Lizzy stood at the window; she smiled through the tears that now trickled freely down her cheek. She watched her young son, Gavin, her only child, as he ventured out along the garden path into the snowy Ceredigion morning. The sky was a deep winter blue, and the fresh, chilly wind blew the few stubborn clouds that marred the heavens towards the snow-capped ridge of distant hills. Two Red Kites circled slowly, searching for food; their rufous plumage, vibrant in the low winter sun. Ravens croaked.
She looked on with deep admiration at her child, amazed at how he was coping with the situation. But the child was starting to ask questions, awkward questions – questions she knew she would have to answer!
Lizzy had moved into the remote hillside cottage with Gavin to fulfil a dream. But the dream would never come true because her husband, Michael, was dead. He had been killed while on active service in Afghanistan earlier that year. Gavin didn’t know this, and he still expected his father home for Christmas, which was only two weeks away.
Young Gav was dressed for every eventuality, overdressed even, you know what mothers are like, right. His dayglow green bobble hat had ear muffs, that was pulled down and tied under his chin. His hands were protected from the cold by matching gloves, and on his feet, he wore little green wellies adorned with a pattern of yellow frogs.
Jess, the family dog, a mischievous little wire-haired terrier, ran about excitedly in the snow yapping playfully, obviously thrilled to be outside.
On reaching the small wooden gate that opened onto the lane, Gavin stopped and turned around. He saw the damage his progress along the path had done to the virgin snow. Jess was still hard at it racing around like a fruit cake, turning the icing smooth snow that covered the small lawn into a bombsite of tracks, scuffs, and impact marks. But it mattered not, the pattern of trails and furrows spelt out happiness, joy and excitement.
Gav unfastened his pocket and pulled out a blue and red walkie-talkie. Looking back at the cottage, he saw his mother stood looking through the living room window. She held a mug of tea cupped in both hands, its hot steam rising to warm her face and condense on the fragile pane of glass. With the tip of her finger, she drew a heart shape in the moisture. Gavin smiled, then raised the walkie-talkie to his ear. His thick woolly gloves made him fumble clumsily, but, within seconds, he managed to press the transmit button.
The sudden crackle of static made her start. She looked at the blue and red walkie-talkie that lay on the window sill. The tooth grinding crackle gave way to a voice, a tinny metallic sounding voice, but a voice that she recognised.
“Mommy, mommy, you there, mommy?”
She put down her drink, then picked up the radio.
“I’m here, sweetheart. Make sure you stay wrapped up and remember what mommy told you.”
She watched him nodding his head up and down in confirmation.
” OK mommy, and don’t you worry none, Jess is with me.”
Another crackle of static, then silence. Mother and son waved to each other, he, fast and excitedly, as only a seven-year-old knows how, she, only bent her fingers in a tata for now gesture. She watched him pass through the gate. Jess, realising he had gone, quite frolicking and scampered after him.
They were gone, only their footprints remained – and deafening silence. Liz didn’t have time to blink before the tsunami of grief hit her. Now, with only her thoughts for company, the tears escaped her eye’s and flowed freely as she sobbed.
Gavin walked through the snow dragging his feet, occasionally kicking the white piles that gathered on the toes of his wellies at Jess.
Rabbits had been active, their footprints evident in the snow. They had run in front of the dry-stone wall before passing through the gateway, vanishing into the thorny briers. A shrill whistle pierced the air. Gav looked in its direction; sure enough, it was old Keiron the shepherd, with his two collies, Zak and Kip. The two Dogs ran, crouching so low to the ground that the fur on their bellies got matted with frozen snow, as they rounded up the small flock of ten sheep, obeying their masters whistled commands.
Jess was now on the scent of a rabbit. Gav, distracted by old Keiron’s whistling, hadn’t noticed her enter into the briers. Realising she’d gone, in a panicky voice, he called after her.
“JESS! JESS! HERE GIRL.” He yelled.
Gav stamped his feet to warm his toes, and also to express his growing frustration with Jess’s lack of obedience. The Wind had picked up a little and was turning.
A sudden burst of activity from within the Briers, an excited yelp, the snap of dead growth as thorns snagged the fur of the bolting Dog as if trying to hamper its pursuit. The snow that had settled on the spikey tendrils was shaken to the ground. The Rabbit, in full flight mode, appeared from the thicket, right in front of young Gav. It stopped! Big mistake; that split second was all it took for Jess to catch it up. The little terrier, no longer in playful pet mode, grabbed the Cwningen in her muzzle and gave it a frenzied shake.
With the chase over and the quarry motionless, Jess, headed enthusiastically back into the briers, leaving Gavin alone.
Old Keiron was gone, back up the hill to fetch more sheep probably. The Winter Wonderland now took on a menacing, threatening appearance. Grey freezing cloud rolled along the hilltops, slowly descending the slope, hiding its few sparse features in a clinging, freezing fog.
Gavin stood looking down at the lifeless rabbit, he wondered if it was dead. He’d never seen death before, the thought saddened him, numbed his emotions; time was frozen.
The sound of fluttering wings snapped him to his senses. A Raven had landed on the snow-capped dry-stone wall, its caw-caw was forced out of its large black bill by every muscle in its body; the rabbit twitched.
Galvanised by the movement, Gavin carefully picked up the Rabbit and placed it inside of his now unzipped coat. He could feel its form pressing against his ribs, it was still warm.
The crackle of static was loud and sudden, making Gav start, the voice that followed was full of concern.
” Gavin, the weather’s turning for the worse! Start making your way Home!”
” OK, Mom, I’m not far away, I’ll be with you soon. Love you.”
“Love you too, sweetheart. Straight Home, remember.”
“You got it, Mom, see you soon.”
Gavin tucked the Walkie-Talkie into his pocket, then looked around; murky grey cloud engulfed everything in a claustrophobic pea-souper. Crystals of frozen moisture glistened before his eyes, the wind, colder now, reddened his cheeks. He needed to move and fast. But, Jess would not break off the hunt and come out of the Briers. Gavin circled the thorny clump calling his dog’s name, to no avail, she ignored him. He started to cry. Gavin trudged around the Brier dribbling, the calling of his dog’s name became a pathetic sob. He tripped and fell. His head struck the covered rock. Unconcious, unmoving, he lay in the snow. The crimson stain spread slowly, the first flakes of snow started to fall, and the wind picked up. A sliver of snow settled on Gav’s upturned cheek, it didn’t melt.
Jess finally emerged, and on seeing Gav, she cowered towards him, as if afraid, stopping to sniff him before licking his face. He came too, he was weak and confused. Gav knew he needed shelter, so slowly, and painfully he dragged himself to the dry-stone wall and curled into the fetal position. The snow was now horizontal, the wind mocked him with its hideous howl as it searched out his vulnerable, exposed form. He draped his weak right arm over Jess’ back, and together they awaited the frozen end.
A blizzard now blew a whiteout, and the wind bit into little Gav without mercy.
He was losing consciousness when he felt the movement from inside of his coat. There was a warmth, no, a tolerable heat, as if someone had given him a hot water bottle, it felt beautiful.
Whatever was inside his coat now wriggled and squirmed in a determined effort to find freedom. Gavin mustered the strength to move his arms and find the zip. He wanted to keep the Rabbit inside of his coat, not only for its own safety but for its lifesaving warmth. Carefully, with numb fingers, Gav opened the zip, only an inch, that’s all he could manage in his weakened state. Through half-open eyes, his lashes frozen, he saw the golden glow of a mysterious, colourful vapour. It twisted and turned in a snake-like fashion from his coat and out into the near-Arctic conditions of Ceredigion.
The green, red, and golden vapour undisturbed by the wind turned around and around on itself to form a sphere. Unable to move, his eyes still half shut, Gavin watched. Had hyperthermia set in?
The orb changed from colour to colour as it held its position, spinning slowly on its access in front of the prone child. It was now a warm peach, now yellow, blue. It exploded! A supernova, the blast of which cleared the snow for yards around. The orb was gone. In its place now stood a bent old man dressed in a brown raggy robe. His head was covered, and his face was hidden inside a dark hood. In one hand he held a lantern, a glowing light, that even in daylight shone like the Sun; In the other, he held a wooden staff that supported his bent frame. The figure raised the staff and pointed it at Gavin (who had found the strength to pull poor Jess’s lifeless form into his side), and in a voice that came from the beginning of time itself, he spoke.
“I’m The Terkel, not A Terkel, The Terkel, the last one. My kind, over time, has been hunted and persecuted until only I remain.”
Gavin’s teeth chattered. Speechless, he watched and listened.
Holding the lamp at arm’s length, The Terkel continued.
” By the laws of the hills, rocks, and the streams laid down by Pethannwy, the greatest Terkel that ever lived, I’m obliged to grant you a single wish.”
With his last word still hanging in the air, the old man disappeared, once more to became an orb. With tears freezing in his eyes, Gavin watched the orb float away, slowly fading out of sight into the whiteout. It was gone. The large, soggy flakes of snow, the size of 50p coins, once again started the task of covering his and weak little Jess’s bodies. He squinted through slits, he wanted to close his eyes and return to a warm, happy place. The sound of a calling voice, accompanied by the image of a man struggling through the snow kept him awake. The man, now only feet away from where Gavin and Jess lay, stopped, and called his name, elongating syllables with desperation.
” Gaaaaviiin!” Shouted the voice against the blizzard.
Now, his little frame completely covered in snow from the howling storm, and paralysed with cold, Gavin was hidden. He could see the man, but he was powerless to do anything to attract his attention. The man, cupping his hands around his mouth, called again.
Just one more step forward, inches away, the man would step on or trip over Gavin’s body. But, on receiving no response to his calls, the man lowered his gloved hands, turned, and made ready to further brace the storm. Gavin’s heart sank. The man took the first step away from the ill-fated youngster.
When suddenly! A sound stopped him in his tracks. Static, it was static, followed by a women’s voice, calling the name Gavin.
The man turned to face the noise that was emitting from a small mound of snow. He dropped to his knees, and with exited desperation, he brushed away the snow to reveal the bright colours of Gavin’s attire. He pulled the limp, lifeless, form from the snow and cradled it to his chest, and rocked it to and fro. Gavin sensed the warmth, and with great effort, he managed to peek through his drowsy eyes into the face of his rescuer. The smile and words came quickly.
” You made it, Dad…”
The Rt Rev Willoughby Seymour Legg, his friends, called him Willy, exited the Manse in his usual manner, slowly and backward. Before he pulled the door shut behind him, he paused and looked up. A cock Sparrow chirped and hopped excitedly along the cast iron guttering, doing its utmost to impress half a dozen excited females. The Girl Spugs tweeted, bobbed, and shuffled from side to side, demonstrating their interest in the young hopefuls display. It was for Willoughby the sight and sound of home – Spring – and childhood;
A beaming smile of pleasure broadened on Willoughby’s aging face. Whistling the tune of Zipperdy Doo Dah, he twirled around swiftly, but gracefully. The crisp, sharp sound of his leather soles grating against the worn doorstep audible for only the briefest millisecond. Still standing on the step, confronted with the beauty of his garden, he raised his arms, palms to the Heavens and said aloud, “Thank you, Lord.” He stared in awe, letting the sight and sound of the season wash over him. A Blackbird, its plumage, black as jet, and its golden, dagger-like bill, sang from aloft the cascading lemon chains of Laburnum. Lilac blossoms, purple and white, reached out for the Sun, scenting the morning air with a fragrance so sweet that it was only equaled by the soothing melody of the Osle.
The sound of footfalls crunching on the gravel drive snapped the Reverend out of his mindset, it’s young Smurf the paper Lad.
“Morning, Vicar, Happy Birthday, I hear it’s your big day today.” Said Smurf pleasantly, as he pulled the copy of Bible Bashers monthly from his paper-bag and held it towards the Reverend.
“Ah, thanks, Smurf,” Willy took the magazine from Smurf, “I’ll read that later when Mrs. Prodder has cleaned up after the W.I Coffee Morning. And yes, you’ve heard correctly, it’s the big one today, I’m nervous but so excited, I can hardly wait. BUM BUM!” The Vicar responded. The BUM BUM was so loud, it spooked the birds, silencing the garden.
During early childhood, Willoughby had contracted BBS (Basil Brush Syndrome) and had suffered from it for the past 50 years. Now, at 60yrs of age, he would finally receive the cure for this sometimes amusing but embarrassing ailment.
The Reverend took hold of his push-bike that was propped against the wall and wheeled it down the drive. Once on the smooth tarmac of the footpath, he cocked his spindly leg over the old leather saddle, and in an unsteady wobble, he headed off towards the Village High Street. Still wobbling due to lack of momentum, he released his right hand from the handlebars and waved bye to Smurf. “Bye, Smurf, see you later. BUM BUM!” He shouted.
Now in full control of his bike, Willy bumped down from the pavement onto the road, careful not to do himself a mischief. The number 17 double-decker, driven by reg, who looked splendid in his navy driver uniform, pulled wide to pass Willoughby. Old Reg gently tapped on the horn button that was just under the steering wheel and onked a friendly hello to the Reverend on the bus’s horn.
” See ya tonight Rev,” hollowed Reg through the open window, over the noise of the engine. Willoughby wobbled slightly, but raised a hand in acknowledgment, then shouted BUM BUM at the top of his voice, then he returned his grip to the handlebars. Now on a slight descent with the wind blowing through his wispy grey hair, he removed his feet from the pedals and stretched out his legs. Then, with his heart full of joy and his lungs full of fresh air, he let out an enormously loud raspberry, followed by BUM BUM.
The Village Square was a hive of activity; the locals had banned vehicles from using it for the day. So now they milled about in their clicky groups, chin-wagging and laughing at each other’s jokes and comments, without the fear of being run over.
Children played tick, screaming and bawling with excitement as they ran, chasing each other between the food-laden trestles. The kids had already been eating home-made cake, jam around their mouths, and sticky fingers were proof of this.
Brightly colored bunting zig-zagged from one side of the square to the other, giving it a roofed appearance. The bunting and the loose edges of the tablecloths fluttered in the gentle breeze.
In front of the War Memorial, the local youth brass band stood, polishing and making final checks on their instruments.
There was an air of excited expectancy, and it touched everyone.
A gangly youth raced into the square, his segged boots slipping on the cobblestones as he cornered the bakery.
“HE’S COMING – HE’S COMING!” He shouted in between his deep breaths.
The waiting crowd hushed and turned to face the direction of the out of puff youth. Parents brought their children to order, and the members of the brass band shuffled into their respective positions.
Seconds after the youth, who everyone knew only by his nickname: Flagpole, the Reverend himself appeared.
As if possessed, Willoughby freewheeled at speed into the square. On seeing the carnival scene in front of him, he clasped both brake levers, and with a shuddering squeal of resistance from the rubber brake blocks, he came to a halt. Willy dismounted his faithful steed, Knackanippa; yep, that’s what the Reverend called his bike: Knackanippa. Apparently, the name came from an incident he had while lobster fishing off the Cornish coast. That’s according to Mrs. Pigeon, the gossipy old postmistress.
As he propped his bike against the bakery wall, the sound of applause, interspersed with the occasional whistle, filled his ears. Willoughby could feel his emotions, starting to bubble out of control. Happy that the bike wouldn’t fall over, Willoughby released it, stood straight, swallowed hard, then about turned.
His lips quivered, and his eyes welled with tears. There in front of him was the entire population of Hampton Chodwick, his parish for the last 30 years. A large, handmade banner hung from one side of the square across to the other, it read: Happy 60th Birthday Willy. The Reverend walked slowly towards the applauding, cheering crowd, tears rolled freely from his brimming eyes, his emotions were getting the better of him.
There opened a gap in the applauding crowd, and Willy, as if entering the mouth of a hungry monster, nodding his head in recognition and appreciation, walked into it. The mouth closed behind him, and willy disappeared. A Villus of arms reached out, touching his shoulders in praise, and steering him towards a raised platform. The Platform was occupied by a small gathering of standing, applauding, dignitaries. At their head stood a short chubby chap. He was draped in a scarlet robe and wore a red beret adorned with a large white Ostrich plume. And enough gold chains hung around his neck to sink a battleship. He beckoned willy forward. It was non-other than the Rt Hon Gerald Grosswanger, the Lord Mayor of Crapstone.
Finally, Red-faced, and with garlands of Spring flowers hooped over his head, the Reverend arrived at the platform. He stood at the bottom of a small flight of three stairs. Raising his eyes, he saw the smiling face of the Lord Mayor, who held out his stretched hand to him. Willy accepted the offer of assistance and was gently extracted from the happy, festive throng. As soon as he was free of the crowd, the Mayor lead him across the blue carpeted platform to a free-standing microphone. There they stopped, and the Mayor with one arm over Willy’s shoulder and the other free to wave about, he gestured for silence.
The gathering complied, and gradually the applause abated. A hush befell the square. The unnatural quiet was broken only occasionally by a cough or a parent’s attempt to shhh a child. Willy scanned the upturned faces, he winked a greeting whenever eye contact was made. Suddenly! A wail of ear-piercing feedback escaped the amateurishly installed P.A system, causing people to grit their teeth, and allow their necks to withdraw and disappear between haunched shoulders. On the grey slate rooftops of the square’s artisan shops, Harry Hikinbottom’s flock of racing pigeons cooed, preened, and performed that comical walk that they do. The squealing P.A triggered an instant response from the birds; they erupted into flight in a clatter of flapping wings. As silence returned to the square, a single tail feather from one of the startled pigeons spiraled, quill first, unnoticed, to the ground.
The Reverend now stood alone, the edge of the Platform seemed more like a cliff edge, and the smiling, happy faces before him were seemingly a foaming sea. The silence roared in his head, turbulent waves thundered in, slamming, and then swirling around inside of his head. Holding the mic stand for support, his heart beating like a drum in his chest, he started his unprepared speech.
” My Lord, Ladies, and Gentlemen, here it is, my big six o. For years I have longed for the arrival of this day, to finally rid myself of this damn embarrassing BBE. But now, looking at your smiling faces.” He smiled and bowed his head when his eyes recognized Reg, the bus driver. “I had everything worked out, my exact words, the lot. After all, I’ve had long enough to plan them. Stood here, soaking up your love and admiration, I realise that it is you who matters most. With that in mind, I’ll keep my speech short, and let you crack on.” Willy could feel the life slowly drain from his body. ” Thank you all so much, now go and enjoy this splendorous day. BUM BUM!”
The gathering broke into laughter, the bandmaster tapped his baton against his music stand. Moist lips puckered, and rosy cheeks bulged.
The tune of for he’s a jolly good fellow filled the air, everyone sang along.
The Reverend wept, his legs turned to jelly, and he collapsed.
Willoughby, still fuzzy-headed, was awakened by the sensation of something crawling across his forehead, a spider or an ant, he didn’t know.
He tried to raise his left hand to brush it off, but he couldn’t, it was tied down. And so was the other one, his feet too. He tried to raise his head, but that was made impossible by a leather restraint. Panic took over; he wriggled and squirmed, but to no avail, he was tied fast. Tied to what he didn’t know. What he did know was that it was cold, hard, and rough against his naked body.
Although his eyes were wide open and bulged like organ stops with fear, he couldn’t see anything, it was dark, so dark. A chill breeze blew gently on his clammy skin. I must be outside, he thought. Once more, the door of his confused mind was opened, and panic entered, causing him to writhe under his restraints.
” God, help me, please help me.” He wailed pathetically. Movement! Sound! Off to his right somewhere. Rolling his eyes in that direction, he saw the orange and yellow flames of torches, lots of them, carried by mournfully chanting, hooded figures. It was the euthanasia squad. Willoughby, although still, was rigid with fear, his tense muscles flexed to their full. The flames reflection danced within the mirrors of his soul, as the menacing column filed into the clearing. Spittle sprayed from his mouth, adding synchronised vision to the words that escaped through clenched teeth.
The hooded procession was led by a tall figure who carried a large drum that he beat slowly, its somber sound filled the clearing. No one knew his real name, only his nickname. The faceless mass crowded around Willoughby’s writhing form. The clearing was a battlefield of light and shadow, flames from the torches licked the darkness, beating it back.
In this surreal ambient glow, a hooded figure stepped forward and halted at Willy’s side.
The Reverend stared wide-eyed with fear into the black chasm of the hood, but he saw no face. The hooded figure, caressing Willy’s brow gently with one hand, peeled back its hood with the other. Willy gasped. ” Reg!”
” Hello, Rev.” Responded Reg in a hushed tone. Reg winked knowingly at his panic-stricken friend. Willy smiled and coyly winked back at his old buddy.
From within his robe, Reg produced a sheathed dagger. It was a golden dagger. Holding it in the fingers of both of his hands, he raised it above his head. In a deliberately slow movement, the blade was drawn from its ceremonial scabbard and brought to rest on Willoughby’s throat.
Somewhere out in the darkness, a Dog Fox barked. Reg’s and Willy’s eyes were locked, they saw their own reflections staring back, both men smiled.
The long-awaited cure for his BBS was fast and painless.
The Merry Month of May is at an end, and what a fabulous Month it has been here at Ladybirch Cottage. The transition from Spring to Summer is almost complete, only the Spotted Flycatcher is yet to return from its wintering grounds. It is so easy to understand why children dance with joy around the Maypole. It is this image of the vibrancy of color: red, blue, yellow and white, together with the sound of joyful laughter that one associates with this Folk Ritual that dominates my imagination at this time of the Year.
For us Humans, it is a time to think of holidays and long lazy days sipping Pims, watching tennis, or, cremating food to within an inch of its life on the Barby; some may think of skin cancer and hosepipe bans. How times change, aye.
For all living things around us, Summer is a window of opportunity, a time of plenty. A time to make Hay while the Sun is shining. We Humans can afford the luxury of being casual observers, so, don’t miss out, get out there and use your senses; even the most mundane of species has the ability to astound you.
On Friday 24th May, I received a what’s Ap message from a friend, alerting me to the fact that a Marsh-Harrier (Bird Of Prey) had just flown over his location two miles South West of Ladybirch, and it was heading in my general direction.
My Garden List of birds stands at 128 species, Marsh Harrier would make it 129, so you can imagine how keen I was to see it. With my bins hanging around my neck, and, my senses tingling with excited anticipation, I watched and waited. Life around me carried on as normal, everything was where it should be, doing what it should be, unaware of the approaching Raptor. I scanned every part of the southern panorama not wanting to miss a trick; my every sense was on full alert. I had a disappointing false alarm – a Larus species (Gull) drifted East-West approx one and a half mile away. Dismayed, I exhaled heavily and let my Bins (Binoculars) rest on my chest, but then, in the blink of an eye, only 2oo yards to my left, and gliding just above the height of the Oaks; causing me to panic and fumble for my Bins – was a male 2nd Summer Marsh Harrier. For the short time, it took for it to drift through my location, my World stood still.
I shall remember May 2019 for many reasons, but the most significant reason is that I became a Bee Keeper. For the past ten years I have wished for this; each year I have provided for and encouraged wild bees into my garden – one year there were five different bee species, with hives in anything from nest boxes to plant pots. Wasps and Brown Hornets are regular visitors, making their homes in the thatch. I’ve had mock hives, purely for decorative purposes, but never the real thing. Wild Bees have tolerated my presence, allowing me to observe their coming and going, but never letting me see the engine room, the central hub of their existence. As soon as they crawl through the small entrance hole, I am left to wonder at what goes on inside. Until now!
It’s quite nerve-racking approaching one’s new Hive for the first time, knowing there are a potential 40.000 stings in it. I suppose our conception of Bees is a swarm chasing a frantic, arm waving individual, before landing, smothering, then stinging them to death. The reality is different, it’s very calming and relaxing. I look forward to my weekly checks of the Hive; this is to ensure the health and well-being of its occupants, not only for my personal pleasure.
So it’s into Flaming June we go: shorts, flip-flops, and a long cold drink are the order of the day. Cheers everyone.
Hampton Chodwick: the quintessential English village; with its sleepy streets lined with thatched cottages; their manicured gardens full of blooms that were dripping with the colors of Spring. The whole chocolate box image surrounded by neat white picket fences, nestled peacefully in the leafy heart of the Somerset Levels.
The bar in the Village Pub (The Bulhaggle) was busy with rosy-cheeked dinnertime drinkers.
“Ooooargh Sally wench, geez a cider, ooooargh.” Said old Bert as he passed his empty tankard over the top of the pulls.
“So Bert! Who do you think committed the murders?” Asked Sally as she passed Bert his pint of cloudy scrumpy.
Bert nodded his appreciation to Sal, slurped the top off his brew then smacked his lips before answering. “It’s that bloody German fella – what’s his name? Bloddy – that’s it Bloddy. – It’s got to be. – I mean – the killings only started when he turned up.”
“Ere ere.” Piped up, Ted. The other six men around the table chuntered and nodded their agreement.
Sally picked up a towel and wiped a glass. “Surely not. Bloddy’s a darling. – He wouldn’t harm a fly.”
“Third one this month Guv, and were only halfway through it, such a pretty lass n’all. Who’d do such a thing?” Asked Sgt Jarvis as he pointed to the two holes in Emily’s neck, before turning his head to look up at Det Crake. “And what’s this?”
Det Crake snapped from his daydream. “What’s what.”
“This!” The Sgt pointed to a business card laying on Emily’s pale, bare chest. In bold print lettering, it read: THE VIPER.
“And what in God’s name is a yellow sponge doing here?”
Emily’s wide, blank, staring eyes, and her face frozen in a silent scream remained expressionless, oblivious to the busy Bees as they buzzed in the morning Sun, moving from one Bramble Blossom to another. The brambles that only hours earlier had scratched and drawn blood from her body, as she struggled for her life at the hands of THE VIPER. A Song-thrush sang, leading a choir of Birdsong that filled the May morning. A small black fly landed on dead Emily’s face and danced the dance of death and decay.
“What’s that scribbled on the back Sgt?”
Sgt Jarvis carefully picked up the card so as not to destroy any evidence and turned it over to read the biro written reverse. He straightened up, then read the card aloud.
“DBB gleis 16. – What’s that all about then Guv?”
“Jarvis! – You never cease to amaze me. Didn’t you learn anything at school you plank?”
“S’cuze us Sir’s if you will. We’ll just cordon off the area then we’ll be out of your way.” It was PC Mcgrew, rolling out blue and white Police Stop tape.
It was late Afternoon; The Bulhaggle was still busy with inquisitive cider swigging locals. Their tongues loosened and their ego’s emboldened by the amber scrumpy.
“Oi tellz you – it’s that bloody German fella!”
It was old Bert, bumping his gums, rabble-rousing again.
Nods of agreement and a chorus of arghs came from his companions.
Just then – the bar door opened; and who should walk in, but, none other than Baron Von Schuttlehausen. The Bar fell silent, as everyone watched the tall, athletic, Arian Baron (AKA Bloddy) dressed in his Tanzanian safari suit walk towards the Bar. He stopped at the Bar and Supported himself with both clenched fists to the fore and a foot raised on the brass foot-rail, then removed his monocle.
“Hello, Sally, you look radiant. I vill have a pint of ze Badgers please.” Turning at the waist to face the other customers, Bloddy gestured with a sweep of the hand.
“And a pint for each of zeez good fellows please.”
The harsh grating sound made by Bert’s chair on the tiled floor as he swiftly rose to his feet attracted everyone’s attention.
“We don’t want your bloody beer, nor your bloody charity, now bog-off home!”
“Bert – Bert. Come now, vy the hostility?”
“You know bloody well why you murdering git.”
“I’m afraid I don’t, and I vould be very happy if you’d keep a civil tongue in your head.”
For the next few hours, much to the annoyance of Bert and his gang of Wurzels, Bloddy flirted with Sally. As darkness fell, Bloddy left.
“TIME – GENTLEMEN PLEASE!” Shouted Sally. “Ain’t you got no homes to go to? DRINK UP!”
Sally wiped the table tops with a damp cloth and straightened up any empty chairs. Men emptied their glasses in gulps, some helped each other don coats and one by one they said goodnight and left. Sally was alone. All the coziness left with the last goodnight, shadows appeared, a sense of menace prevailed.
Sally poised with her finger on the light switch as she glanced around one last time. What’s that? She thought.
A yellow sponge lay on the floor under the table where Bert had been sitting. The cleaners will sort that out. And on that note, she flicked the switch, pulled the door shut and left.
Apart from herself and a Fox that crossed the road ahead of her (or was it a Cat), the street was empty. With only the sound of her own footfalls for company, she headed home. She continually checked left and right, expecting something shockingly horrible to pounce from the shadows. Get a grip now Sally girl, there’s nothing to be afraid of. She quickened her step and soon reached her front gate. Before she could open the gate a noise stopped her in her tracks, sending shivers down her spine and turning her blood to ice. It was the sound of water, splashing water, the sound of a sponge being rung into a bucket. Quickly, panicky, she pushed open the small picket gate, but before she could continue through a gloved hand reached from the shadows and seized her throat. A dark figure emerged from the shadow into the streetlight.
“Bloddy – it’s you!” Sally gasped. “But why the bucket and a sponge?”
Bloddy tossed his head and tightened the grip on Sally’s throat making her choke and cough. He pulled her towards him until they were almost kissing, then he said the words that stopped her heart.
“I’m The Viper! – And I’ve come to vipe your vindows!”
As the Sun slowly sank below the tree-fringed horizon, pulling with it a duvet of darkness, that dulled the floral carpet of June; creatures of the night stirred. Ever-lengthening dark fingers of shadow, stretched, reaching across the meadow, seeking out their kind, to become total shadowiness. Sheep, heads down, unaware of its presence, carried on with grazing the Summer lush grass; their lambs, now almost full grown, returned, bleating, wagging their tails, to suckle. A clatter of Jackdaws flew to roost, their noisy departure overriding the bellowing of the Bull, as it pushed clouds of breath into the chilly air.
Amongst the fading Cirrus, a passenger plane glared gold, its path marked by a thinning trail of grey, slowly dispersing vapor. Its beady red eye blinked a silent, rhythmic flash, that intensified in brightness as the Day succumbed to the imminent arrival of Night.
Now under cover of darkness, The Lobster felt it safe to move from its daytime hiding place. After stretching its wings, it ventured out into the Night. Staffordshire slept, totally unaware that outside, The Lobster lurked.
After three years of setting traps, my vigilance was rewarded, I caught The Lobster. For only the second time since records began, had this large, docile Moth been trapped in VC39 (that’s the Vice Count number allocated to Staffordshire). At the moment, this location is the Northern Edge of its range.
So you can imagine, how, after walking the Earth’s crust for 60 years, thrilled, I was to see it.
The simplest of things, and absolutely free, made my day.
What’s going to make yours? There are lots of things out there to choose from.
As the Year progresses, and the nights get warmer, so, the number of Moth species on the wing increases. Leave a light on for a while, or put a sugar rope (string soaked in a sugar solution) in the bushes, they will come, just have your phone camera at the ready. You’ll be amazed by what this Night-time World has to offer.
Once a Month I like to set up my Moth Trap, and get a good close up look at what’s flying around out there in the dark. The bright 125watt methane vapour lamp glows like a false Moon, creating a dome of white light, that weakens and gives in to the darkness at its extremities. In the blackness of rural night, to any passing or resident Moth, this light must seem like a Super Moon, and must be checked out.
The Light reveals more than Moths. Brock’s stripey face is easily seen, as his grey bulk shuffles along the track, stopping occasionally to sniff, then have a quick dig.
The Barn Owl glides into the dome of light, its pale coloration makes its appearance seem instantaneous, like a magical illusion. Its blood curdling screech sends a shiver down my spine. The eyes of the Horses (Kracker and Poppy) catch the light as they graze, making me think instantly of evil creatures, lurking out there in the unknown. Silly, I know, but that’s what the dark and the night do to me. The large oak doors of my imagination are pushed open, and every conceivable ghoulish thought in my head is released and allowed to scrape their fingernails across the blackboard of my imagination.
But, the Sun rises, bringing with it a return to the familiar. Those evil creatures of the night have left the paddocks, and thank the Lord, Kracker and Poppy are both ok.
Sat comfortably on my green plastic chair, I lean forward and start to examine the egg cartons of my Moth Trap. I feel like a kid at Christmas, the expectancy and anticipation, I don’t know what’s flown in there, and I have no idea what each turn of a carton will reveal.
The real surprise on this occasion came in the form of a Dotted Chestnut. A very rare Moth in Staffordshire, in fact, it has only been recorded once before, and that was in 1997, so you can imagine how chuffed I am.
The Blackbirds are singing now, it’s time to venture outside and feed the waiting hoards, then sit down in front of my Skinner Trap to check for more nice surprises.
P.S No Moths were harmed in the making of this epic post.
I’ve sat here in this old chair for many Winters past; warmed by the flames of tended fire and sheltered from Nature’s inclement weather by a deep thatch of golden straw. It is from this humble, privileged position that I observe the creatures that visit and share my space, as they feast upon the offerings that are always available to them. Leaving the cosy interior of the cottage, each and every day at cockcrow, and entering the dawn of a new day, to feed the waiting expectant mouths forges the connection between my life and theirs. What I feel and experience in those few short-lived minutes, of the cold night that has gone before is but only a brief taste of what they, the birds and animals, have had to endure. Their – let’s get on with it – approach to life is not only endearing, but it’s also inspirational.
There are many birds that frequent my garden, I’ve recorded 126 species so far, and the daily count of the more common species can often exceed 100.
I find it spellbinding to watch them coming and going. Their constant movement a conveyor belt of colour as they hop through the leafless shrubs towards their reward. There is an obvious pecking order that is rigorously enforced, each bird defending its place on the feeder with harmless shows of aggression. That which appears to be an unorganised free for all, is, in fact, a well-disciplined routine. The food never runs out, so each and everyone gets fed. Most species grace my surroundings all year round with their presence; but some, such as Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting are seasonal, just popping in now and again during the lean months to eat and drink.
I move around the garden slowly, cautiously, preventing any sudden movement that may alarm or spook them. It’s their home as much as mine. I use my voice, mainly tuts and clicks made with my tongue, to softly announce my presence. I’m not perceived as a threat, so most carry on with their business and ignore me. With a little thought and consideration, this stealthy behaviour soon becomes second nature, and it’s not long before the rewards start to pour in; Robins, of which there are three pairs around the garden, are the first to appear. In the blink of an eye, little Rocky appears on one of his many perches: the Wheelbarrow, fork handle or a twig, and draws my attention by bobbing his body and whistling a few notes. I reach into the right pocket of my fleece and produce three suet pellets, I offer them on a flattened outstretched palm, talking softly to reassure and coax Rocky into action. The ploy works and Rocky flies from his perch onto my fingertips to collect a morsel. The only sound that I hear is that of his whirring wings (prrrr) as he attempts to hover before landing lightly on his Human perch; fanning any small crumbs to the floor to be eaten later.
So intense is the encounter.
Spring is a meal, a feast! Each harbinger an ingredient that enhances the flavour and enjoyment of this Mother Of All Banquets. There are many familiar faces already sat at the table, with more yet to arrive. Old friends returning to us after their long Winter absence. Some, such as the Garden Warbler, will add its melodic song to the mix, while the Orange Tip butterfly drenched in Sunlight, will splash the canvas with pigments tangerine.
All of this and so much more is yours to enjoy. FREE!
What have I done wrong in life to deserve this? Bars – shiny bars – trapped, there’s no escape. But the chance will present itself, and I’ll seize the moment and be gone! Just you wait and see. Mind you – on saying that – is it in my best interest to escape? I mean – all things taken into consideration, life’s pretty cushty in here. I may be deprived of love, affection, and company, but at least I’m fed and watered, and look at all this straw, there’s enough to stuff a pillow. I wonder what the penalty for escape is; death! The worst they can do is kill me. My mind’s made up, I’m going to go for it, tomorrow, or the day after – I will have my freedom – just you watch!
The heavy oak door opened. Muffled voices, almost whisperers, and the sound of shuffling feet, lots of feet, reached my ears. This sudden activity a total contrast from the occasional gurgle of a water-pipe amidst the stillness of the night. But this is routine, the same time every morning. Except for weekends that is, then I could die and rot, no one would notice or care. As long as I stayed still, I would be ignored, maybe glanced at, but left in peace. Most who walked in front of my bars did so obliviously, not in any way, shape or form registering my existence – let alone my presence. Except for one that is. A mean, evil looking individual, who seemed to enjoy the attention that being cruel brought him. I remember the first time I saw his fat, acne covered face. He pushed a large stick between the bars, jabbing, poking, provoking me into a reaction. Johnny, the culprit’s name was, he obviously got pleasure from mistreating me because the big cheesy grin never left his fat, puffy face. I hated the very sight of that brain dead moron, and then some. I swore that one day I would have my revenge. One way or the other.
“Come along Children – quick as you can – keep the noise down, you’re not at a football match. – Pick your feet up Johnny.” Instructed Mrs. Honeybuttock over the din of the Children as they filed into class. The sound of scraping chairs lessened as the class settled in, then subsided completely. The Children, hands clasped together on their desktops, eyes front, focused on Mrs. Honeybuttock, now looked angelic, as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.
“Right Children, pay attention! After I call the register, we need to start preparing for End Of Term close down. ”
Mrs. H, as she was referred to by her pupils, behind her back, of course, was a stereotypical, glasses on the end of the nose, Dickensian battle-axe, who didn’t flinch or hesitate to clip an ear or scuff a head with an efficient slap.
Mrs. Treadwell (Joyce) was ecstatic, her new sofa was due for delivery this morning. She’d waited a long time for this moment, five years in fact. She sprang to her feet full of excitement.
“They’re here! I mean it’s here. Get the door, Fred. Hurry up, they’re coming up the path, they don’t want to be holding that new sofa all day.” Faffed Joyce.
“Calm down Pet, you’ll wet ya’sen.” said Fred, folding his daily paper, then tossing it onto the dining room table. He stood up, hooked his thumbs under his bracers then stretched them over his shoulders. Bending at the knees, he performed a Rock – on – Tommy impression, that failed to impress Joyce then he headed for the door.
” Come on Chaps – straight through – mind the step.”
” Morning Mr. Treadwell. It’s not heavy, just awkward, but we’ll manage. Just make sure the way is clear.”
” No probs – just head for that heavenly choral sounding foghorn.”
” Yoo-hoo! In here pet’s. Mind the best China.”
The two delivery lads followed the instructions given by Joyce, and soon the Sofa was in its place, unwrapped of its protective plastic, there for everyone to see and admire.
Full of glee, Joyce held out a brand new un-creased slippery fiver.
” Here you are Lads, get yourselves a bag of chips.”
Fred and Joyce stood on the step, waved goodbye to the Delivery Men, then dashed back indoors to admire the new, all singing, all dancing sofa.
Mrs. Honeybuttock clapped her hands together to attract the classes’ attention. Satisfied they were all hers, she continued.
” Right Children, according to my records, Johhny Treadwell, it’s your turn to look after Clive.”
Clive – that’s me. Yes, I know it’s a stupid name for a Hamster, but I had no say in the matter. I’m sure you’ll all agree though, my real name, Terry, is much more fitting.
” Aw, Miss! Must I?”
” Yes, you must! You know the rules, just make sure you remember to take Clive’s goody bag home with you and bring him back in one piece.”
After a day spent showing off the new sofa, and testing various sitting positions, Joyce and Fred sat back to await the arrival of their beloved offspring, Johhny.
” Here he is now.” Declared Mom. ” What’s that he’s carrying?”
” It looks some sort of cage, you never know with that little bleeda.”
” I’m home!” Yelled Johnny.
” We’re in the front room pet.” Shouted Mom in reply.
Johnny, with his arms full, entered the room.
” What’s got theeya son?” Asked Dad.
” It’s the Class Hamster – and his names’ Clive. I’ve got to look after him until after the Holidays.”
” Bring him here, let’s have a dekka.”
As Johnny approached the sofa, holding the cage at arm’s length, Mom pulled her legs up and squirmed.
” Don’t bring it near me! You know that I hate the furry critters!”
I will never forget what happened next. One minute I was curled up in my bed of straw, dreaming that I was having a luncheon on board a Carribean yacht with Mrs. Honeybuttock, next thing I know, I’m gamboling through the air. It felt as though I was in a tumble dryer, but that’s another story.
Suddenly, there was such an almighty crash bang wallop. I thought my time had come, my little heart pounded. After what seemed like an eternity, I poked my twitching nose outside. Devastation, complete and utter devastation, my entire little world had been trashed. The water bowl had tipped up, soaking everything, my dish of De-Lux Rodent Pellets was in three pieces, the contents everywhere, swelling in size with water, and my wheel, my beloved wheel, the one that I used to spend hours in, running round and round, lay on its side on the roof, that was now the floor.
And then I saw it, the cage door was open, a gaping square hole. I tell you what – I’ve never reacted and moved so fast in my life. While the Humans bickered, I made my move!
” You stupid little oaf, now look what you’ve done! ” Scolded Dad.
“But – but they’re your slippers, you shouldn’t leave them lying around, someone could break their neck.” Said, Johnny, defensively.
Mom’s bum was two feet off the sofa when she screamed. ” Aaaaghh! THE BLOODY HAMSTER’S OUT!”
I ran up Fred’s leg, then dived between the cushions, and squirmed my way into the dark interior of Joyce’s new sofa. Outside the bickering continued, accusations and curses flew. Five podgy fingers groped blindly in the dark.”I’ll get the little toe rag, Mom, get the cage ready.”
I was cornered, the podgy porkers touched my whiskers, and then grabbed me.
“GOT HIM – GOT HIM!” Yelled Johnny triumphantly.
His grip was so tight, I thought my ribs were going to crack, so I opened my mouth as wide as possible to reveal my two milk-white incisors. Without hesitating, I bit down hard, drawing blood, and achieving instant release.
His scream, I bet it was heard two streets away. Serves him right.
Seven Months I’ve lived here now, life’s a doddle, they’ll never catch me, unless Joyce carries out her threat, and gets a Cat.
Orion The Hunter as dominated our night sky throughout the Winter months. His appearance all those months ago heralded the end of Autumn. He brought us, Winter, with its driving rain that saturated the ground, turning the once green fields into mud, and, as if we hadn’t had enough of it, even as I write, the wind hurls buckets of it against the windowpanes.
He’s up there now, hunting in the darkness, above the clouds in a far away place. Sometimes he creeps past, seen but not heard, his stealth as he passes through the stillness of the night freezes all below him, at other times, he whips up the wind to flush his prey.
His bow is held ready, his Hounds follow at his heels, he will take… The weak, slow, and the unprepared.
Orion The Hunter follows an ancient trail, if he strays from its path, he will meet his end. We too must follow this trail, and learn to live as the hunted. It is said that Man is top of the food chain and that he has no natural enemies. Well, as you know, Man has lots of enemies, but with effort and determination, these enemies are thankfully being overcome.
There is, however, one enemy that lives with us all, and evades cure.
This enemy that pursues us relentlessly as we travel life’s path, is of course time. Time is the hunter, it gives and it takes.
The lives and routines of ancient civilizations were ruled by the Heavens. And although we like to think differently, the same applies in today’s World.
Spring forward, Fall back, we can adjust and fiddle about with the time, but it’s Mother Nature who makes the rules and sets the pace. We just play along. You can’t cheat time, or can you?
As The Hunter exits stage West, his hounds follow, taking Winter with them.
They will still make their presence felt, yapping at the Scorpion, that is now rising in the East, shadowing them across the eternal Universe.
Slowly but surely the Winter Circle leaves us, pulling the hardship of Winter with it. Meanwhile, in the East, the Summer Triangle rises, bringing with it Spring and the promise of warmer days.
Already, the garden is showing signs of waking up, the buds on the Forsythia are poised ready to erupt, their golden coloration a welcoming sight after the drabness of Winters almost monochrome palette. A foretaste of what’s to come.
I hope you enjoy the seasonal transition, keep your eyes peeled for harbingers, there will be many, and they’ll make you smile like a Cheshire Cat.