Monday, November 24, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's Comments)


The Epilogue gives no authorship of itself and mentions PF Jeffery, ie: the person I know in real life who supposedly wrote ‘Odalisque’ as a whole, ie: the person who wrote about Tuerqui as a simple story or plot for our entertainment - or empathised with (became?) Tuerqui for the purpose of this novel - or always was Tuerqui until the Fiction (Magic Fiction?) revealed this co-identity. [Perhaps I created PF Jeffery! He appeared as a commentator in my 1974 novel ‘The Visitor’. In all seriousness, we are brushing against various truths here with each alternative of the Narrative's pecking-order (and more we have not yet thought about) and each is true, none are true, all are true.]

This Epilogue was in fact written by Jennifer Petrie (I recall) and she, in Odalisque’s future, gives an interesting (albeit possibly dry) bibliographical / historical view of the text we have just been reading. This sets up many tantalising thoughts in the reader and seems neatly to encapsulate and rationalise and make believable the text and its intrinsic as well as potentially apocryphal credo as fiction-reality.

To give a flavour here are some exemplary passages:

Almost a tenth of Tuerqui’s manuscript seems to be missing, and we have relied entirely on the P F Jeffery notebooks to supply the lost portions.

What is more, the manuscripts are not preserved in the correct sequence of pages, and are mixed with several other texts. Without the transcripts, placing the text in the right order would have been an enormously difficult task.

The papers believed to be in Tuerqui’s hand were amongst the manuscripts to be bound in royal blue leather about two hundred and fifty years after they were written. There are 127 such volumes, with Tuerqui’s handwriting scattered almost throughout. The neat exterior of the books belies the chaos inside. The confusion is compounded by the fact that each volume is made up of sheets of the same size paper. Tuerqui wrote on sheets of several different sizes, possibly with an eye to economy – this leads to adjacent pages being widely scattered. At one point, four consecutive pages are in volumes 114, 23, 119 and 6.

Also my responsibility are the idiosyncrasies of the notes. The empire has changed a great deal since Tuerqui’s time, and some points do need clarification for the modern reader. It is often difficult to judge what notes may be useful or necessary, and I am aware of having been inconsistent as to what requires comment and what may be passed in silence. Two chapters seemed to me too beautiful to be marred by my explanations.

Lisa-Louise went on to become a prominent pioneer photographer, specialising in portraits. Many of her pictures survive, including some of Lady Isobel and her concubines. These images must include Tuerqui, but her face has not been identified with certainty. Some years ago, Kimberly Price advanced convincing arguments to identify all of the slaves in the pictures. These identifications were generally accepted until, two years ago, Louise Grey magnified one of the images to discover the letters ‘Pa’ on what was supposed to be Tuerqui’s right thigh – making this, fairly certainly, a photograph of Passibelle.

Should not this be ‘governessship’ or ‘governess-ship’?

delete ‘the’:
may fall in the wrong the place

add ‘e’:
in the twenty-third regnal year of Bernice I,

The page which gives the links for all my comments on this novel here:
has a brief introduction which I wrote early in my reading of ‘Odalisque’ but after reading the first 29 chapters of ‘Of Bondlings & Blesh’ immediately prior to it becoming ‘Odalisque’, both of which versions of the novel derived from ‘Slave Girl of Surrey’ that was written by PF Jeffery to me over several years (?) serialised amid weekly handwritten letters during the eighties and then revised by him as a whole (I seem to recall) in the early nineties. O Jennifer Petrie, I need you, to sort all this out, if I’m wrong! In any event (without further beating about the bushibelle) my original sentence on that link page:-

I believe in ODALISQUE as a great fantasy/horror novel (spiritual, grotesque and humorous), but I am still in the personal throes of grappling with its strangely powerful (for me, almost alien) ethos -- greatly assisted by its beautifully silky style of expression.

is still appropriate. I think the ‘grappling’ was (is still) part of the pleasure of this novel by PF Jeffery and of its undeniable greatness. (Such grappling is probably only one slight remove from tumbling-with-text...)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's Comments)

Chapter 45 – Rode

Well, if the reader had ‘cabin fever’ during the long stay in Lundin, now we’ve escaped into the countryside, as things become less theatrical and more cinematic:

The six of us rode in single file, our horses’ hooves spraying drops from the woodland brook. Shafts of afternoon sunlight slanted through gaps in the foliage. All about us, the forest was filled with the sound of birds – the harsh cry of a crow, the melody of a wood lark, a splash of wings from beyond a bend in the stream. The smell reached me before I saw the grey smudge of smoke drifting from our right.

Six then become ten in a pragmatic (that word again) move of alliance.

Then three new characters during the scenario wherein Dashing Daniel masquerades as Captain Grace - including a feisty young girl called Jane (not the earlier flautist). I’m sure we are to hear more about her

I liked these two passages:

“It must be good to have a home to go to. Perhaps we’ll find one. Just now, all we’re doing is heading west – going from instead of to. But maybe we can set ourselves up in business somewhere, settle down, have babies, you know…”

Looking in the direction of the camp fire, I saw a confusing mass of dancing shadows. My reaction was to grab my sword and crossbow, but not the cuirass, before investigating. Nearer the fire, the shadows resolved themselves into figures I could name. Joining my companions, my gaze fell on a fallen shape which, after a minute or two, I was able to identify as a nazeman, throat skewered by a quarrel.
“Just a stray nazeman,” said Lisa-Louise. “Attracted to our fire, I expect. Dashing Daniel shot it.”

Note the ‘it’ for nazeman!

A subtle reference to an Alfred Hitchcock film (?):

“They show scenes in the life of Alfred the hatch cook, a local demigod,” Barguin told me. “There was something about his slaying a psycho during a rain shower, but I forget the details.”

Something for Ligottians:

Barguin identified the next village as Doll’s Town. An old woman minded a roadside stall selling the dolls for which the place was presumably named. Their waxen features, expressive of suffering, made me shudder – the brow of the nastiest girt with a circlet of thorns. The idea of children playing with the grotesque objects proved a troubling notion.

There seems to be something wrong with the syntax below or, if there isn’t, it certainly brought me up short:
We were bothered by flies at which the horses swished their tails and we slapped – sometimes too late, I emerged with several bites.

Should this not be ‘reined’?
He reigned in his horse

Full stop to be inserted after ‘back’:
then doubled back You get the picture?”


Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are here:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Groundlings

Published 'Lost' 1992

The drought lasted longer than anybody thought.

The family did manage to start thinking, however, about the well at the bottom of their narrow garden, one which for years had remained hidden and forgotten amongst the orchard trees. Not quite a forgotten thought, though, but more wished away by the pace of modern life, with sons and daughters growing up, assuming personalities of their own, launching themselves into a world becoming uglier than the aging process itself.

Needs must, where needs be. Old Granddad was the first to start thinking about the well. He even intimated that in his childhood, there was a treadle and a bucket ... even nursery rhymes that his own granddad chanted, one of which was about the well’s endless plunging shaft. Also, there was the legendary winter when some of my cousins, paying a chance visit, boisterously climbed down there, fully expecting the ice at the bottom to bear the brunt of their otherwise lack of pot-holing expertise.

"Did my cousins come back up?" I asked breathlessly.

"One of them did. He said your other cousins slipped and fell."

"But was there a scandal? Police enquiries?"

"We kept it mum. Those cousins were not really cousins proper but were merely foundlings, and easily forgotten."


"Yes, we lost all thought about them soon after that incident with the well. There were no further enquiries. No repercussions to speak of."

I stared at Granddad, believing him more than I thought I should believe him.

"We need to test it for water, then?" I asked.

"There's no other way."

His voice cracked, as the dried-out veins in his neck stood out like wickerwork. And, while a full moon crossed too swiftly an unnaturally luminous night sky, I took Granddad to where I assumed he would take me, given half the chance. I.E: THE WELL.

I wheeled him through the nettles, him cursing all the while that I had purposefully chosen such a route. He perversely trailed his limp arm, gathering deliberate stings.


He pointed insanely at a hump.

"That's a cairn," I idly replied.

"Yes, you're quite right, the well's not where I thought it was at all."

He turned his head as if life depended on his every move. I heard his bones snap, despite the noise of insects. I wheeled him further into the trees, thus wiping from the moon even of the ghost of its own glimpses. It was too dark even to think.


Again he pointed. Now with more method in his madness. It was a tiny convex lens of land. Lurching there, through the ill-kempt trees, I reached down with my hand. I turned back to shout out my findings.

"It is a hole, but there's no water to speak of."

"The well's far deeper than just one single arm."

Granddad's voice was convinced of its own uprightness, but his body's bearing failed the test of truth. He had flopped into his own lap, but he still managed to say something that caused me instinctively to snatch my hand back for dear life:-

"The foundlings down there have much longer arms than yours."

I was never to discover that I myself was a changeling, so there my tale must rest.

Never Lived To Leave


He knew it was in the cupboard, because that was the obvious place, the safest place for it. Under lock and key. In fact, he knew it was there, since he had personally put it there – folding it flat, easier to put down than put up, its wooden leg-frame often getting tangled and then, when untangled, too thin-edged for the soft sand on the beach to bear … and where one intended to erect it, the whole thing sank an inch or two, worming itself towards hotter climes in the Antipodes, no doubt! It sank even further when he sat in it! Then sinking even more the longer he sat in it – neither lying down nor sitting up, but at an angle that meant his body was both lying down and sitting up … but, as time went by, he was relatively more lying down than sitting up.

Inexplicably shamefaced, he’d manage to extricate himself and, when managing to straighten up upon his hind legs, he would ruefully stare back at it. The insipid sun in England was merely the reason for being there or, rather, despite the insipid sun (which he actually found far too hot). His body had indeed been laid upon the stretched-out curve of striped canvas (upon and along it), his long limbs and torso being supported more for the simple sake of such support than for any benefit of relaxing beneath what he felt to be the smouldering sunshine … all remarkably humiliating: a humiliation that eventually lent itself to the thing itself of wooden frame and striped canvas.

But, then, he had no need to be hung up on sun-bathing. This obsession was now locked up in the broom cupboard under the stairs along with the thing that had caused the obsession – and he had no intention of releasing it. He often imagined the thing creaking within, pitifully trying to release its wooden bones, followed by a faint shuffling or rustling… perhaps the odd sound of a breezy wave upon pretending it had found its own shoreline within the darkness.

Then, one day, he found sun-worshipping Susan. Or, rather, she found him. He had never had a girl friend before – let alone a partner with which to share a life. He realised that he should have no secrets from her and when she asked about what was in the broom cupboard (as she was bound to do) – well, what could he say?

She had agreed to live with him – bearing in mind that his house had a long garden with plenty of its own fresh air, although she would never have admitted this as the reason. She convinced herself that he was potential love material and already even just the prospect of him being her soulmate had out-lasted several earlier models because this one – with the long garden – was a good proposition, not short of a bob or two. Not great-looking, not of breath-taking film star quality, but certainly not bad looking. A bit set in his ways, but he did come complete with property and he would probably bend over backwards to please her – and, today, she was inspecting that very property prior to moving in with him.

“Nothing in there really, just a few bits and bobs. And some old paintings I’ve got no room to hang.”

“Anything to sit out in the garden on? It’s a bit bare out there. Not even a shed or any shade, not that I want much shade – as I love sitting out in the sun.”

“Not really. I’ve lost the key anyway.”

“Well, we can force the cupboard door open – or get a locksmith.”

“No point. There are only duplicates of things in there. And some old paintings.”

“Duplicates? What do you mean?”

“Duplicates. You know. Things that double up elsewhere.”

“Not seen anything round here that would fit in that cupboard.” She stared at the slanted cupboard door. “All your furniture is too big to get through … unless you mean knick-knacks or ornaments … or bigger things that would fold away in such a space?”

“Yes, that’s it, duplicates that fold away. Not worth the trouble of opening just for them. Next time I have a skip, I’ll force it open then, and get rid of what’s inside.”

Susan glanced over through the dining-room door at the table, wondering if it was duplicated within the cupboard. A duplicate sofa couldn’t possibly be in there, could it? Not many chairs to speak of. A single arm-chair and a couple of dining ones. Surely, if he had duplicates of them, he’d have them on show and not in the broom cupboard. She shrugged. Why bother about such things? She was a jolly person at heart and jolly she would be. She was slim enough to get into the broom cupboard herself. Instead of shrugging, she laughed out loud.

Well, although they did not live happily ever after – who does? – they struck up a passable living arrangement where – between sun-bathing binges – she did most of the household chores – and she never really questioned the contents of the broom-cupboard and simply used her own body with which to sit or lie out in the garden without any artificial aids. She subconsciously accepted, in other words, his unspoken phobia of the type of seating that he could not even name without blushing – or of even ordinary house chairs taking their place in a makeshift transfer from the dining-room to the garden and back again after dusk. She resided on pillows and lilos – acceptable replacements because they weren’t used upright and didn’t have to be erected or have shiny striped skin-sticking canvas … like the thing in the broom cupboard he now literally began to hate.

One day – a rainy one – Susan was in the kitchen pouring milk from a pink jug into a bowl – and, although rainy, there was sufficient light from the garden to be the only illumination of the old-fashioned kitchen – slanting from the window upon the now portly shape of the upper half of her body clad in a yellow mock-peasant blouse. These days (towards the end of their relationship) she usually wore a floppy white hat to complete the picture of ancient domesticity. Her skin was decidedly pale, despite the sun-bathing. Maybe, in fact, she had already given up sun-bathing at this stage in her life. It was as if she had suddenly become an image quite out of keeping with the image she had of herself. She put down the jug with a puff of irritation. And, just as abruptly, she heard – from the hall – a sound she hadn’t heard before. Someone unlocking the broom cupboard, perhaps. The one under the stairs. And it wasn’t him. She hadn’t heard him come downstairs from the bedroom where he usually stayed these days. Sounded like a lighter breathing …. A lighter touch, a flicker of lighter …. And the crackle of smoke. She’d evidently fallen asleep upon the kitchen trestle and dreamed of the parching sun …

The canvas stick-insect bent upwards with the slow-motion yawn of a B-Movie monster. Trying to replicate itself. Then, when failing to do so, trying to rub its limbs together to spark a flame… and its dream of grassy ground moved beneath the mock pillows … wooden fingers trapped between their own pincers.

The man was a chair himself, one that captured spider-women in its hardwood cobweb vice. And she duplicated the painting in the broom cupboard – the peasant in yellow top and white cap pouring milk from the dripping blow-lamp of paint. She’d become the stretched-out canvas he sat on. The broom cupboard clicked doubly shut and all was dusk. Nobody to repaint the light from the invisible ancient window. All of us end up, one day, in our own antipodes of dark unconscious pain. Even (or especially) sun-worshippers.

Thus, she never lived to leave him.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Harvest Time

by Gordon Lewis and D.F.Lewis.
Published 'Enigmatic Tales' 2000

I picked my way slowly up the crumbling stone staircase winding within the tower of a ruined castle. My throat constricted with fear as I ascended, knowing that when I emerged into the sunlight I would be terrified by the height, not just that of the castle wall, but that it would be accentuated tenfold by the prominence the old Norman castle was built upon. I edged out of the opening at the top, keeping my back firmly planted on what was left of the wall. I surveyed the scene as I did 30 odd years before, when, as a 16 year old lad, I had no fear of heights. Nothing had changed except my age. I was trying to recapture the time I stood atop the tower without fear, aiming to perform a daredevil stunt just to impress a group of girls picnicking within the precincts of the castle. It was just one of the girls I really wanted to impress, a girl named Dorothy... Dorothy Smith, the girl we boys called ‘Goldilocks Dora’. The girl with the startling blue eyes and golden hair, so unobtainable to us lesser mortals. It would have been fantastic just to say — ‘I once walked out with Dorothy Smith, the prettiest girl in the world.’ So she seemed not only to me, but to any of the adolescent boys for miles around.

* * *

More than three decades later I stood there again, shaking with fright, in spite of undergoing therapy to try and conquer an accursed phobia. Something to which I had become a victim after an accident that left me lying in a coma. A coma whence I was lucky to emerge, not just alive, but in fairly good physical shape… but leaving me with a morbid fear of high places... Acrophobia they called it, something I had to live with the past 3 years before leaving Fremantle in West Australia to visit my birthplace, to satisfy a longing, or as Welsh people say, my ‘Hiraeth’ for the homeland.
I composed myself to a degree, knowing I had the opening to the top of the stone steps within inches of my feet. I just wanted to look again at that perilous crossing over a narrow parapet, to what was left of the castle keep, approximately 40 yards away from the tower. It seemed impossible that it was I (albeit a younger me) that made it across without falling. Not many had succeeded, especially without the aid of ropes. One young man had fallen, luckily breaking his fall before landing on the steep grassy slope, to go tumbling down to a small copse at the foot of the hill. He however, was confined to a wheel-chair for many years, recovering to walk, but only with the help of crutches.
The day I successfully traversed those hazardous yards long ago I recalled with clarity — just like an action replay of the whole occasion. My plan was to move along just a few yards, pretend I was going to ‘chicken out’ after stumbling, but holding on, whilst calling for help (not that there would be any). I wanted an audience… so attracting the attention of the girls, in particular ‘Dora of the golden hair’.
All went according to plan... Regaining a foothold, I continued along the parapet, in front of my captive audience. I had no fear and I just knew I was going to make it... And make it I did, to reach the tower. My energy was spent, but I was so elated, I recovered quickly to make the comparatively easy descent to the inner court yard, expecting some kind of applause. But there was none. All except one of the girls walked away to continue with their silly picnic. I didn’t mind, for the one remaining was my Dorothy... or so I thought!
Her vivid blue eyes were flashing, not with excitement, but anger as she spoke... I think for the first time directly to me on a one to one basis. To say I was taken aback would be putting it mildly, as the girl of my dreams said those fateful words.
“You silly bloody fool, Denzil James. You could have broken your neck, which is a pity... Go back and do it again, this time you may kill yourself, and a good job too... I’m tired of you ogling me in Chapel every Sunday! What makes you think I could walk out with you, is quite beyond a joke.”
Crestfallen, my world in tatters, I walked away like a whipped cur with a tail between the legs, until I looked back to let my eyes traverse the parapet I had inched along; at least I had accomplished something
Mind you, when I recall what I looked like then, it’s hardly surprising she wouldn’t give me a second glance. Forced to wear those silly steel-rimmed glasses to a correct a problem with my eyes, and like most of the boys of my age, I was cursed with the adolescent acne, earning the nick-name of specky-four-eyes.
There was never another opportunity to try to impress that lovely girl, for soon after that episode in the Castle, I was devastated when the news came that Dorothy was leaving the area. Her father had secured a good position in a mining area of Yorkshire. Within weeks they were gone. Dorothy was now more remote than ever. My intention to smarten myself up once my eye treatment was succesful, and acne was no more, would be to no avail.

* * *

It wasn’t across a crowded room I saw her face. That face that had haunted me over the years... At least it looked like the face I remembered, though more than 30 years had passed since I saw her looking up at me from the courtyard of that ruined castle near the Welsh border. I had returned to London after that brief Welsh visit to my birthplace, to re-live the days when I was a foolhardy specky youth.
The face I saw, older of course, was featured in a life-sized portrait of an attractive woman in the window of a fashionable London book store. It was an enlargement of the dozens of photographs on the covers of books displayed, in neat arrangement around an announcement advertising a book-signing by the author of the book; just three days away from the day I stood there gawping at the photographs in amazement.
Though the name was not that of the girl I knew so long ago, I was convinced it was she, none other than Dorothy Smith... that was...!
Had I not gazed on that younger face from a distance, obviously something of which she was aware, even though she called it ‘ogling’. Those vivid blue eyes were still there; everything about her was how I imagined the girl would be — but there was the name — obviously a pen-name with a play on the words of her maiden name. The title of the book too was reminiscent of those heady days of Autumn in farmlands around the Brecon Beacons where we grew up, ‘Once upon a harvest time’ it was entitled, and Dora Goldsmith was the writer of the book displayed. The photographs just had to be of ‘golden-haired Dorothy Smith’, the girl I knew over three decades before.
One thing was certain, I would be at the book-launch and the signing that followed, but waiting for a quiet moment when I wouldn’t be hustled along in the rush for a signed copy… if indeed there was a rush… but, of course there would be a rush even though I now knew nothing about the author.

* * *

It was quite impossible to get anywhere near the pre-sales party, it being an invitation only launch. I was surprised that so much interest had been aroused by the book, so had to content myself with biding my time, impatient to prove that I was right in my assumptions.
I crossed the busy London street to find a place to eat; apart from feeling hungry by this time, there were three hours to kill, even before the scheduled time of the book sale. I found a window seat in a rather swish restaurant opposite the book shop, where I intended to spoil myself, celebrating, I hoped, a momentous occasion.
Money was of no consequence and, I supposed, no matter how rich and famous Dorothy had become, I would not be overshadowed by her success. My wealth had accumulated, not just by my own efforts. My father had been a a small-time builder in his birthplace at the head of the Swansea valley. Deciding there was more room for his skill on the continent of Australia, he applied for entry for himself and his whole family. It wasn’t on just a whim that he decided to uproot us all; he had found out that his skills would be well accepted in the growing country of Australia. Some months after Dorothy Smith left the valleys, I was on my way... half the world away to Perth in the antipodes.
Both my brother and I took to the life and the business of property building in a land hungry for well built new homes in the booming years of the mid twentieth century. The construction firm my father joined went from strength to strength, taking him with his two sons on his coat tails to eventual directors of a successful enterprise, all of us becoming rich beyond expectation during the 3 decades of frenzied building for those in need of fine homes. My father died after 25 of those years, and I succeeded him as managing director, until I met with an unfortunate accident. Nothing as spectacular as falling from a high building, but a freak accident whilst out riding. My horse was spooked by a snake, and I tumbled off his back to strike my head upon a rock. I lay in a coma for several days to recover without a great deal of damage, except that the brain injury had brought on acrophobia. Not something that would affect my life to any great extent, but a good reason to retire early to realise a cherished ambition to travel the world, making my first priority, a return to the ‘Land of my Father’s’. I had remained a bachelor, not that there had been a lack of suitable partners, but I had been disinclined to tie myself to one woman. Certainly, I was not carrying a torch for Dorothy Smith; I had forgotten all about that teenage crush… that is, until I saw those photographs of her, and knowing she was across that London Street, and soon, I would confront her — not as the specky-faced, bespectacled young Denzil James, but as a bronzed, well- built, set-up man of 50 plus with a Welsh-Australian accent. Of course I knew she was most probably married or committed to a family, but at least we could be friends, anyway. What I wanted to see most of all was the expression on her face when I confronted her.
There was no pressure for me to leave the restaurant. I had ordered several courses and it was way past 2 o’clock when I had the final coffee. I paid my sizeable bill and walked out into the May sunshine to head for the book shop, to what I hoped would be a very pleasant and eventful meeting.
I wandered around the vast book store, occasionally glancing into the department organising the sale of Dorothy’s book, waiting for the moment of a lull in the sale — the moment that didn’t come. I decided to tag on the end of a small queue, hoping that no one tagged on to me, but I was unlucky in that respect… then it was my turn.
“Whom shall I make it out to,” said the author, with the distinct lilt of a Welsh accent, certainly more than I had been left with after mixing with the folk ‘down under’.
“Could you please write to: You bloody fool Denzil James. I hope you break your silly neck.”
There was moment of shocked surprise before she looked up into my eyes, and I knew I struck a chord — knew for certain that it was definitely the woman into whom the girl I knew as Dorothy Smith had blossomed.
“You... You,” she stuttered, completely taken aback. “You’re not the Denzil James, the one with those funny glasses and all those spots?”
“Yes the one, but not quite the same. No glasses or spots, the one that couldn’t keep his eyes off you in chapel. Or was it ogling you called it?”
Aware that those behind me were getting restless, I quickly urged her to meet me later, in the same restaurant across the street.
“Please say you will, if only for old time’s sake… there is such a lot I want to tell you, certainly so much I want to know about your obvious success at this writing career of yours. You certainly have made a name for yourself, even if you have changed it from the old days. But somehow I knew you would be as brainy as you were beautiful.”
She became embarrassed, and something behind those blue eyes told me all was not as it seemed; there was just a hint of sadness too, as she hurriedly scribbled something on the flyleaf of the book I placed before her. As she handed it to me she said:
“I am scheduled to finish here at 4.30, I’ll meet you outside the store soon after that time... Thank you for buying my book...” she said as she attempted to smile at the customer behind me...
As I left the book store, I suddenly wished I had never attempted to meet Dorothy Smith (aka Dora Goldsmith) — things (or, especially, people) rarely lived up to long-held expectations. It was like remembering a jewel and finding a fossil; I had been blinded by her entourage at the signing; I could not help fretting over the trappings of her fame and, now I realised what it was, over her mock willingness to extend any contact with a mere punter, like myself, a punter who had, by some accident of fate, known her in a more impressionable epoch — more impressionable for both of us.
During one’s youth, one spreads seeds in a seeming fertile ground with the (perhaps unthought) hope of harvest in the future. Each act an investment. Each human-to-human touch a search for something other than itself.
Now was the time to cash in. But was there? Only a woman I hardly recognised — someone who had never been able to spy the worth beyond my specky skin. So why should she spy anything but the crust of my middle age? Would I ever dare give her the pleasure of meeting me after she finished with the book signing? I would simply slip away. That would be best...
I found myself at the entrance to a tube station. Even in the pre-rush hours it was as if I was being borne along on the wave of the ever-hurrying London crowds, to find myself descending to the depth below the streets of the city, not knowing where I was heading. In spite of the milling crowd I felt I was not alone, as if someone was watching my every move. A feeling I had sensed ever since leaving the street of the book store.
I teetered on the edge of the platform. The vertigo of acrophobia had never attacked me before at such a low level. Heights were comparative. But, here, simply a few feet above the throbbing rails...
I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder. I turned to see if this were a precursor to some ‘care-in-the-community’ eccentric, teasing with his (or her) fingertips before finally shoving me into the path of the approaching train… or was it somebody helping me to regain my balance...?
I somehow imagined it would be Dorothy, having followed me from the book launch… eager to renew our encounter. It was not her, Or it was her. I couldn’t be certain. A figure peeled off from the crowd before I could focus on the details that made a shape into a recognisable person. It was as if the rest of the eager passengers regrouped so as to protect the departure of whomsoever had thus helped me from the dizzying edge. I tried to recall the vivid blue eyes and the angry words scolding a certain Denzil James for his foolhardiness...
I determined to return, after all, towards the uncertain venue she had half-heartedly suggested for our meeting. Either she would be there or she wouldn’t. Either I would be there or I wouldn’t.
Perhaps two strangers would meet each other, instead.
Whatever the case, within the scope of the next hour, I would reap what I had sowed.
I found myself out in the daylight again, but having wandered aimlessly from the Street I needed to be in by 4.30, I had become disorientated, then uncharacteristically decisive, I looked about me for some prominent feature above the skyline of the stores opposite. I reached the curb edge with the traffic flowing like a slow wall of water. My head whirled and I felt the same sensation I had experienced dozens of feet below my feet. I swayed like a tree in the wind as, again, I felt that presence, the touch on my shoulder. Was it restraining, or urging me on? A taxi-cab pulled up just feet away from me, and as it discharged its fare, I became its next passenger. Remembering the name of the famous book store, I called out its name to the cabbie, and we became a part of the traffic tide.
I kept looking at my watch as the minutes ticked away towards the time of our meeting, and as half past the hour of four was minutes away, I was almost pleased we were not going to make the meeting. I accepted that Dorothy Smith would remain the girl I knew — I would never know the woman she had become... Did I really want to know the woman? Maybe it would shatter the illusion of the golden-haired girl Dora.
It was almost 5 o’clock when I paid off the cabbie. I walked to the entrance of the book store just to look once again at the life-sized portrait of the woman, the writer whom the girl had become. The window was empty around the portrait, so her book must have been in great demand. The book...? Where was the one I bought? I suddenly realised I hadn’t picked it up after Dorothy had signed it for me... Did I really want to read it? Of course I did; at least I would one day display it with a touch of the theatrical, showing it to friends, whilst boasting that I knew her when she was a slip of a girl.
Of course it had to happen... I turned to enter the store to see if my book had been left for me... and there she was, walking towards me, smiling a strange smile, forced in some way as she nervously glanced at the young man who was ushering her along.
“It was nice to see you again Denzil. Sorry... can’t stop, I have left your book with the manager.” Then pointedly she added. “I wrote what you wanted on the flyleaf... Perhaps we will meet for a longer chat one day.”
The stern-faced young man’s eyes were restless. After he examined me closely, his eyes were darting around… looking concerned, as if waiting for something to happen. Behind them, was another watchful man, almost a clone of the one holding Dorothy by the elbow. I managed a hurried ‘thank you’, before they hurried past me and into a waiting car.
With that she was gone... At least I had the book. Perhaps there would be something within to indicate when we could meet… there had been a wealth of meaning in that last thing she said...
There was indeed a sheet of paper between pages 112 and 113 (a sheet of similar size and quality as the book’s pages themselves). I assumed it was entirely blank until I discerned — in faint 4H pencil lead — the word ‘Hiraeth’. (I imagined the barely tangible person I sensed was watching me when on the underground station platform had started to gently write it, leaning on the paper hardly at all). It was a clue — or rather, a spur —for an indefinable longing… to understand, to find, to renew, to re-enact... Love would always be a memory, unless I grabbed it as it came around again like a comet...
This word ‘Hiraeth’ which I found faintly written in the edition of Dorothy’s book I now owned (and as yet, not read) a word teasingly etched upon a wayward leaf, should have drawn me ineluctably back to the valleys and hills of Wales. After all it was a Welsh word. It could have meant something important, yet tantalisingly distant, dizzingly swaying above in the highest heavens. It meant a lot. So much more if there had been a date for a meeting where this tale began. The word seemed to encapsulate the steel rimmed specs, the specky skin, the spooked horse, the archipelagos of acne. Yes, the pitted map of a visage so familiar to mirrors and the still waters of ponds.
No, I was not drawn back to Wales, though I had spent a good part of my life in Australia, that huge sprawling continent of the lowest common denominator... I now needed more focus, more point. And, strangely, I was drawn towards France (Paris, in particular) yes towards the Eiffel Tower. I knew I was aiding and abetting Fate, an often pointless Fate, but there was (in my dreams at least) a vision of that sharp-rearing, age-seasoned, land-locked, sun-gilt sword of tapering, surging power skywards...
Our assignation (Dorothy’s and mine) I just knew (how? — I still don’t know) was to be in the vicinity of this tower. But, first, imagine my journey towards this all-important venue. I took the ferry — eschewing the Channel Tunnel, a route too reminiscent of the recent ‘fright’ in the depths of the London subway — but I still managed to sense sidelong, sloppy shapes and figures going in and out of focus as they seemed to follow me about on the vertiginous deck, caused by the surge of those ever present cross currents beneath what appeared to be an unusual English Channel millpond and most real passengers were above deck, in the fresh air. I tried to shrug off my paranoia about my pursuers. They seemed to have specky skin, although it was difficult to determine whether there were any other distinguishing features. They reminded me, somewhat, of the lower-scale employees of the family firm inAustralia — people I had usually no contact with, but now they were coming home to roost...
I tried to blot such people from my mind — as my train from Calais approached the purlieus of Paris.
It was quite dark when the train pulled into the Paris railway station, and once again I had to rely on a taxi-cab to whisk me off to the hotel I had booked to stay in. It had been my intention to visit one or two places of interest that evening, but ‘Maytime in Paris’ wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The view of the distant Eiffel Tower at night was just a blur of twinkling lights — and the occasional flash of lightning — through a curtain of lashing rain… there was always tomorrow, and I had all the time in the world, or so I supposed.
I lay on my bed, not yet prepared to retire for the night. I remembered I had only skipped through the book I had bought; it really wasn’t my ‘cup of tea’; historical romances were something I never could get interested in. I had accepted that the faintly written word ‘Hiraeth’ was not a message at all, and my reason for this Parisian visit was for another reason entirely.
It had been suggested by my mental therapist that my condition need not be permanent, and that I could cure myself gradually by ‘biting the bullet’ so to speak. His prognostication was that on my trip to the other side of world I should visit high places that were tourist attractions where there were others enjoying the experience, old and young alike without fear, hopefully helping with their presence. Providing there was easy methods of access, I would gradually become used to being not afraid of heights... Places like ‘The monument to the fire of London in Pudding Lane’ — the castle near my birthplace — even ‘Snowdonia’ in North Wales — and the real reason for my visit to Paris, ‘The Eiffel Tower’. The Welsh castle and The Monument I had already tackled, and I have to say, they had not helped that much. I was not at all comfortable, but I had at least reached to the top of both, but without looking down! Not even a quick glance. It was my intention to take the lift (just a stage at a time) up the Eiffel Tower, but something made me hurriedly alter my plans.
I knew nothing of the woman Dorothy had become, so I turned to the very last page of the book, or rather the notes on the protective jacket, where it was normal for a brief pen-picture of the writer to appear; something I had hurriedly read just once before. There was no mention of a relationship, family or such, just a brief synopsis of her career. Success in journalism and the books she had written in her beloved Wales... not in the area we both grew up in... but Snowdonia, by amazing coincidence, Llanberis, the place I intended to visit again, determined to reach the summit of Snowdon... the easy the mountain railway that began its ascent to the top from that little Welsh Parish at the foot of the mountain. But why the haste...? There were some words indenting the print from the reverse of the glossy book jacket. Turning the flap over there were two words of Welsh... ‘Mehefin Pedwar’. I racked my brains trying to remember the Welsh lessons at school. I had been brought up in an English speaking household, but I remembered numbers in the Welsh language, also the days of the week and the months of the year. What Dorothy had written was the date ‘June 4’. Could it mean she would be in North Wales on that date? I couldn’t for the life of me see a reason for all this secrecy. It could only mean she wanted to be there without having ‘minders’ hurrying her along… and she did say ‘we will meet’ again. Perhaps I was assuming too much… grasping at straws… but I had intended a trip to Llanberis... the Eiffel tower would still be there… unless it was struck by lightning. June the fourth was only a week away... So I argued — why not the ascent to the top of Snowdon first? There would be a greater incentive, wanting to be there with Dorothy.
Like life itself, one can never really recall each turning. We are a series of different selves as we take our rite of passage through each of our sea-changes... And, in a similar vein, I cannot now exactly remember how I switched directions, how I abruptly lost interest in Paris and the impossible (to me) challenge presented by the imposing Eiffel Tower, an architectural wonder of the world which I had before described floridly and (in hindsight) so inappropriately whilst there.
No, it was Mount Snowdon where I was bound. I had been there before, staying in a small Guest House in Llanberis itself, where a banner had been stretched across the street welcoming back one the town’s brave inhabitants from his stint in the Gulf War.
This time — incredibly — I was led, by the nose, as it were, to another guest house establishment (the previous one where I had stayed having become something quite different concerned with mountain rescue) — and I was quite stunned to see a nameboard above the door spelling out ‘HIRAETH’. This seemed to be a very apt name for someone’s home, even better than ‘Cartref’. But for reasons too obvious to labour, it was most remarkable that I’d been attracted hither of all places.
In the backyard, I noticed a frightened horse. It whinnied, then snickered, as I tentatively walked down the crazy-paved path towards HIRAETH and from within, there echoed the yaps of a tiny-sounding dog.
It was in the evening of June 3rd and I knew my suitcase held that all- important book. It was as if I feared not recognising Goldilocks (as I tutored myself to think of her) if I did not possess her older effigy, albeit by means of a two-dimensional photograph on the back-flap of the dust-wrapper.
I knocked. I hadn’t booked. Like before, I depended on serendipity to ease my way through life. I had travelled wide over the current Britain — on the off chance of resting my head, even at the height of summer (as now), more often than not I landed on my feet and found a comfortable billet.
The woman who answered my knocking upon the door of HIRAETH was a homely, plump Welsh woman who spoke with that delightful lilt so familiar in the Land of my Fathers. She wielded a huge rolling-pin and flour was peppered over the ample folds of her black apron. I was pleased (but not surprised) to be told that there had been a late cancellation and I was smartly shown a delightful ensuite room with a view of the mountains, a room tastefully and traditionally decorated.
After exchanging small talk and a little bit of Welsh bonding, she left me to unpack. I shivered. For the first time since arriving in Wales I felt apprehensive. Goldilock’s minders etched against the rearing horizon as they trooped up a distant mountain flank. It was only imagination, I hoped. More suitable for my dreams-to-come than waking reality.
The years since I left Australia seemed but a passing phase. Idly following my nose (rather than being led by it), I had achieved little, except visiting parts of the old country I had not had the opportunity to experience before I was whisked to a world away by my ambitious father. I had been ready to return to Australia until the day I saw Dorothy’s photographs in that London book store. Why was I pursuing the notion of meeting her on a one-to-one basis? Curiosity, I supposed, intrigued by the feeling all was not well... Why had she taken the trouble to leave a message in Welsh? A message obviously intended for me. She would have surmised I would turn to the book’s jacket notes, the most natural thing for an old acquaintance to do.
I strolled about the village of Llanberis, re-acquainting myself with the bar of the inn near the rail terminus, after checking the times of train departures for the main summit among the five peaks rearing skywards from the village.
“Dinner is at half past seven,” Mrs Morgan’s informed me as I left the guest house. “A lovely bit of Welsh lamb specially for you,” she added, her button-nosed face wreathed in smiles.
I was ready for dinner long before that time, impatient for the dinner gong to ring out, as I sat in the small but comfortable lounge at ‘Hiraeth’, a name appropriate, as I could smell the dinner being cooked, reminding me of the days when I was a young man. I whiled away the time by reading ‘Once upon a harvest time’, laying the book closed upon the low table at my side as Mrs Morgans entered to inform me that dinner would be right on time.
“Oh... I see you reading that book… written near here it was... I wonder how Mrs Rees-Powell is coping, waiting until the men who killed her husband are captured?” She spoke English with quaint deliberation, it being her second language.
“Mrs Rees-Powell?” I queried. “Who is she, what has she to do with the book?”
“Why... that is the proper name of the authoress… look you — she was the only witness to the killing of her husband... In danger, she is until they catch the men who broke into ‘Plas Bryn’... the big house on the road between here and Bettws-y-Coed...”
It began to fit! I wondered what June 4th, the very next day would bring.
The dining room was less than half full, and having commented upon it to the diminutive waitress, I was informed that most of the guests this time of year were booked for bed and breakfast. Llanberis, though a popular place as a stopover because of the terminus for the rack-railway climbing more than 3,500 feet to the five peaks of the mountain. The thought of being up there three times as high as the Eiffel tower sent a spasm of fear through me, but I was determined to set out on that train in the morning, even if I kept my eyes closed.
I set aside these negative thoughts, prepared to enjoy my food, turning my back to the window as the sun etched shadows of the mountain behind me.
Mrs Morgans had been right about the lamb; I had forgotten how delicious Welsh lamb was, compared to anywhere else in the world. I complimented her as she appeared at my elbow. As she left, she said:
“Oh, by the way, Mr James, I heard in the village, our famous writer was seen entering ‘Plas Bryn’ this afternoon, escorted by the Police she was. I wonder if she is out of danger at last... It has been a terrible time for her...”
When I retired for the night, I wondered if I would be beset by dreams. More than enough had happened to colour my sleep, I was sure — but my room at Mrs Morgans’ place possessed a restful ambience, with pastel shades and subdued ornamentation (not that such things would matter once I’d turned the lights off). In any event, I laid quietly on my back for a while, not even attempting to fall asleep. Thoughts autonomously swirled around my mind (normally a bad omen for dreams or even nightmares later in the night) and these thoughts centred around Goldilocks aka Dorothy Smith aka Dora Goldsmith aka Mrs Rees-Powell. How many more names would I eventually learn about as I traced the paths of destiny set in motion by that book signing session? Then my mind remembered the rumours of dark dealings and murder, implications of which piled up as they stemmed from Mrs Morgans’ few words before dinner. Perhaps those so called ‘minders’ I’d sensed on the tube platform, again on the tilting ferry and, yes half glimpsed this very day as they scaled a Mountain in Indian file, perhaps not ‘minders’ at all but inimical creatures, ones that were more mixed up with murder than minds...
All fading in my own mind, as I had a full-blooded dream (instead of dozing thoughts) about St Paul’s Cathedral back in London, that grimy grim city where I had renewed my contact with Goldilocks. I almost felt like a character in a book, perhaps one of her books, as I clambered up to the famous Whispering Gallery and, with my condition almost overwhelming my faculties, I spreadeagled my body against the curved wall as I painstakingly circled the inside of the great Dome — my front turned to the vast echoing auditorium below. The cathedral’s mighty organ bellowed; I could hardly discern the hooded figure within the distant plinth as it struggled with the stops. Then my eyes almost zoomed in to spot a white glare instead of a face, an insect proboscis instead of a nose, wiry feelers instead of fingers and large riding boots pummelling away at the pedals...
I woke with a start. I remembered that the organ had suddenly stopped towards the tail-end of the dream and I heard whispering as I pressed my ear to the cold gallery wall. The words were Welsh.
The morning had already broken and Mrs Morgans presented me with eggs sunnyside up, grilled kidneys, mushrooms and, surprisingly, some waffles drenched in molasses. I politely nibbled as much as I could stomach and mentioned to Mrs Morgans that today — June 4th — I was to complete an ambition of mine (a rigorous challenge for one afflicted with my condition) taking the mountain train to the summit of Snowdon. Imagine my disappointment when she announced she’d heard rumours that urgent engineering inspection was going to prevent train journeys for today.
“Ivor told me. They’re having to check the edges,” she said.
“Check the edges?” I shrugged, not bothering to query further.
“And, oh yes,” Mrs Morgans continued — as she placed a platter of rather fatty looking back-bacon in the centre of the table — “Mrs Rees-Powell the writer is making a presentation to our local war hero in front of the pub opposite this evening. Everybody’s going. They’ll welcome a stranger or two, why don’t you come with me?”
I nodded non-committally. I had already decided I was going to climb up the mountain. Even at my age, I’d heard people who had made such a climb — more an uphill walk than a climb. A long walk, yes, but I had been told, the slopes were, in the main, not too severe.
Mrs Morgans broke into my thoughts again... “Sorry I forgot the bacon, there’s plenty there, help yourself...” she said as she made to leave to attend to others.
But I was already replete, and I wasn’t partial to bacon that was not grilled to a crisp. The sight of the fatty bacon did nothing to help the queazy feeling in my stomach already churning at the thought of what I resolved to do when I left the guest-house.
With that Mrs Morgans returned to my table; she seemed to have adopted a motherly feeling for a fellow Cymro as she suggested the following:
“If you intend tackling the walk up the mountain, call in the Rescue Centre and they will check if you are properly equipped. Of course they are really more concerned with the more adventurous climbers who take the dangerous routes, but one of the men there has helped people with fear of heights. Actually he is a cousin of my late husband. He is called Glyndwr Morgan, tell him I sent you, and, by the way, a donation to their work will help, but not compulsory, mind you.”
She was a dear old soul, inclined to run on a bit perhaps, but I decided I would take her advice. But she hadn’t quite finished with her guardian-angel performance.
“You’ll find a little packed lunch for you, you’ll probably need it when you sit quietly looking at the magnificent view from the top.”
My heart turned over at how easy she made it all sound, but not enough to put off my resolve. So with my stoutest shoes on my feet and dressed sensibly, I made for the Mountain Rescue Centre, and to my polite request to speak to Mr Glyndwr Morgan, I was surprised to hear the man say:
“You’re speaking to him, people call me ‘Glyn’, and before you say anything, I know who sent you — Mrs Gwen Morgans — she is the only one who uses my full name.”
I told him of my full history and the blow that caused this stupid fear of heights. That I had already started a self-cure therapy and questioned if I was wise to tackle the obstacle of the mountain.
“I’m walking the track myself ahead of the engineers today, setting off soon, why don’t you tag along with me, chatting with someone is the best way, and I have to tell you, I was once bordering on having a phobia of your kind. You really should not try and do it all by yourself and you are most welcome to come to walk the track with me.”
I was buoyed up by his suggestion, almost looking forward to the idea. There was something about the man that inspired confidence, and I accepted his suggestion readily, at the same time asking if I could make a contribution to the Centre’s funds… and this was gladly accepted as I stuffed some paper money into the box on the desk.
When I queried how long it would take, he said it would be around tea-time when we arrived back at the centre. The weather was set fair and he envisaged no problem, and when I mentioned the evening’s presentation, he said:
“Never fear, I want to be there too. With bells on... Sergeant Jenkins is a relation of mine...”
I was beginning to think everyone in the village were related in some way or another; perhaps this chappie knew the lady I was hoping at last to meet for longer than a brief exchange of words. But would that be enough? I had other matters in front of me...
It was perhaps amazing how I could even envisage such a climb — walk — hike — trek — call it what you will — to the summit of Snowdon. Almost as if I had already met an imposssible challenge by even considering such a feat. My father, as I mentioned earlier, was a builder, a Master Builder. The Eiffel Tower and St Paul’s Cathedral lodged in my mind as symbols of his achievements ‘down under’. Humanity, in some shape or form, had constructed such wonders of the world — and my father had been a vital component in this great march of humanity. I felt that, somehow, they were his buildings...
I glanced at the imposing bulk of Snowdon against a dull-gilt sky and I imagined a structure upon which the mountain had been hung like a theatrical backdrop. God’s Structure, if not man’s — reaching downwards into a heavenly antipodes...
I smiled and placed more money into Glyn’s box. I shook his hand and
he seemed to know instinctively that I did not need him for what I was about to undergo.
The breakfast still lay heavy on my stomach. But I had no real physical need to scale the mountain, I had already accomplished this feat in my head and my eyes could see clearly for the first time — as if I had been dizzy all my life — but now the giddyness had left me, I could recognise it for what it was, what it had been.
The sun now silhouetted the mountain with an unimpeachable clarity, strands of gold sliding along its flanks : A corona’s promenade.
I smiled and I prayed as I saw a golden-haired angel pushing a wheelchair towards the pub opposite Mrs Morgan’s Guest-house. A specky-faced man was seated in the wheelchair, seeming to be pedalling hard with his feet in riding boots… as if, ridiculously, he believed this action helped his minder push him along.
I closed the dust-wrapped book, with a longing. Irrationally I dreamed of a spooked horse. The harvest was over...
Yesterday was history... Tomorrow… A mystery? But somehow I knew I would reach new heights — unafraid — a hand, smaller, softer, clasped in mine...
Hiraeth and Heaven were one.

Monday, November 03, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's comments on Chapter 38)

Chapter 38 - Solstice

In many ways, the perfect chapter. It begins:

The Barque of the Year was in its final stages of preparation. Garlands of holly – bright red berries against glossy dark green – almost obliterated the gunwale, whilst still more were hammered into place. A fiddler, muffled in what appeared to be half a dozen cloaks, played ‘The Old Year is A-Falling’, the melody curiously distinct above the hammering. Snow fell in flakes soft as goose down, spiralling to the damp pavement – and showing no sign of settling.

Perfect, in the sense that it is not only the Solstice festival (with the happy traditions, I guess, of our own world’s Christmas) – with presents, dressing-up etc – but with destinies fulfilled and future destinies budding towards a future fulfilment – with Fluff a major character in this (who I sense has matured even as the novel itself progressed almost like a literary destiny with any narrators just keeping an eye on the craft’s tiller) – Fluff almost a counterpart of Tuerqui herself, except softer because she hasn’t had to experience what Tuerqui has experienced. Tuerqui is often soft and gauche, like Fluff, but more edgy and feisty.

The synchronised shards of random truth and fiction. Or the random shards of synchronised truth and fiction?

Even the typos and queries kept away in this perfect chapter!

Two lovely passages (among many):

Lisa-Louise had commanded me sufficiently to save my sanity – but, alas, she had no choice but to leave me half princess, half slave. It had been inevitably so with the daily demands placed upon me. The Solstice, by contrast, was a day out from the ordinary world. It was a time for joy in harness mates, delight in shared servitude.

There was silence. In the quiet, I felt the power of the goddess coursing through me. No longer was I Tuerqui, the slave – nor Princess Margaret of the Blood Victoria. Instead, in that moment, I was the avatar of the goddess, her living embodiment.

Following this perfection, I wonder what impends? :- o

Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are here:

A Tale Of Two Todgers


Old Todger serves many masters. His entire mentality is one of knowing his place - a place which he takes with him wherever he goes. He's fundamentally a shite-raker, yet most of his masters cannot muster muck enough to keep his hands full. "Have you got more slops and turn-outs for me to clear up?" he asks, wide-eyed and expectant. In the end, there's resort to keeping extra animals (and even extra servants) on the estate simply so that Old Todger can be given the opportunity to shovel their doings away.

And one future night beyond Old Todger's days, the village became quieter than most at twilight. As soon as the sun began to dip below the trees at the edge of the Green, there was a scattering of latecomers aiming for the doors of the Black Onion pub - via a meadow juxtaposing the Patrons' car park and past an encroaching elbow (which was the outside Gentlemen's by-pass). At the centre of this meadow was an upgrowth - not a tree, more a top-knot on someone's mop of tousled hair - which seemed to wear dusk like a hat. Some of the more fanciful villagers warily watched it turn from summery shrub to a benighted helmet wrenching in a sporadic wind. The legend - and it was wrong to call it more than that - had evolved over the years, embroidered in parts and even underplayed in others - concerning that Old Todger who used to be the village's Lavatory Man in the days of future's past. The villagers had feared him and scuttled into the rooms behind the sculleries when he entered their houses with his stink-pans. He came to unclog the tanks and tote out the sediments. As he passed in and as he passed out of the through-parlours, even the cats hissed and hunched their backs in the chimney-corners. And some said it were the cats that were the end of him. The helmet in the meadow was now believed to be the top of his head - the rest of his body stretching to the Core of the Earth, where certain others down there did out his necessaries.

Beyond twilight, most villagers snuggled up in the Black Onion hostelry, but others drew their curtains together in the upper storeys and waited for dawn beneath the bedcovers. A small minority squeezed in under the mattress. Young Todger didn't know why - just took it for granted - but he was one of those who resorted below the tilting rafters of the Old Onion. Young Todger did not need nor want to question it. He did not even worry that he bore the same name as the legendary lavatory man. A frothing tankard of local ale each night could not be bad. But then, it all came home to him, like a rifle shot from out a lace-trimmed cradle.

Young Todger cursed the day itself, for it was nearer day than night when it happened. He'd had to pass along one of those dark short-cuts around the church. He'd never liked it particularly, with the oversize stone gargoyles reaching out to touch his head. Framed between the sides of the lich-gate at the end of the path, he could see the helmet glinting in the dying light. His heart beat faster, as it appeared to be swivelling in the ground. He could've sworn it cranked and rose slowly like a drill-head. Then, screaming erupted from a nearby house, like a wild catfight, but was nevertheless decidedly human in its origin. Young Todger ran from and then towards it, in hesitant horror, and, after a bit, got nowhere. The butcher's boy had got in, before Young Todger's eventual arrival, and was found comforting the body in the washing-copper. A red spluttering face poked itself from the hatch, amidst the froth and still dirty smalls. It was Young Todger's mother's second cousin by obverse remove and Young Todger knew her only slightly. Enough, though, for him to say: "You be in a pretty pickle, Mrs Bobbin..."

She responed with a blurting cry: "The stink tank be alive with coily things..."

"What!" spat the butcher's boy. "Just now, on our marble slabs, the meat grew huge carbuncles - up they sprouted on the briskets and sirloins, with bloated blisters on the chops, yellow stuff scumming our knives and hatchets. Blimey, all's getting mighty peculiar."

"Why are you in the washing-copper, Mrs Bobbin? I've never seen my own mother in one," Young Todger thought to ask, tactlessly as it turned out.

"The tank did stink worse than ever and did churn - AND it'd only one day's doings in it. So, I thought I would be safer in here, with all my smalls. It seemed cleaner here, somehow." She burst into tears at the thought of the ludicrousness of her position. Illogical, but understandable, Young Todger had to concede. Finally, he put it all down to the helmet in the meadow. Old Todger's vengeance was no longer legend, but increasingly legion. Even later, in the Old Onion, Young Todger swallowed down his tankard of ale far too quick. Its lumpish contents slid down before he had the chance to take avoiding action. And no amount of alternate finger-poking at both ends could retrieve them.

Meanwhile, in history, before Young Todger was born, Old Todger could not remember exactly when he gave up being a Lavatory Man. Flushed loos were soon to be invented and then there would be no need for the stink-cart to call every now and then to collect the night soil. But, more important perhaps, people were to become so poor he felt that there would be no big job satisfation in dealing with just the meagre produce stemming from a diet of thin soup. Old Todger tramped to the city, to seek his fortune. But little did he know, his fortune was with him all the time. Everybody carried his or her Fate around with them, impossible, some averred, to shake off, hanging from the nose like an invisible symbolic dewdrop, more precious to the wearer than a diamond, an intangible satellite of the soul. And Old Todger had the biggest one in the world.

Having entered the city gates, he soon came across a sandwich man advertising what seemed to be a public hostelry called the Great Old One which, as he was very thirsty (and hungry) after his long hike, was an opportune encounter.

"Is the Great Old One far from here, my good old man?"

The man had a mouthful of fillings, so he couldn't answer properly but he managed to grunt out a few curt directions which, with a few hand signals, sent Old Todger on his way with an inkling of the various back-doubles he would have to negotiate in order to reach the said pub. But, soon, he was lost in a maze of alleys which were full of steaming laundries. Outside one, there was a white-aproned man leaning against the door sucking at an unlit pipe.

"Lost, eh?" The pipe stirred the mouth.

"Guess so," replied our hero.

"Where you off to, then?"

"The Great Old One."

"Never bleedin' heard of it - sounds like somethin' me ol' Grandmammy told me about in nightmares, when I was nobbut middlin' small."

"It's a pub, I'm told."

"Well, you been told wrong. No pub called that in these 'ere parts."

"Can you point the way to another one, then, my good fellow?"

"Might do - if you make it worth my while."

"I've got nothing - I'm on my way to seek my fortune and..."

"Fortune's ever just round the next corner, they say, just follow your nose ... and there it be."

"I wish I believed that. What if I gave you a bit of rustic wisdom, launderer? That'll be something I can give a townee of the likes of you."

"OK. Spill!"

"When the morning's a breezy one, your doings'll be long and coily, clogging up the works. When the day's still and calm, they'll be shorn chipolatas, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, dotted about the bowl like lost souls. But when it's wet, your brown porridge will be darker and richer and go round a few more hungry mouths."

"Cor! That be wisdom indeed. And can you tell it t'other way round. I mean can you study your poo-stools and tell what the weather will be?"


"Well, mine was all yellow and runny this very afternoon and spotted with bog-bugs as big as walnuts doing the breast-stroke."

"No trouble, launderer. Tomorrow'll be a good day for putting the sheets out to dry."

"You're having me on!"

"Nope - the sun'll shine hot and long ... even during the first part of the night."

"Blimey, nuncle, I think I'll slap you on the back for the smart arse fellow you be."

Which he did. He didn't know his own strength, what with a whole lifetime of wringing and steam-pressing by hand. Old Todger spluttered and snorted, finding himself on the ground looking for something he didn't know he had in the first place and didn't know he'd lost in the second.

The grinning launderer shouted: "I was just joking you, sirree, about that pub. It's just round the next blind corner. There you'll find the Great Old One with wondrous big frothing pint-pots at its chest and a bellyful fit to feed a thousand poor people with more than just thin soup."

"Thank'ee, launderer," stuttered Old Todger.

And, on hands and knees, he rounded the corner only to discover himself staring at the mighty webbed claws which served as feet of a creature who forthwith gobbled him up and shat him out again almost instantaneously. Yet, at the turn of the century, some say that Time took one look at the forthcoming years and immediately decided to retrace its course, evidently flabbergasted at what would come to pass if it ever changed its mind and set its foot forward again towards the two World Wars and beyond...

Nanny Bobbin was sewing, at the quiet end of the day. From time to time, she looked down at her charge, the little girl she herself might have been, then glancing from the high window towards the orchard of bullace trees at the end of the garden. She knew this house to be beyond the tracks beaten by the peddler or the cat's meat man, and even further from the creaking Black Onion sign of the village where she once lived.

Could it be that dusk was seeping into the summer air earlier, much earlier, than yesterday? Todger, recently hired gardener and muckman for the estate, was still pottering amid the flowerbeds, yes, still wiping the grease of the sun from his bothered brows. Nanny imagined hearing his boisterous remonstrations as he entered the lower kitchens, at day's end. At day's end, which could not be far off, since the songs of twitterlight had turned in on themselves, even though the birds still perched peckishly in the blackening bullace branches.

Nanny tapped the shoulder of her young lace-trimmed charge squatting with her giggle of dolls by the empty nursery fire-grate and told her to look through the window at the dying light, for it was only then that one could fulfil the promise of the day.

Todger stood and stared up at the nursery window. He knew, if he did not put hurry into his boots, he would be trapped outside. "Come on, Todge, ol' fellah, you've not much time," he muttered to himself. Two white poppy faces hung at the nursery window, he saw, like the staring widening eyes of an old sightless one. A pack of blackness scattered into an explosion of wings from the bullace orchard as if seeking out further patches of itself, to sew the night.

The eyes soon extinguished and, no doubt, so would his chance of survival. On hands and knees again, this time because the toil of the day had taken its toll, he made his way towards the tradesmen's entrance, desperate for any form of shelter. He had never left it as late as this before. He could not recall the roof of the house looking so cluttered up. Huge roosting wings, with beaks prodding at things in their feathers, stood around the tall chimneystacks. Others hung from spiky cages which, one day in the future, would be television aerials, with long strands of a substance that the pecking and preening of the creatures had deposited there. One particularly blubbery blood-knitting of this bogey-goo puttered upon the back of Todger's neck as he reached the lowest step of the house.

He looked up, imploringly, to call his fellow servants. All they had to do was scoot smartly from the door, gain purchase below his armpits and drag him, if inelegantly, into the deepest reaches of the house, safe from whatever those creatures were hemming and threading the ridge-trees and gutters of the upper margins of the roof system.

Nanny Bobbin and her charge had, by now, of course, drawn the velvet curtains together, like dressing a wound. Since it was unseasonably chilly, they both set up a structure of blackened fire-wood in the grate, the sharper bits pointing up the chimney-flue. No need to set it alight, though, for they would soon be both curling cosily into the cot. In any event, neither were allowed matches.

The day did not give way too easily that night, and for too long they listened to the slow poignant guttering outside in the quarter-light.

The fulcrum of time had evidently been reached. Old Todger (ever to be Nanny's beau) would no doubt be conscripted when he became Young Todger again.

In future's present well beyond past's grasp, he had an unlit ciggie in his mouth. He seemed to be waiting for something to happen, but the corner of the field in which he stood was quickly filling with snow. Soon both night and snow would blanket him, but he welcomed the anonymity of invisibility. He spoke to one he thought to be himself: "I hated school. But I loved jog-raffy. I'm jog-raffy meself, you know. Me mouth has been dug in the earth of me face. A mountain the helmet of me head. Me chest be rivers of sweat. Me bum has a crack from the quakin' of me innards. Me feet grow in the soil, as corpses grow in graves. Me hairy part is fruit of a tree, growin' juicy, comin' in cream..."

Only his voice could be heard, but others had grouped around him in the night. Grey creatures, shaped out of the snow and darkness, mewed and shambled around the solitary speaking tree.

"I forgit me own name, you know, but I'm late of this village. I useta clear out the stink tanks of me neighbours, but they didn't want to know me. Only wanted me to pass through their homes like silence, to clear away their week's doings. They hid back of the wardrobes for fear of me. But they needed me. The houses would choke on themselves, if it had not been for me..." He shivered, for the cold was eating away at him, as if he were the church with the Devil's Kith clambering over it, sucking out the religion from his bones. "I wish I had never lived. What good was it all? I did big jobs for them, jobs that never ended ... months of poo-stools still to be collected. I wonder how they're gettin' on without me."

Out of his mouth curled the longest tongue that man had ever mustered, a long retching innard of despair and grief. But, at its tip, the cold took hold and spread to the rest of his bitter branches. One of the night creatures, settling like a cat beneath his body warmth, looked up and whined for love. He bent his willowy trunk to pluck this elemental from the frost-bitten ground, cherished it to his smoking chest but then felt its bones crackling like twigs within his cuddle.

"Have thee a spirit, like the teachers at school taught me? I feel thy whiskers, I feel thy life leavin' thee like a tooth fairy's wet kiss. Art thou dead now? Thou art gone down like a house of cards."

The other creatures that had gathered round him in the night left him alone with crumpled fur and bones pressed sensuously to his silent chest.

Some said that even death would not keep him from the tasks in hand. He had often considered himself to be a ghost. But most despaired of even ghostly help. The whistling through the branches of the earthbound tree to which, if half-truths were known, the ghost finally resorted, was ascribed by the deprived villagers to the wind. Even on sullen windless days, like most days now beyond the two Wars, the stench from unemptied tanks hung about in wreaths of foulness. Some people joked that Todger would come back as someone else again, one with fangs, a Dung Dracula ... but the joke soon turned sour as blood. Most remembered him, thankfully, as a Great Old One who was never young. And by dawn, the willow has become fibrous again, sappy tentacles rebudding. Spring, surely, cannot be far ahead or behind. The villagers wake and stare. One has dreamed of blowing down a balloon. Then, of mending a broken one. Another has dreamed of moulding shite-shapes. Yet another has dreamed of her own death in a makeshift mansion up the wooden hills of sleep - and, upon waking, finds it be true. The Black Onion does a roaring trade in gargle-oil, whilst those behind the house-curtains creep on, crap on and simply hope.

Panic Entry

Part One
(published 'Peace & Freedom' 1995)

Jeremy Journey, head hero of his very own story, stared at the palm of his left hand as if it was about to reveal something about himself that he did not already know. He was naturally aware of the date of his death (not too far off if you only count shopping days) but what was perhaps more surprising, he had incontrovertible knowledge of its nature in all its horrific detail. So what else could there be? Only minor details relating to his personality, the odd rough edge that he preferred not to recognise even in his most subconscious moments. Usually, he saw right back to where the Dark Mind started, but never dared pioneer those unexplored regions without the aid of a psychiatric prop or confidence booster ... and where, these days, could you obtain the likes of them? Shrinks were few and far between ever since the Wars of Self Revelation, for shrinks had felt so diminished.

There was knocking on the door: more sudden than the flash of enlightenment that occurs when one finally breaks an impossible code. Probably, another one of those ne'erdowell do-gooders, Jeremy thought, someone who wanted to nurse him through the worst of a mind emerging from a cocoon of the old ... someone who may even want to become Mrs Journey! He ignored the knocking, knowing from his palm that it would eventually cease and go away.

But it didn’t! The audible pain of wood panels being relentlessly beaten was hard to bear. He pinned the blame on circumstances, if odd ones at that. There was one item about himself, however, that was slowly dawning on him: he was fast becoming someone other than Jeremy Journey! Such realisation deserved more than one exclamation mark, but the sheer outrageousness had not quite yet hit home.

"Come in," he said, in a voice he no longer recognised. Still the plain knocking. Eventually, he got up and opened the door.

Part Two
(published 'Peace & Freedom' 1997)

There stood a dumpy woman in a floral frock with unshaven legs and feet that could easily be mistaken for cloven hooves. She held items of shopping in one hand, the other allowed freedom for knocking by the use of clenched teeth to hold her handbag strap.

"Blimey, Fred, you took your time about it!"

Her voice was harsher than his. He could see now that her so-called feet were not hooves, as such, but dressed in pretty outlandish clod-hoppers with which yet another self-imposed war of international proportions had caused the shoe-shops to stock up ... in some misbegotten campaign of frugality and mock utility. He yearned for the days when women dressed as ladies, elegantly and, yes, shapefully.

Fred lay beside the mound of his wife, wondering where he was. He had just woken up for the second time that night. She was snorting like a pig in labour ... no wonder he couldn't nod off. The advertising sign just outside the bedroom window slowly flashed on and off. He couldn't recall the nature of the latest logo that the electricians had strung up only two days before. It cast sufficient light, however, for him to examine his left palm. He couldn't believe his eyes. It was smothered in goatfur! He shrieked, running for the bedroom window...

He hung from the advertising sign like a dead puppet: caught on a green-pulsing inverted comma by the pyjama cord. Almost in slow motion, the trousers split as the rump forced its way out ... and the pavement drew nearer with tantalising dread. He never saw the sign was advertising a new brand of high-class, but heavy-duty, stays:-
Jeremy Journey's Boneless Corsetry.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Resident (2)


It was the usually sub-conscious sense of roof that made life cosy and safe: a feeling hidden behind other instincts that home was not only where the heart was but also a place whence one could view the happenings of the world with an assumed immunity.

A damp patch had drawn Joe Carter’s attention to the all-important roof. It was a shock, therefore, when it dawned on him, following expert advice from a chirpy roofer, that the whole roof needed replacing … with all the resultant lack of security that then seeped through the various cracks of Joe’s mind. Worry flowed, like water, by default. Even foreign wars crept nearer to his street. Weather a constant news item. Winter ever on the horizon.

“It needs doing, Mr Carter, but don’t worry we shall make it fast at all stages of the work,” said the chirpy roofer, after quoting the cost of the job, but quickly spotting that the potential customer’s priority was more than just the money involved. It was as if one roof needed to be replaced with a new roof in a single swoop, tiles and battens and membranes and ridges fully in place like a conjuror’s trick, instead of the laborious dismantling and mantling that were actually involved.

Joe gave the go ahead to the chirpy roofer, despite the nightmares Joe envisaged. Indeed, without preamble, he was able to dream dreams before even dreaming them and, following the commencement of the building work, this phenomenon grew. One such dream became a separate entity: a dream Joe called ‘the resident’ that often squatted on the bedroom carpet, preening itself for the time which, it somehow knew, would inevitably arrive for its turn at being a dream within Joe’s head rather than outside it. A different dream was already in Joe’s head dreaming the potential onset of this new dream that Joe called 'the resident'. The Resident Dream on the carpet was an image of his bungalow’s roof with two proud dormer eyes like windows – a documentary view through a number of stills of the piecemeal de-tiling and the bare areas open to the elements with the work only slowly progressing as a result of contrary weather conditions that hindered the work itself as well as ensuring that any cracks in the armour left by the chirpy roofer in media res were laid bare to the selfsame weather conditions … eventually causing a tortured drip from a crack in one of the ceilings which the chirpy roofer (it has to be admitted) quickly rectified during the night (following Joe’s emergency call for assistance) by unkinking the membrane that should never have been left kinked in the first place, thus having earlier allowed the melted snow to run down a surreptitious vertical channel of least resistance between chimney-stack and dormer but now, after rectification, fluidly sloping into the gutter instead.

If time were our friend, one could convey the comical side of Joe’s character and the debates he had with himself as to his own dire anxieties. The chirpy roofer learned to handle his customer in the shape of Joe Carter by having more time to do so than us because of the delays in his work caused by the weather. The conversations between the two of them, perforce, sadly went unrecorded and, inevitably, in due course, unremembered. All that could be judged was that, despite his best intentions, the chirpy roofer’s reassurances fell by the wayside because Joe continued to see the Resident Dream picked out from the gloom of the bedroom by a wild-eyed anxiety that became itself a living creature with a luminous face amid imagined drips ticking like the gold fob watch that this creature kept in the top pocket of its dapper smoking-jacket. It is a moot point whether the chirpy roofer indeed was justified in trying to reassure Joe because he may have been a waster who couldn’t even skin a rice pudding by leaving it to go cold before eating it and Joe was quite right to worry as much as he did about the roofing.

The fact that the Resident Dream continued to develop while still outside the jurisdiction of Joe’s real dreaming process seemed to prove a point that things were not quite as comical as indicated so far. The thing with the fob watch was bodily absorbed piecemeal into the Resident Dream as part of its status as an ever-developing ‘virgin birth’ dream with no dreamer to disown its reality by waking from it and deeming it a dream or, even better, forgetting it completely as one normally does with many dreams. The dream was a mighty castellated dollshouse contraption with eyes softening out from the ill-shaped cracks in the new-laid wooden slats that constituted the whole dollshouse. It was largely nothing but roof. A dream topped by a wooden roof that was also the same roof from top to bottom of the dream. Even the eyes became nothing but inverse teardrops draining away into sock-puppet stitches. A dream too solid to channel within normal dream ducts – thus remaining an indigestible lump of psychic deadwood straddling the room like a ramshackle bridge or transitional shed above a torrential river of time. The dream developed as a narrative of change but remained stolid in its perseverance not to change its shape or existence as a Resident outside Joe’s mind.


“How are you today, Mr Carter?” the roofer chirped as the front door of the bungalow was opened to him. “It’s a nice day today. We should be able to get going a bit faster on your roof, especially as I’ve brought someone else to help.”

He indicated the dark shape behind him that the sunlight could not seem to undarken. This had been an introduction that needed no introduction because two hands had already extended towards each other and shaken.

The door closed after a few unrecorded civilities of small talk were exchanged.

The most frightening thing was that this was no dream. This was just a loose end. A forgotten coda. A lost motive between disconnected intentions. The Resident took out his fob watch and said: “We mustn’t waste the first day of Spring.” And that’s what he did … a curved swoop up to the sloping roof where he sat changing his chirps into cuckoos.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

'Odalisque' by PF Jeffery (DFL's comments on Chapter 37)

Chapter 37 – Training

Although this chapter (and a number of immediately previous chapters) appears to be part of a single long period of the novel (judging by the space taken to tell it), it is in fact a relatively short period in real time compared to the hurly burly of years represented by earlier chapters in the first half of the novel. However, this current period is no stodgy oasis, if one fully appreciates that it is a new hurly burly told mainly by dialogue and incident and crafted narrations of narrations, a kaleidoscope of costumes (armour, dance etc), weapons (morning star, spanking hand, anachronous machine gun etc), the wonderfully conveyed subtle relationships (eg Tuerqui / Fluff / Bob Bosset (Bobbikins)), the emotions/ snookums / whore training, the festivals (Solstice, New Year), the plain role-playing, the role-playing of role-playing (!), the jealousies of attention (eg Modesty Clay), the dance of history, provenance, tradition, alternate world, war - as well as the dance of body movement and sex. A hurly burly, true, but a narrative that is well-aimed straight down a fast tube ... towards the breathless reader.

This reminds me of the morning star’s symbol as Tuerqui’s double-edged narration itself:

That day, Bob Bosset introduced us to the morning star. The spiked ball on the end of the chain weighed a great deal more than I expected, and proved difficult to control. Had it not been for the coordinated dance moves, I felt sure that I’d have injured myself with it. As it was, none of us hurt ourselves, but neither did we make much progress toward becoming mistress of the weapon.

Two other passages from the rich choice of exemplary passages:

Imagining myself riding into Surrey clad in padded leather and light steel cuirass, it seemed real for the first time. With little effort, I could visualise arriving at the University of Pain clad as a warrior. What would Tuerquelle make of me, or Lady Isobel? Smiling, I pictured my daughter’s eyes – round with wonder.

After changing, we set off for Eric Marsh’s armoury – an ill assorted group. Tipsi, Diqui and Barguin were in coarse shirts, leather jerkins and tightly fitted breeches – they looked like pantomime ruffians[1].
[1] Pantomime ruffians – the pantomime was a humorous stage play. One characteristic was that the parts of ugly women were played by men, and young men by attractive girls. Tipsi, Barguin and Diqui looked like attractive girls playing the part of young male ruffians.


Didn’t really follow the sense here:

It seemed to me better for their relationship if each believed her or himself the first to whom I’d spoken.


Word docs of the actual chapters are freely available to readers of this blog.

The links to all Chapter comments by me are here: