outfits, fishnets and plumes, veils and harem pants, and even an approximated Pocahontas costume. Her smile remained the same throughout, sparkling and somewhat desperate, as she beamed out across the years.

Then she had married Amelia’s father, and that particular show was over. On occasion when Amelia was very young, her mother would take the scrapbook out and they would go through it together, commenting on the frocks or the funny names of other entertainers. Amelia’s mother would summon up memories of Yorkshire digs, dashing young soldiers in Aden, or storms on the Bay of Biscay during her bolero number. Eventually though, the scrapbook was left in Amelia’s bedroom cupboard and Amelia turned its pages alone.

Which made it all the more painful when, years later, Amelia discovered on completing yet one more house move with her own family, that the crate containing her childhood mementoes had been lost.

She drove to her mother’s sheltered accommodation in tears

“Mum, I’m so sorry!” she confessed, distraught. “Your scrapbook’s been lost in the move.”

“Don’t be so daft!” her mother laughed gaily. She pulled off one her slippers, stretched out a battered and calloused foot, and wiggled her damaged dancer’s toes. “I’ve got these to remind me of all that.”

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Memories are made of this 2

“Let’s go over it again, sir, shall we?” Detective Sergeant Walpole stared down at Peter’s statement, his patience sorely tried.

The complainant sat in an armchair with blanket around his knees, sipping a tiny glass of Madeira. He had not offered one to the Sergeant.

“I’ve already told you a dozen times,” Peter replied peevishly. “I really don’t see what…”

“Not much to go on, is there, sir?” Walpole scanned the sheet, “You were writing a poem, the doorbell rang. You opened the door and the step was on fire. As you stamped the flames out you found out it was a paperbag filled with ‘dog doo’.”

“I have been traumatised on my own doorstep,” Peter protested. “Shouldn’t you be canvassing the neighbourhood for witnesses?”

The policeman sighed. “Perhaps if we could establish some kind of motive?”

“Lunacy,” Peter rearranged the blanket about his knees primly.

“Can you think of anybody who’d have a grudge against you?” Walpole persisted, feeling he might soon join their number.

“No,” The poet was adamant, until it came to him. “Yes!”

“And who might that be?” Walpole clicked his ballpoint encouragingly.

“Rowan Smallpiece,” the poet’s eyes burned in his head. “It’s just his sort of twisted handiwork.”

“And why would…?”

“He picked his nose and ate it. During ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. I had him thrown out of the choir.”

Walpole faltered over his notes, “And this was…?”

“First year of Big School,” came the prompt reply. “1973.”

“That’s a very long time ago, sir,” said the policeman, slipping his notebook back inside his jacket and getting warily to his feet.

“Ah, but if looks could kill, Sergeant,” Peter’s eyes bored into his, and then focused on a faraway place as Walpole, with the usual assurances, saw himself out. “If looks could only kill.”

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Memories are made of this 1

The elderly couple stood awkwardly just inside the entrance to the Le Coq d’Or and waited for a waiter to seat them. Eventually the bistro’s proprietress came out from the kitchen, with a small sigh of exasperation, to see why they were clogging up the doorway and not seating themselves as patrons were expected to.

The man began flapping his arms and grunting at her. Eventually she realised he was talking to her in execrable French. She put them all out of their misery with a terse, “I speak English, Monsieur.”

“Our usual table, please, Madame!” he beamed.

“George!” his wife nudged him affectionately, and explained to the waiting Frenchwoman, “We used to come here regularly. A long time ago.”

“We met here, Madame,” the old man added. “You would have been a baby.”

The proprietress relaxed into a welcoming smile and ushered them through the lunchtime throng towards a tiny table beside a radiator, with a partial view of the window.

They seemed delighted, nodding to each other as they struggled out of their coats and into the tiny space. “Nothing’s changed!” his wife said to him.

He took her hand, “No, love. Absolutely nothing.”

He looked up to the proprietress, “I came to be a poet. But we met, right here, and I came to my senses.”

They stuck to the menu du jour. When they weren’t eating they were holding hands, looking around them and evidently swapping fond memories.

The proprietress watched them leave, hand in hand. To her certain knowledge the place had only existed for ten years. Her husband had wrangled permission out of the Prefecture, then, to erect it on the site of a dilapidated public urinal that dated back before the Franco-Prussian War. She doubted Les Anglais had met up in that.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Omens and Maledictions 5

The cave walls were cast into sinister shadows by the flickering torchlight which glimmered on the breast plates and helmets of the Praetorian Guard. The night breezes brought in the smell of basil and exotic flowers from the wild gardens, and blended with the heady incense burned by the Oracle’s acolytes.

The Oracle herself looked deep into the fissure in the rock wall, from which all her cosmic revelations flowed and shook her head, “The Gods have nothing to tell you.”

The Emperor shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot, “Couldn’t you try again?”

She raised a disdainful eyebrow, “It is not propitious. Your oblations have clearly been regarded as paltry.”

The Emperor looked back at the tethered white bull, the heavy sacks of gold coin, the ivory tusks from beyond Carthage, the sheaves of golden corn, the many amphorae of sweet wine, the overflowing bowls of delicate fruits. He felt the rage rise within him. What did the old bag mean by paltry?

He turned to the commander of his guard and gave a desultory wave at the treasure, “Take it all back.”

“That,” the Oracle’s voice was lethal on the night air, her eyes bored into him like a cobra’s with a rat, “ would be a grave mistake.”

“I came for an omen, lady,” The Emperor shrugged, with wry apology. “No play, no pay.”

“The Gods are not mocked,” she hissed at him.

He gave her a derisory smile and ordered the guard to take up his oblations and accompany him back down the winding hill path to the city.

Half way down, the commander of the guard cut the Emperor’s throat. He had his men return the tribute to the Oracle’s cave. As the new Emperor he knew he couldn’t be too careful.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Omens and maledictions 4

Leif the Unvanquished, clan chief of the Berserkers, stood at the prow of his longboat as his men rowed them out into the cold North Sea to meet their destiny. Behind him at the settlement, the elders, the womenfolk and their children watched their departure in silence. At his shoulder stood his battle-scarred lieutenant, the mighty Lars, twin battle-axes strapped across his back, one hand on the rigging as he surveyed the glittering horizon.

“Wherever we strike land, my lord,” Lars rumbled, “Men shall think the torments of Hades have fallen upon them.”

Leif looked back at his crew, hand-picked men, veterans of a hundred merciless raids, trained to slaughter, drenched in blood and the glories of battle, deaf to the pleas of survivors, widows and bondswomen in their rapine and riot, all his to command. They would follow him to the ends of the earth, which is where he intended to lead them.

“So much out there for the taking, Lars,” Leif spoke at last, “and these hellhounds shall snatch it from the jaws of death.”

To the southern sun, then, for the fabulous treasures, the palaces, pearls and princesses, theirs to plunder at will.

High above them in the pale Northern sky a lone seabird circled the boat. Leif and Lars watched it glide effortlessly around them as their oars churned the black waters. Then, with a sudden screech, it broke off its course and plummeted into the icy sea, never to resurface.

Leif looked hard at Lars, and then sighed. “Turn us round and take us back in,” he ordered.

“We’re packing it in, lads,” he explained to his Berserkers as they executed the difficult, arduous turn, “According to that bird there’s a shit storm coming and we don’t want to be caught out in that.”