Modesty In Circumstance

I knew a lady, old and proud, who struggled by on limited means although from her dress and demeanour that was not immediately obvious: she never complained. Her principle defence was privacy and she guarded that closely. What her life had been and what it held was never disclosed: she made few comments about her circumstances and everything about her said “Don’t touch”. When I first visited her for professional reasons, tea was offered in delicate china cups but there were no biscuits. If you met her in the street she would tip her head slightly but avoid all conversation.

How she had arrived in these circumstances I cannot say. Had there been love or tragedy? I do not know because she never discussed her life in any way: like an iceberg, only the tip was showing but she was not innately cold: only discrete.

Over time, by avoiding personal questions, I gained a slight entrance to her world. She went to church, she told me, though she did not discuss her faith, and autumn was her favourite season because she loved the colour of the leaves : at last biscuit appeared beside the tea; a daughter was mentioned but not in any detail. Her gaze became more quizzical but she never asked a question except about business. Her flat was tidy and uncluttered as you might expect, free of photographs or pictures in the main.

One day I had some music playing in my car. I loved the tune and hummed it as I drove, felt it free me from the everyday, grant me that brief suspension we call peace. All too soon I had to stop and park, but lost in thought I hummed it as I walked towards her house. Her door was opened quickly as I knocked, catching me still humming the refrain. A look of interest passed across her face and, as she stepped aside to let me in the house, she said “You like music?”

“Very much,” I replied, “It’s one of my abiding passions”. She nodded and smiled gently: tea was made and biscuits soon appeared. She looked at me as if we might be friends and I felt an honoured by this display of warmth. As I rose to go she said. “I’ve got something you might find interesting”. I was surprised, of course, but just said. “Oh, that’s nice” and then she left the room.

Returning she held a picture in her hand and offered it to me without comment. Looking down I saw an old black and white photograph of a women dancing on a stage, one arm raised and held above her face: she looked quite beautiful; slim and full of grace. I raised my eyes to hers as she told me, “I was a ballet dancer in my youth.” With that she took the picture from my hand, opened the door and stepped back to let me pass. “Thankyou” I said, “ Thank you” I said and left

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Designing A Child’s Character

At eight and three quarter months the baby was developing normally, and now the light above the Wombulator was changing to green, which meant she could insert the chip of personality traits and abilities she wished her child to possess and herself to enjoy. Gone, thank goodness, were those primitive days, when people had to express emotion by more than touching fingers, and having children meant distorting and possibly ruining the shape of your body.

Before she made her final decision, Sandra 526 Bland looked at the sexual orientation meter which revealed the growing baby to be personality base Five. “Brilliant: she could opt for a range of talents selected as suitable and available at this time for a child of this blending by the Ministry of Social Harmony and Agriculture. Her child would be a sports enthusiast, but with underlying sensitivity; possibly a talent for painting; that would be enjoyable.” She turned to her husband, Opaque 138 Bland, and said,” He is going to be a type Five” . “That is good” said Opaque 138 and nodded, while continuing to watch a sparrow reading a newspaper on a tree across the road.

She inserted the character chip into the Womberlater, confident that the child would be as she desired, plus having the ability to speak twenty eight languages from birth, ignoring engineering terms which were considered outside his personality banding. Along with the Womberlater,  births of all species where now subject to due processing by the Ministry of Normalcy, which meant humans could enjoy the sense of other species, but without being eaten or having the windscreen of their autoflyers blotched by passing animal effluent, to use a sanitized expression. Personality inserted, she returned to doing her virtual jigsaw puzzle, which was a hologram of an antique drawing depicting a retro man looking at what her history group had revealed were called trees.

Sure enough, at exactly nine months from ‘Initialisation’ the new buzz word for post-sex intimacy;  the tedium of bodily contact no longer being required, the baby, designated name Opaque 139, was announced to be ready to participate in the household. His mother lifted him out of the device, and slipped on his ‘permagrow’ clothing: an item that would remain on him for his entire life, but change fashion, size, style and cut depending on his age and the mood of the day, as authorised by the Ministry of Motivation, with due diligence supplied by the Ministries of Resource Management and Planetary Stabilisation.

Once in his cot, the baby spoke, “I’m sorry to bother you, but could I have some milk.” Some things, it seems, never change and poor old Sandra 526 had to go the Kitchenator to get some. While she was there, she inserted a pod of nutrients, roughage and vitamins into the Cookerater, and pressed ‘Random’: it was nice to surprise yourself occasionally with an unstructured meal, and she felt like marking the day.

She returned to the baby with the milk, in a container of largely traditional design, and the baby took a few swigs, before Sandra 526 remembered she had injected it with her husband’s illicit supply of Jack Daniels, a cult liquid reputed to take imbibers to something resembling paradise within a few sips.

Sure enough, or not sure enough, depending on your viewpoint, the baby began to wave his arms around and sing some fairly fruity songs composed on the terraces of football grounds over a hundred years before: heaven knows how they had survived ‘social values screening’ but it was too late to worry about that now. Within moments, a siren sounded, and a light flashed outside their apartment.

“Unschooled behaviour: Unschooled behaviour” said the tannoy in a reproachful but not condemnatory tone, the result of much tweaking from Government phycologists’, and both Sandra 526 and Opaque 138, knew that questions without convenient answers would soon be posed. Emotions were expressed.

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A Celebration And A Half

Arthur Barratt Monckton, president of the local Golf and Rugby club, and his wife Doris Dryden Monkton, whose father had a surprising fondness for restoration playwrights, completed their preparations for the dinner and dance marking the opening of the new sports hall. It had been built after a period of vigorous fundraising by the local community and the dance was going to be a big affair. “Art” as he was known, was decked out in a freshly pressed suite and a shirt skilfully ironed by Doris, who loved a bit of style.

Arriving at the hall in their old but shiny Mercedes, they moved through the growing throng towards the bar, where “Art” and his well-presented wife, could settle any pre-speech nerves with some soothing refreshments. As with all well organised events, dinner took longer to serve than expected so they were able to pack in more refreshments than originally planned.

Doris, apart from working in the local beauty salon spent some time training as a stripper in her youth, and was known to “take a bit off for the boys” if the refreshment periods lasted too long, so Art got understandably concerned when she glided outside her third vodka and orange in the space of ten minutes. You know that smile which says “I love you all,” well it’s often a symptom of danger in the middle-aged, and Doris was showing some serious signs of “feeling the love”. A few of the village’s more upright citizens were lining up more drinks for her at the bar, and Art could see that an intervention might be required. Still with a pint in one hand and a sausage roll in the other he was at a temporary disadvantage.

Geoff, who hid his love of vaudeville and Mrs Monkton behind the counter of his ironmonger’s shop, was sliding a further supply of her favourite tipple towards her when Art shouted out, “Leave it Geoff! she’s ad too much already”. As we all know, the truth is a hard pill to swallow so Geoff ignored it before placing a modest double vodka in front of the object of his admiration. She was now starting to hum ominously to herself and swinging her hips in a manner clearly recalling her heyday, some three decades earlier. Her rear end, fondly described as a “Two-seater” on account of its size, still showed some signs of rhythm and verve.

“That’s enough” shouted Art. His voice box was nicely oiled by a few pints and easily heard above the din but his instruction was ignored. Overly mischievous after a few drinks, Mrs Monkton was clearly getting into her stride and toying playfully with the buttons on her blouse while her hips swayed in vague time to the music.

You know that expression, “Words fail me”. Well they clearly failed Art, who decided that actions can sometimes make a greater impression: after about a second and a half of micro planning he decided to allow his fist to express his sense of frustration by contacting the side of Geoff’s jaw. Recovering himself, Geoff responded in kind and soon the bar was split between the party poopers who wanted less vaudeville, and the free-spirited, who loved art in all its forms.

Bodies swayed and pushed and drinks were spilt as the discussion moved briskly back and forth among the participants: sadly some furniture was damaged. At last above the swaying and battered bodies, the voice of the master of ceremonies could be heard. “Ladies and Gentlemen”, he boomed, “Dinner is served”. Apparently it included a faintly challenging curry cooked by a local gastronome.

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An Unfortunate Discovery

I sat in the car with my wife and travelled up to the cemetery where I’d been buried not long before. She didn’t know I was there, of course, I was now the silent passenger, the observer, the helpless carer whose love for her continued on like an afterglow on the planet where we had both lived. My presence  would gradually fade as the last embers of my emotion vanished from this place

She seemed to be disoriented and walking up the wrong path. At last she arrived at a grave. “Frank Sutherland, Father to Christopher and Cecelia. 1954-2015”. . . My name was Phillip. Pausing briefly she then knelt and laid the flowers on his grave. I had known him well, a local care free drunk and party man who left a litter of children across the locality and died in a moment of reckless euphoria at the wheel of a borrowed car. On one famous occasion he had run for mayor.

I became aware of a presence and now here he was beside me, cheery as ever, and standing in death by his grave smiling down at my wife. “We first slept together twenty-three years ago.” he said by way of explanation, “Sorry, but, bloody hell, she was a goer and half wasn’t she”. I would have raised my eyebrows if I still had any, but I could still feel surprise.

After the rare episodes of love-making with my wife, where our hands moved only as much as was necessary to ensure a satisfactory conclusion there would be a pause. A feeling of shyness mixed with embarrassment and then it was always the same. I would roll off and she would say “Thank you.” Not in a cold way, but in a clear and deliberate voice, as though I’d just bought her a cup of tea: that was it, followed by slumber; the routine was unchanging. She was my one foray into intimacy; perhaps I had missed something.

I was a surveyor, on the neighbourhood watch committee, golf club member and local historian. I attended church regularly and made every effort to support my family: I’ve no idea what Frank did. He always seemed to get by on a wing and a prayer, somehow evading responsibility and defying the normal laws of economic gravity ,and the downside of reckless living, till he had one escapade too many.

Work took me away a fair bit, but we talked on the phone, and her reliable calmness was always a source of pride to me in my journey through life. “She could dance”, continued Frank, “as if there was no space or time, you know; urgent, wild”. There is no anger in death, only love and regret so regret it was, waves of it. “Didn’t you feel any shame,” I said ” Destroying the bonds of another family”. “Life’s too short for regrets, at least mine was” he replied, visibly, or possibly invisibly amused, depending on your circumstances.

The mutual object of our affection was now kneeling in an act of fruitless prayer for his soul as we stood beside her. I, feeling more and more like a guest in her life rather than a part of it, turned to him in sorrow and said, ” At least I have my child. She goes on”

“Have you ever studied your daughter’s eyes” he said, “They are my colour” and his frame rocked in silent laughter. He seemed to be finding death as amusing as life. Hell, I discovered, was loving someone who viewed you without respect, and having your memory ridiculed at your passing.

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Life Without You

I never met you, knew you, or had your love but then I did. The image of the girl who would walk up to me in life, as if it were some railway station and laugh, smile and warm your heart in my embrace faded slowly from my hopes.

That image of your soft brown hair and loving eyes and cosy coat keeping you all warm, and with that scarf of yours peeping from your collar, and those brown shoes you loved, because your dad had bought them never materialised and so I made do with adding tales of disaster to a life apparently lived to amuse those more caring of themselves than I.

I dreamed of our conversations, and the way you’d smile when I did something silly, and how you’d know me like no other and make each moment with you like a prayer. I looked for you in places when young: confident that soon our paths would cross in some gallery or long since vanished bookshop and then less frequently because the hope you’d match your step with mine faded with time and advancing years.

Now you are old as I am old, and on a path uncrossed with mine, subject to compromises I also made and marriages built on the fear of being alone.

You would not love me now, raddled as I am by disappointment, and choices sculpted out of desperation rather than good judgement: the victim of my own chaotic search for perfection, rummaging through careers, and eating romance as if it where a chocolate, wasting my innocence on the fruitless quest to find you and build some idyll: always looking for the perfect moment.

Now, with my last sip of innocence, I dwell on my growing sense of obsolescence, part of a world disengaging from its rhythms in the blind search for some improvement, sliding towards an unwritten future

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An Improbable Courtship

Only in one area did Bernard display a pleasing quirkiness and sense of community eccentricity: that was in the Lower Saddleworth Jousting and Knightly Courtesies club, of which he was club secretary and a long serving member. Following a Saturday morning cutting some shapes on the village green, he was now in a café with his morning coffee, pleasingly unaware that being a man in a full suite of armour, and with the sun glinting off his visor, might present an unusual figure to the locals.

The problem he had, which he had not yet communicated, was that the visor had become jammed during that morning’s high-jinks, and he did not have the nerve to ask the café owner for a straw small enough to slip through the tiny apertures insisted on by the health and safety committee so that a knight, thus encased, could continue to breath.

Just when all seemed lost, and the coffee was about to cool below those temperatures generally recognised as offering the most pleasure to the drinker, a glamorous blond sat down in front of him and said, “My knight in shining armour. How are you darling?” Bernard may have returned her smile, but we have no way of verifying that. Still, unusually forward for a man with his social caution, he said, “My Visor’s stuck.”

“What’s that my darling, my little chickadee, my bold warrior” said the glamorous blond and Bernard repeated the information. Without further ado she removed a nail file from her well-equipped handbag, fiddled around with the visor for a few seconds until, sure enough, it opened to reveal the face of Bernard, complete with pale moustache and steamed-up glasses. “You’ve got lovely eyes” she said and started laughing, while Bernard quickly attacked the coffee now within a half-degree of ruin.

“Are you married?” she asked and Bernard shook his head. “Are you living with anyone; in a serious relationship; or the victim of any weird impulses? Bernard kept shaking his head. The women, later revealed as Beatrice, smiled and said, “A Knight in shining armour and still available: lucky me. You can buy me lunch”

Thus it was that Bernard, the unluckiest of men, got pinned against the wall by good fortune and offered a fresh start in life. She, it transpired, was his missing link, and they were married within three months. To see the pair of them setting off to local Jousting events suitably attired, and with a small can of emergency oil in her maiden’s handbag, was to see how happiness can bloom in the most unlikely circumstance, and those who see life without hope can still be saved by chance.

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Related To The Bard

William Stir-Arrow was, and possibly might have remained, a playwright whose abilities would remain concealed from the general public where it not for a peculiar conversation held at some publishing house.His family legend had it that they were intimately connected, in some way, with a famous Elizabethan playwright, and who are we to argue with them. It might have been a blood connection, or one of acquaintanceship, or that they both loved the same kind of jam, but that connection had inspired member after member of this family, for generation after generation, to move their quill, pen and then cursor across the page in search of that telling phrase which would finally earn them immortality, and possibly elbow that Elizabethan upstart off the pitch of life and into the obscurity some felt was merited by his language.

Thus it was that our William had penned his new play “Measure For The Tempest” with a hero by the name of Duke Smirk who struggled with the upbringing of his daughters. To date he had sent it to one hundred and fifty publishing houses and , unknown to him, been the inspiration of more comment than any other manuscript. “Is this pure gibberish or just unadulterated garbage,” asked an editor of his new assistant as he held up a sample of dialogue for his inspection.

“Forsooth Yo chum, into the very bed of rock the teapot rung”. “What does that mean?” asked the puzzled Editor, and his new assistant, eager to impress, searched for a meaning not involving a slip of the pen or simple derangement. “It has a ringing quality, don’t you think?” he ventured, and the Editor looked at the dialogue in this light. “No it doesn’t” “Perhaps we should be careful” said the eager new junior, “You know how the man ridiculed by one generation can becomes the prophet of the next,” and they both looked carefully at the phrasing once again. “Once more to the bard dear friends and swilge our grapes”.

“Puzzling” said the Editor, “The word ‘swilge’ has a certain tone to it. What do you think it means?”. “Well that is the problem with prophets” said his junior, “Their meaning often only becomes clear some time after they’ve popped their clogs” “Popped their Clogs” said the Editor and raised his eyebrows, “You seem to be infected by this man’s use of language” The junior, now certainly was infected by possibly unwarranted enthusiasm stood back and said to his boss, “Declaim the line sir. Speak it out as if you where on stage”. Swept along by the interest of his new colleague the Editor did just that, and raising his arm, said in a loud projected voice ” Forsooth Yo chum, into the very bed of rock the teapot rung” putting plenty of Rrrr’s into the last word, and sure enough there was a certain dynamism to it which took you far beyond the land of meaning.

“I think you’ve got something here” “Oft till the night wings flap oe’r surried plains” he said, booming out the next line which on reflection, seemed to have no connection to the one proceeding it. Once bitten, both men started quoting liberally from the book and laughing with gathering abandon at the very oddness of it all.

So it was that this curious item was published internationally and started the new hobby of proclaiming nonsense in public, a fashion previously enjoyed only by those of a political persuasion.

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