Wisdom Is Discovered At “The Baffled Ferret”

Normally resident at 37 Bloxham Road; flat 6 for the lovers of detail, Wayne ‘Sagey’ Trollope, no relative of the author but sharing a similar fondness for his own muse, could be found at his favourite location: the public bar in the “Baffled Ferret,” recognised locally for its quality real ales.

One of his cohorts, Geoff, a current ‘four pinter,’ which is that moment when alcohol can free your wilder thoughts and give them voice, before five pints makes those ideas indecipherable, and six pints a mere mumble followed by gurgling and a trip to the toilets, said to the attentive throng, “My watch is stopped, but at least that means its split second accurate twice a day”. He considered this observation acute enough to merit a nod of his head and a decent gulp from his glass, necessitating a wave at the bar, and fearless progress towards the ungoverned terrain of the seven pinters: there are no maps for eight pinters.

” Time” said Alf, a current 4.75 pinter, “Is something we should chase constantly”. “How’s that” said one of his chums, whose admiration for Alf was clouded by a lack of respect. Alf reflected on his statement, which he felt had a pleasing aura of profundity about it though sadly the meaning of his own sentence had not yet been revealed to him, so he replied cannily, “If you don’t understand Docker” (4.1 ), his mate and inquisitor, “I can’t explain it to you: some things are a bit too deep for normal folk”

‘Noddy’ ( 4.6 ) arrived with a fresh round of drinks, and a pile of pork scratching’s, whose taste and texture were diverting enough to halt serious debate. His mouth nearly empty, the Sage had another go at establishing himself as a font of “bon mode,” or whatever the phrase is. “Chance” he said, is something you stumble on”. “You mean, you might stumble on chance by chance Sagey,” said Noddy, his hands now free, and eager to join in the conversation.

”Is “stumbling the same as tripping” asked some pedant, (3.85 and a cautious drinker), drawing baffled glances from those around him. “Profundity and accuracy”, thought the Sage, “do not necessarily belong in the same sentence,” and with that idea, he came up with the title of a book which was to make him celebrated in at least 1.6 continents, “The Flippant Guide to Profundity” offered wisdom in the time it takes to complete the average commute or, more precisely, 1.3 visits to the mother in law.

It was an unusual item in which the reviews had as much currency as the book. They were so confusing, that people bought the book to see what all the fuss was about in such numbers, that ‘Sagey’ was free to reflect on his brilliance while sitting on a sun-kissed beach, admittedly alone but cheered by a supply of Pina Coladas. Reviews such as “He gets to the point in a split infinitive” or, “He plums the depths of misunderstanding far beyond his own comprehension”, and even ” These pithy statements reveal an imagination untroubled by common sense”

A less appreciated article entitled, “Rubbish at only £6.98″, which appeared in the Dorking Park Clarion (readership 560), failed to cause the stir its jaundiced author dreamed would propel him to Newspaper Stardom, and he was left to mull over the injustice which left him in cramped attic lodgings in an unfashionable part of the town while the object of his scorn soaked up the benefits of unmerited success. As Sagey might say,” Life is a fruit of many colours”

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A Question Of Entertainment

To be fair, ‘the powers that be’, whatever their origin, recognised that the message would be of universal importance and thus it was issued on all social media platforms ensuring the widest possible exposure. The announcement was brief but to the point, “We apologise for any inconvenience but we have grown bored with our experiment. The planet you are living on will become uninhabitable in approximately three hours: no packing for the afterlife is necessary”. Existence, despite the best efforts of a number of largely ignored soothsayers, prophets and visionaries is never fair or just and, time zones being what they are, some people would vanish into the void without the chance to pack their reputation while others would be more fortunate, if you see awareness as something to celebrate.

Whatever else was happening, for two people in a lift when the power supply went off, the news was less than welcome. One was buying a present for his sister’s birthday, and the other one was a floor manager at the store in which the lift was located. He was on the way to give some underling the roasting of a lifetime, one of his favourite duties, and had worked up a portfolio of cutting and diminishing phrases sometime before the interview. Now he was to be robbed of this enjoyment: it was irritating.

His ill humour was compounded by the fact that the only other occupant in the lift seemed to be an unhinged and shrieking hysteric on the edge of tearing his own shirt. “Is there any chance you could lower your voice a little. You are in danger of giving me a headache,” he warned his companion.

“A headache!! Don’t you understand what is happening. We’re going to die, DIE, you cold-hearted robot”. The sight of the sun being turned off and setting for the last time would reveal the most beautiful skyscape you could imagine: a sight anyone might treasure for the rest of their lives, which was going to be in about two hours and twenty minutes. Sadly for our ‘Titans of the lift,’ no windows had been provided to allow them to enjoy this last transcending moment. Instead a small advertisement opposite the door offered the best in new central heating with payments spread over three years; a bargain in any eventuality, although possibly not this one.

It appears that raising his eyebrows at the Hysteric was a gesture too far. The man lunged forward in a manner likely to damage the manager’s appearance: given that he was known for his crisply ironed shirts and neat attire, this would not do. That he was a brown belt in judo became apparent to his reluctant companion, when he found himself pinned to the floor: he responded with a range of whimpering and gurgling largely unfamiliar to the author. “A little quiet would be appreciated jerk” said Mr Manager.

All of a sudden the emergency lighting was replaced by the normal glare: mobiles pinged and a strange non-regional voice came from the speakers. “Earthlings,” it said, “We have enjoyed your display of callow shallowness, cowardice and hysteria to such an extent that we have decided to rescind our decision. Life will continue as normal, but with added catastrophe. After a short period, because we are enjoying ourselves, you will all experience partial amnesia and forget this event happened. Keep crying. Thank you for entertaining us.” Somewhere at the back of the transmission a slightly less cultured voice could be heard exclaiming “They’re really very silly aren’t they” and then being told to shut up.

The Liftonians rose to their feet and resumed normal standards of etiquette: that is standing as far apart as possible and admiring the walls. The hysterics eyebrows rose for a moment; suddenly that nifty central heating offer seemed worth investigating.

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Something To Do With Skillsets

Her stare challenged everything in sight: late twenties and a shaper of events, the answer to many situations lay filed in her experiences: she feared little but some aspects of emotion, and looked on those she knew as reference points. Unmarried and unattached, six years spent with a school-time love now consigned to memory, she had determined, if nothing else, that life was a matter of furnishings and dress.

All her friends were relatives, and home a concept more than place: protected by ability and a career of some significance she had moved to a new property. She had not met the owners yet, and there was no reason she would do so.

Thus the knock on her door was unexpected, and opened more from habit than intent to reveal a boy of around six looking up at her with an enquiring face. “Do you play the piano miss” he asked as if she already knew his name, and before she could control herself, she said “Yes” because music was a dormant passion in her life. “We’ve just got one from my gran, she’s dead” he told her by way of explanation, adding “Come and see”

Why she did we cannot say but there was an openness about him she could not bruise so she followed him to the flat below where , sure enough, a battered upright stood against the wall, lid raised and keyboard in full view. His mother poked her head round the kitchen door, a bit older than herself but not by much, and clearly on a different path and warm.

Both looked at her expectantly, uneasily it must be said, as she sat down and played one of her own compositions, written before her father lost his way and her parental home became a mausoleum. The boy started dancing by her stool and his mother said, “That’s really good” and so it may have been, but written in another time, when flowers bloomed and angels still wore white.

“What do you do?” the mother asked, and she replied, “I am a retail analyst for a large department store.” The mother was impressed, though in a baffled way. “But what about the music?” she asked and the young boy said, “Play some more,” but she replied, “I must get on, I’m sure you understand” and the mother said “Of course” and the boy just shook his head, for he was from that gentle place where flowers bloomed and angels still wore white.

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 “What’s your name” I asked all those years ago and you said “Sheila” which I soon turned into “Shells.” We seemed to have known each other forever which was odd, given that we were both eighteen. 

In the hurly burly of life, that was our “Jackpot” moment and so we grew to share things when life went right or wrong: sometimes the sun filled every room, as when our first child was born, and at other times we felt so crushed by anxieties that we thought awareness was the door to torture; but in each other’s eyes and hearts we always found our centre and that spring of life which stops the water we drank from becoming stagnant.  

Seventy- four years old, and married for most of them, we’ve faced all sorts of struggles but never without each other. Nothing was harder than losing our eldest son when he was only twenty-four, in some stupid motor accident, not even his fault, but experience teaches you things happen, and life is not always merciful or fair. You are left to deal with what must be dealt with or fall victim to your own emotions and circumstance: the choice is yours, or with us was always ours, but that was our blessing: to share all things with each other.  

We came through it, mindful that our two remaining children needed the sunlight that loving parents bring if they are to blossom in their turn, and they did, I like to think, although there was that cupboard we could no longer open, and that old pleasure of sitting there at Christmas playing films of our children’s early years ceased to be a pleasure and then an event: we both understood. 

All in all we had little to complain of in the larger scheme of things because, without meaning to, and more by luck than talent, we got the main thing right: the building of a home with someone who shares your sense of what is real and makes you laugh regardless of the facts. Through joy and sorrow we always had each other, and that made us wealthy in that special way which brings rhythm to discordant lives. The point of all this is that here we are but you are no longer present. I hold your hand, as I always have, but life is no longer in it. You taught me everything there is to know except how to live without you

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Passing Opportunities

She was the daughter of my English lecturer, who specialised in Victorian literature: a kindly man who had invited his tutorial group to spend the night with him and enjoy a day’s walking on the fells. Now it was the evening, and we were back in his house and about to enjoy a meal cooked by his lovely wife. They were a picture of the perfect family, and his daughter the jewel you would expect in such a setting.

I writhed within myself, and wondered what light and casual remark I could use to introduce myself to her when “Mr Glib,” or Andrew Cummings to use his real name, another of the students and one who later went on to enjoy a prominent career in broadcasting, slid in her direction and asked her in the tone of one used to dealing with life and its varied nuances, “So are you at university yourself?” and she smiled at him, revealing she was at the same university as us, but studying medicine. “That’s very clever” said Mr Glib and soon he was oozing himself inside her life and suggesting they might meet for coffee in the student union.

I am confident I was one of my professor’s favourite students because I actually had a passion for the subject he taught, but outside the world of tutorials and precisely worded essays I was socially awkward and with a wardrobe to match. Once more I had to pretend that nothing touched me and “real-life” was a subject of research rather than experience. “How do you put the fun into your day?” I heard Mr Glib ask the unspoilt beauty and soon they were sharing their passion for vintage films, which surprised me, as I had been exposed for extended periods to Andrew’s languid discussions about his interests and “vintage films” had never featured in them.

I ate my meal, and managed to bore everyone but the professor with my discussion on “Fors Clavigera” an interesting text written by the Victorian social thinker, John Ruskin. Finally Mr Glib said “This is not a tutorial Nigel” and smiled at me as if he was being kind, and then at the group with his “Where do we find them?” tolerance: I was never much good at dinner parties.

To make matters worse, Cummings went on to marry her, and enjoy a successful career, no doubt revered by his listeners and fellow broadcasters.

I met him and his wife years later at a reunion dinner where my job as an English teacher drew few gasps of admiration from the group, most of whom were gathered round Mr Cummings, apart from his wife who stood some distance away, staring at a watercolour.

On impulse I went up to her and said, “You know, when we were students, and we had that dinner at your father’s, I wanted to come over and speak to you but Andrew got there first, and the rest is history.”

“I wish you had” she said, and gently touched my arm and I wondered if she might still be my unopened gift from destiny. “How is your father?” I asked, but before she could answer Andrew came over with that smile of his which speaks a thousand languages. “How is life in the classroom?” he asked, cutting across our conversation, “Still banging on about John Ruskin?” and his manner was curiously replete and satisfied. She looked at me, like a conspirator and said to her husband with something of an edge, “The last word isn’t everything Andrew.”

“What do you mean?” he said, but I think I understood her. I hope I did.


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Beneath The Stars

You could call it a meeting of minds: a moment when two souls found in each other’s company that a complex world could became simple, but that was all it was and everything. It was a holiday romance, a trick of circumstance where a lady taking a solitary vacation, “She needed a break to catch her breath,” and I, a cynical journalist who was trying to regain belief, collided through my enduring clumsiness: I spilled my coffee on her dress.

Away from there, we both had busy lives, lived out on different continents, and yet for much of the holiday “Paradise” seemed all there was. Nothing is permanent is it? Not any life, moment or transient sense of tranquillity but for this brief time the everyday withdrew, granting us a glimpse of untouched majesties.

After our last evening meal and a couple of soothing drinks, as had become our habit, we moved to the front of the boat, stretching out beside each other so we could stare up at the sky and the amazing blanket of stars visible above us: everything was pristine, clear and deep. Like the sea beneath us, the sky above seemed infinite, and we, like innocents, lay beneath its stillness. News had ceased to matter and only the gentle rocking of the boat spoke of a moving world.

Beyond the reach of gossip we lay wrapped in this velvet and wondrous infinity and she moved and touched my hand. She shone for me then and I dared to think she might love me more openly: soon the warmth coaxed us to sleep awhile on the deck: our fingers played together like children, talking in unwritten code. It was the nearest I would get to being at peace with myself and my circumstance.

We were two people, freed to explore the whimsies of life in a place known only to ourselves, without anxiety and shielded from daily concerns by bonds of unspoken intensity. Silence was ours to treasure, only broken when she said “Do you have a photograph of yourself?” and I said “No” “OK. Let me take one then” she said and lifting up her camera.

Against the rules I asked her “Nothing to worry about is there. Nothing I can help you with,” and she said “No.” We drank some more in silence, tonic water mainly, she didn’t much like alcohol, and then she said. “Off to bed.”

“Before you go” I said, “May I take your picture; sometime in the future I might want company.” Some light came on within her as she waited for me to capture her image, then we went our separate ways. It was a romance built on the denial of intimacy, and yet for all that, as my head lay on the pillow, I fell into that special sleep which only happiness bestows. Even now she remains the spring of the simplest and most noble emotions I ever experienced.

Shortly after breakfast with the ship now moored in harbour, and as we finished a snack of toast and eggs a waiter arrived to say her taxi was waiting. She rose to leave: I knew she disliked drama and suppressed it as much possible, though her eyes said everything, and so, as she stepped back from the table, she smiled and said, “Don’t break anything” which was our secret joke. She walked off then, as if it were the start of a normal day: I never saw or heard from her again. Did I mention she was married?

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Living With An Error


Later that day in an evening marked out by routine; a self-constructed prison built of ritual, she put the food out on the table: two pork chops with some vegetables neatly laid out on the side. Her husband smiling, and pretending to ignore her turmoil, poked the cooked meat with his fork, “Lovely, just the way I like it” he said: it’s what he always said. She pushed her arms as if through water, smiling despite the facts. “Shall we watch some TV,” she asked and he nodded: make-believe filled out the silence.

That night he lay down beside her, at a distance: it was their unspoken custom. He was her sweet and innocent mistake, a character with neither malice nor stratagem, lacking nothing but direction, who slid off into sleep while she lay trawling through the day’s events. Meeting Bill that afternoon, the man she should have married, still the same but somehow different, older yes, and more self-contained, still warm but now without agenda, talking of his travels and listening to her problems with kindness marked by rectitude. He was not to be her cavalry: the rescuer from obscure despair. Her steps, once sure, had led her nowhere. What had she wanted?

She was just a girl with dreams, who struck out on the wrong pilgrimage, worshiping a god who was never in the building. Her husband, irritatingly without fault or drive, had failed to offer more than pleasantries. That dream of reaching for adventure, dining out with men of interest, of being slightly more than average, had dwindled to a distant longing, till Bill sprang out of some newspaper, reminding her of her youthful hope and offering a new horizon.

Her husband’s crime was not being quite good enough, settling for second-rate, dwelling on the search for safety and what she once thought of as verbal brilliance proved to be mere repartee.

In the morning he bought her tea and showered as he always did. Quiet perhaps, but not unusually so. She prepared for work, custom managed everything, till she turned to him, asking as he left, “What would you like to eat this evening” and he replied “Oh, don’t worry about that, I’m leaving you.” The door closed before she could reply.

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