Sunday, 10 May 2009

Folio 7 ~ A Bag full of Dreams

The second most annoying authorial strategy is the use of the episodic cliff-hanger; so called because it leaves the reader hanging in midair and exclaiming, “Sodic” (or something similar).

The most annoying strategy is when an author uses the aforementioned device and then makes no further reference to it.

I would like to begin this blog with a mention about this itchy patch on my foot... but then again, I could not be so mean to someone who has shown to me so much forbearance. So let us return to Caroline...

The man on the plush velveteen cushion smoothed his moustache (which didn’t need much smoothing, but was an action heavy with significance as it manifested an inner psychological turmoil) and puffed a bubble or two on his nargile. The water in the glass bowl gurgled in a nice soothing way. But what caught Caroline’s eye was that each of the bubbles contained a little world.
In one bubble, a small girl, with pig-tails, danced with a graven eagle in fields of gold and songs. In another, silver-grey horses were galloping along a deserted beach that was blood red with romance and the setting sun. In yet another, a man was walking down a long corridor that turned into another corridor (exactly like the first) and then another and another. Another bubble was filled with monkeys thay were tap-dancing to the tune of a hurdy-gurdy. A swirling carnival of party-goers in masquerade masks whirled in a flurry of glitter and ribbons in another. It was actually all rather wonderful.

The man looked at Caroline in alabaster silence. His eyes hooded, but on fire. He took another suck at the pipe. More bubbles, more little worlds, more unspeakable magic... and with it something else – was it fear? It was like the edge of a cool wind on a summer’s evening, when you want to lie back in a deck chair and watch the bats play among the first stars of dusk and yet you can’t quite relax; you’re not exactly Uncomfortable, but then again you are not entirely comfortable either.

“Look long enough in there, little madam,” the man's voice was soft and as mysterious as light shining through blue glass, “and you will see yourself.”

Caroline swallowed the last of the Battenberg cake and turned her cat-like gaze upon the man. “Why?”

“Because,” the gentleman smoker replied, “everyone is here.”

“How?” Caroline’s curiosity rose and rose like a huge, big, itchy itch. This was turning out to be a most marvellous day. She hopped around on one leg while she scratched an itch on her left knee. It was not an action with which the gentleman appeared to be completely comfortable.

“Because, dear lady,” he announced in a haughty tone which suggested that he thought that someone who scratched scabby knees while he was trying to smoke was neither ‘dear’ nor a ‘lady’, “I am Misteris Q Ventris. I spin dreams. What you see are the dreams of the world; your dreams, the waiter’s dreams, everyone's dreams are here. The dreams of the Queen and her chancellors and officials, the dreams of the fat butcher and his wife (full of sausages and candles and smiles), the dreams of the gentleman tramp snoring among the bracken and blazing gorse; every dream that dances to the music of the heart (which, after all, are the only real dreams). And, with my little parasol made from the woven strands of night, I catch them all and I spin them into new stories.”

Caroline scrunched up her nose in deep thought. Misteris Q Ventris continued,

“Your skies are light with blues and whites and greys, but the sky above me is always velvet black and school-ink blue. But while your roads are tarmac black and wet-slate grey, mine glimmer like silver ribbons under the seasons' moons. For my hour is the hour of the badger, owl and vixen fair and my music is the lantern’s sigh. I have no shadow, but that painted by the moonlight’s smile. My path is lit by marsh gas flare and glow-worm fire. My trees are forever black; in winter they run their bony fingers through the stars and they warm their hands upon the moon; in summer they burst like owl-hooting fountains.

"I travel the countryside, the portways and the herepaths, the greenways and the drovers’ tracks, the packways and the byways and the old-ways forever lost; through the sleep-walking cities and the towns that slumber to the tick of the town hall clock (as round as the moon). I pass silent as a knife through the villages, asleep under steeple spire and village cross, and the huddled hamlets, with their chimneys still breathing the pale-blue smoke of embers in last night's ash, and the farmsteads that ring with dogs’ barks and the smell sweet of cattle and night-scented stock. And every dream – I catch in my parasol.”

“Are there any dreams left in your umbrella?” queried Caroline, straining on tippy toes and trying to peer into the parasol (even though it was furled).

Misteris took another slow puff of the nargile with his eyes closed. “Oh no, dreams are fragile things. That is why you must treat another’s dreams with care. It is a dreadful thing to break another’s dream, you know?” his eyes flashed like a lion, but then, almost immediately, he grew calmer, “No my dear [and this time I think he might actually have meant it!], I only catch the dreams in my parasol. I keep them here in my Gladstone bag.” At which point, he motioned a finger towards a large (and rather battered) brown leather bag, with a large tarnished brass clasp, that was placed beside the cushion upon which he was sitting.

“Are my dreams in there?” Caroline asked, devouring the bag with her eyes.

“They were in there when, after you finished dreaming them, they drifted out from your sleeping head. And I was standing outside, on the glistening rain-wet street among the lamp light and prowling cats, and I caught them in my parasol and then I locked them safely away in my Gladstone so they wouldn’t get broken.”

“What would happen if they got broken?”

Misteris smoothed his moustache once more. “Have you ever had a nightmare?”

“Yes,” she replied, which was true.

“That’s because your dream was broken. They crack very easily, don't you know? If you go to bed with a grumpy head, or fidget and fuss when you should be cleaning your teeth, or even [and I cannot believe that you would do anything of the sort] smuggle up some biscuits to eat in bed and make your bedclothes all itchy with crumbs. Dreams are like eggs with shells of finest blown glass. When they crack they let all sorts of things in. Horrible, Ghastly things, Monstrous things.” Misteris Q Ventris' head seemed to grow, his teeth leered like tombstones, and his eyes grew narrow and blazed red fire. His whole body seemed to expand and stretch as if he was made of elastic and he towered over Caroline in way that was, quite frankly, frightening. Caroline gazed up at him, scratching the scab on her knee, and snuffled her nose. This was all very, VERY interesting and she thought that she wouldn't mind trying to grow like that as soon as she got home. But it was really not the sort of reaction which Misteris was expecting and he subsided into a rather despondent heap, “Well,” he continued with a half-hearted flick of his hand, “that’s what happens. Nightmares are when the bad things get into your dreams. It’s one of my jobs to make sure that doesn’t happen. So I keep them safe in my bag and then I pour them into my water-pipe.”


“To mix them together. It’s an expert job, don't you know? Highly skilled; to blend dreams. You wouldn’t want the same dream every night would you? That would be as bad as having a nightmare. So in here I gently mix them up and spin new dreams.”

“Is my dream in there then?” asked Caroline peering into the glass bowl.

“Oh, once it was, but now it has been melded into something quite, quite different and rather, I don’t mind admitting, wonderful!” Misteris Q Ventris gave a pleased little smile that made Caroline want to hug him with excitement.

“Will I dream it tonight?” she begged.

“Who knows, young lady? Who knows?” he evasively replied, rather amused at the way his young interrogator was hopping from one gumbooted foot to the other.

“How will I get to dream it?”

“Outside your house, below your window, when you are fast asleep – and by the way I can tell when you are really only snoozelling – I will place a handful of dreams into my parasol, lift it into the night sky and then let them fly!!” And with that, he tossed both his hands in the air with such an ecstatic cry the tearoom once more fell silent.

Readers’ Notes
‘To snoozel’ means to scrumph your head into your pillow, put on the most innocent face you can muster, and pretend *tsk tsk* to be asleep.
As you can probably guess, visits from Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, and a rather scrumptious and slurplicious lemon tart (left in the fridge which had mysteriously disappeared by the next morning), made Caroline an expert at ‘snoozelling’.

For awhile Misteris Q Ventris sat in silence, smoking his nargile, although, it had to be admitted, getting increasingly agitated at being the focus of the unwavering cat-like stare of this small girl. At long last Caroline broke the silence.

“So do you make dreams then?”

“Oh, good gracious No! I cannot make dreams; no one can. I mix them, I mould them, I blend them together.”

“So, where do my dreams come from?”

“They come from you of course! They are your older and deeper voices that are uncovered by your sleep; they are like writing that was once on a page, but is no longer there. Some voices will never die. They are too important. Those are the voices that make your dreams. And those are the dreams I blend and shape.
... And now,” he said standing up, “I must be on my way.” And with that he picked up the entire water pipe and carefully placed it in his enormous Gladstone bag.

‘How absolutely wonderful,’ thought Caroline as she watched the man reach down and pick up a wide brimmed slouch hat, which he placed on his head, and then pick up his dream-parasol.

He did look rather striking, but it was the large brown leather bag with the big brass clasp, that Caroline was most interested in. For in there, was the dream should would have tonight... oh yes, and yours is in there too! ;-)

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Folio 6 ~ A Dream-Parasol

The two elderly ladies watched the waiter disappear into the spectral mist of steam that swirled in the middle of the room. The waiter, rubbing the back of his head and bitterly regretting adding the extra ‘es’ to ‘premises’, nevertheless, walked with the jaunty air of a dog that had successfully bullied a rabbit into fleeing back down its burrow.

Gertrude looked a little crestfallen, but Clarice, aiming her ear trumpet towards Caroline’s ear, bellowed, “D’you know what the time is?”

Caroline, who was feeling relieved at not having to give a recitation of the Vicar of Bray after all, but also a little sad that Gertrude was so obviously disappointed, was determined to be as polite and helpful as she could be. And so she pulled out of her pocket the fob watch that the strange, dust-covered, ancient man had given to her in the park. Its hands still hadn’t moved. She shook it hopefully, but nothing happened.

“I am afraid it’s not working – it’s broken,” she told the two ladies.

“Well, which is it, child?” snapped Gertrude, a little sharply, “not working or broken? The two aren’t the same thing, you know?”

“Well it is with this watch,” Caroline answered, feeling the pilot-light of a really loud argument beginning to burn between her ribs.

“What does it say?” asked Clarice, leaning over the table and trying to read the face.
Caroline looked at it.

“A quarter past four,” she announced

“WE’RE LATE!!” yelled Clarice in alarm.

“But, it’s not WORKING!” Caroline replied. Her anger was now swiftly replaced with the blurred flutter of confusion (and a teaspoon full of amusement).

“We’re STILL late!”

“No,” Caroline tried to explain, “it said a quarter past four when the kind old gentleman gave it to me this morning!”

“And WHEN was that?” Gertrude asked, clearly in a state of agitation.

Caroline thought for a while... Well, she left her flat just before 9 o’clock and then she walked to the park (well ran – but running for Caroline is much the same as walking), sat on a bench and ate 2 whole Jaffa cakes (including some crumb scrunffling and licking of fingers) and then she met the strange gentleman who walked in his own cloud of dust. She wrinkled her nose (to show to the ladies that she was thinking really hard) and said, “Twenty-three minutes past nine.”

Clarice shrieked. It was a marvellous, glass-shattering, jaw-dropping shriek. It was a shriek that made even the lady singing Wagner temporarily falter (on a particularly high note).

“If it was a quarter past four at twenty-three minutes past nine this morning, we must be REALLY late now!” Gertrude gasped. Her face was ashen. She scrabbled for her handbag and a fox stole that was draped over the back of her chair. The fox winked at Caroline as it was wrapped around Gertrude’s (rather scraggly) neck.

“Come on Clarice!” she called, “get your bags. Waiter! CALL A CAB!!

The waiter, with a worried look on his face, hurried out of the door, followed by a flurry of ferocious, bombazine black. Caroline was rather relieved that her hosts had left. She was beginning to find their conversation a little wearing and so, cheerfully looking around the tearoom, she settled down to the last three pieces of Battenberg cake.

What is the perfect simile for happiness? Great writers have cast their lives to the fires of absinthe, sold their souls to the devil, and enrolled (at great expense) to ‘Horace Binn’s Correspondence Course for Aspiring Grate Authors’ to find that one, matchless description. That is because none of them had seen a Caroline contentedly munching Battenberg cake. It is, therefore, perhaps a shame that sitting opposite Caroline’s table was a struggling unknown writer. Readers will be gratified to know that, yes, he did wear a dusty black beret and he had a gloriously straggly beard and he wore a long shabby rain mackintosh with copious pockets. He looked up and quickly jotted down in a Moleskine notebook, ‘as happy as a small girl in a yellow summer dress and gumboots chomping on the marzipanny bit of a Battenberg cake’. The heavens were silent; Shakespeare was about to topple from his lofty perch as the greatest of writers. With an exultant ‘Hah!!’ the writer snapped the cap back on to his fountain pen, leaped to his feet, rushed out of the door and promptly lost his notebook. His name was Rainer Rilke.

*Readers’ Note*
Readers need not be too upset for him because I think he wrote some other stuff too (but, it has to be admitted, never quite as good as that).

Caroline was just pondering whether ‘the proprietors’ would take a 'dim view' of the licking of the plates, when she noticed in the corner of the room a tall distinguished gentleman smoking a nargile (a Turkish water pipe). He had one of those faces that was both pleasing and awful. Readers of cheap fiction would here be reading that his was a face of ‘cruel beauty’. Fortunately, you will be pleased to know, you are NOT reading cheap fiction. Oh no - far from it. The man had a face which was ageless and (note the wonderfully subtle and {incredibly clever} nuance I add here!) ... timeless. It was as if his skin was made of porcelain; cold, unreal, but devastatingly alluring. In fact, he had a face of cruel beauty. A thin pencil moustache sliced, glossy black, across his upper lip. His eyes, one green and one coal-black, were kind and distant and as fierce as my old maths teacher. However, what piqued Caroline’s curiosity wasn’t his appearance but the contraption from which the gentleman was smoking. It was made of gleaming brass and glass and some rather exciting snaky tubes. And so, shoving the last half slice of Battenberg into her mouth, she got up and thwap, thwapped in her gumboots over to where the he was sitting, legs crossed, upon a large plush-velvet cushion.

The man looked up and saw Caroline staring down at him with bulging cheeks and saucer-like eyes and he flinched. Now, I am not sure if I have clearly described this man. He was distinguished (military style), imposing (authoritative), and he had a face of cruel beauty. He was the type of man most would flinch away from – in other words, he would be the ‘flinchee’ rather than the ‘flincher’. But, nevertheless, in this instance he visibly flinched. Furthermore, he not only flinched, but he inadvertently swallowed (rather than exhaled) which resulted in a turmoil of smoke, bubbling and eye watering splutterings. Now, in his defence, it must be admitted that although Caroline had a VERY dainty mouth (she could probably fit only 4 marshmallows in it at one time), her cheeks did bulge rather alarmingly with Battenberg cake. Caroline watched all this with great interest; still munching away. The man took out a silk handkerchief from the pocket of his velvet dinner jacket pocket and wiped his smarting eyes with it. His fingers were long and bejewelled with ornate rings that sparkled with fire and colour.

An irritating tickle had lodged in the back of the gentleman’s throat and refused to budge, even after the most explosive of coughs. He dabbed at his eyes again (now very red). Caroline, not really sure whether what she was watching was normal behaviour when smoking a water-pipe, decided to open the conversation and so she gave a quick snuffle of her nose and said, “Excuse me. Is that your umbrella?” Bulging cheeks are one thing, but bulging cheeks and a snuffled nose (even a quick one) are an altogether different basket of thing-a-mees. The man proceeded to have another coughing fit, whilst simultaneously gurgling noisily and waving frantically with his hand.
‘How odd,’ she thought, ‘and how absolutely WONDERFUL’.
Caroline decided that smoking a nargile looked to be of immense fun and that she would have a go as soon as she got home.

The man wiped away something strange (and a little bit slimy) from the end of his nose and tried to recollect his impressive and distinguished demeanour. He looked at the little black silk parasol that was neatly furled on a very long, cane handle.

“Yes, it is,” he said, rather coldly and looking at the girl standing in front of him even more coldly.

“It looks a bit odd,” Caroline remarked, studying with a critical eye. Fully unfurled, it wouldn’t cover an area larger than a biggish dinner plate ('unfurled' is what we umbrella-ists call 'open').

“It is my Dream-Parasol,” the gentleman replied haughtily. He checked his thin black moustache to make sure that nothing untoward had lodged in it following the unpleasantness with the coughing fit. In some way, he found this young girl with sphinx-like eyes and yellow dress and gumboots faintly unnerving. It was a new sensation for him. And it was distinctly odd and distinctly NOT wonderful.

“Oh,” said Caroline cheerfully, “that sound marvellous. I think I would like a Dream-Parasol. What do they do?”

“Well this one is mine,” snapped its owner, “and it catches dreams of course. And then sets them loose again.”

“How?” asked Caroline.

“Don’t you do anything, but ask questions?” the man irritably retorted.

“Why?” asked Caroline.

“Oh never mind,” he sighed. He felt his strength sapping and his will to live curl up beside his resolve in the wicker dog basket of his soul. “Where is that damned waiter? I need a spot of tea to restore my equilibrium.”

“He went outside to get a cab for the two old ladies,” replied Caroline in her most grown-up and helpfullest of voices, “but I don’t think he would be of much use to you - he is a bloody philistine, you see?”

The man gulped and made strange jerking movements into his hankie.

‘That tobacco,’ thought Caroline, ‘must be incredibly strong.’ She looked at the glass bowl, that bubbled so gloriously, and blinked twice. She couldn’t quite believe what she saw...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Folio 5 ~ Tea and the Vicar of Bray

As silent and as sudden as a ghost, the waiter appeared at the table and poured into 3 little glasses a syrupy rich ruby-dark liquid. Its steam carried the scent of spices and honey and exotic far-off lands and a teensy bit of the taste you once tasted in a dream, but have never been able to remember properly ever since.

“Wonderful!” beamed Clarice clasping her hands together, “There is nothing quite like Turkish tea.”

Caroline had never had Turkish tea before, but it smelt half of adventure and the other half butterflies. And the greenish light that shone down through the skylight sparkled so gloriously through the liquid and made such beautiful swirling patterns of ruby and gold on the tablecloths that she thought it must taste like fairy music. She took a little sip and then turned her full attention back to the Battenberg.

“The answer, you know, is ‘three-score and ten’.” Gertrude said suddenly (and with an air which suggested a certain amount of disapproval).

“What is?” inquired Caroline happily munching the thick rind of marzipan.

“The answer to the question, of course!”

“But what question?” persisted Caroline, now beginning to chomp through one of the squares of pink sponge.

“To the question of, how many miles there are to Babylon!” replied Gertrude irritably, “How many miles to Babylon? Three-score and ten...”

“... can I get their by candlelight? Yes, there and back again,” interrupted Clarice.

“Grammatical error!” yelled Gertrude, banging her spoon against the silver sugar bowl and making it ring.

“You said, ‘can I get their by candlelight’ and you should have said, ‘can I get there by candlelight’. You must write out ‘their is not there’ fifty times before lunchtime.”
Clarice crumpled in a heap.

“How can you tell?” Caroline asked, “They both sound exactly alike to me.”

“I can smell them. Words have scents and grammatical errors are like smells in the wrong place. ‘Their’ smells like cherry blossom in the rain. Not unpleasant, but cherry blossom on Christmas Eve? No, no! It just won’t do. All wrong, all totally wrong. Clashes with the cinnamon and nutmeg of ‘candlelight’. A scent in the wrong place is nothing more than a smell - Scents in the wrong place must be dealt with at once or they will get out of hand. Grammatical errors are the bramble bushes of words. They creep, you know. I used to be a school teacher.”

‘Well I am rather glad that you are not one of my school teachers’ thought Caroline to herself.

“And I am rather glad that you were not one of my pupils,” retorted Gertrude severely.

“Tea! Another cup of tea!” shrilled Clarice, quite recovered from her rebuttal and rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

Caroline, who had not quite finished her first glass (even though it did shine a wonderfully rich deep red), swiffled a finger around her tea plate to mop up the last of the crumbs of her Battenberg. Clarice waved to the waiter who scurried over with a glittering pot.

Meanwhile, the grand lady who had been singing was now talking in earnest tones to her ethereal accompanist. The accompanist was raking his long bendy fingers through his towering piles of hair. The lady then turned to her audience and announced,
“I would now like to sing Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle. Would you please try to refrain from over-much coughing in the quiet bits – it ruins the ambience.”

“What a pity,” sighed Gertrude, “I do like a good cough.”

“And now my dear,” bellowed Clarice, once more poking her ear trumpet down Caroline’s ear, “you must tell us all about yourself. First of all, how many marshmallows can you get in your mouth?”

“Oh, and how may seconds does it take for you to do a really good yawn?... A good one mind you, not one of those snivelling little apologies that go for yawns these days,” interjected Gertrude excitedly.

“And does your blood flow through your right knee or your left knee first?” rejoined Clarice.

“And what is the brightest colour that you can imagine?”

“Or what is the sweetest song you have ever sung?”

“Or what was the second thought that came into your mind when you awoke on May 7th, two years ago?”

“And when was the last time that you listned to see if the clouds were talking to you?”

“And what was the worst maths sum that you have EVER done?”

“But before all that,” Gertrude insisted firmly, in a slightly raised voice and placing her hands flat on the table, “you must first climb up on the table and give us your rendition of The Vicar of Bray.

“Oooh yes you must, you must,” Clarice cried, clapping her hands which made her beads rattle and her chins jabber up and down in sheer delight and excitement.

“Ahem,” ahemed the waiter, who was still standing over the table, “I would caution the young madam against collambering in her gollapsing boots upon the tables, the proprietor tends to take a dim view of gumboot marks upon the fine linen.”

The table fell silent and those sitting around it fell even more silent.

However, Caroline was rather relieved as she wasn’t too sure whether ‘Royal Ann’ came before or after ‘William’ when ‘I turned cat in pan’. Or, for that matter, where ‘George in pudding time’ came into it all. History can be such a confusing thing if you have to keep joining it up.

“And one other thing, whilst we is still on the topic of merriment and mirth,” intoned the waiter, mirthlessly, “the management of this here establishment...” he was beginning to get into his stride now and was rather enjoying a sense of authority that he thought he had lost forever, “... looks rather blackly, if you take me drift, upon young ladeez standing up and a-hollering and a-caterwauling and otherwise upsetting the other patrons (he rather appeared to like that word, so said it again), ... PATRONS on these premiseses (now the last ‘es’ undermined the whole affect, but we will have to be gracious and accept the spirit in which it was made).”

The waiter took a quick look at Caroline who was staring cat-like at the cake. He wasn’t too sure if she had been upset by his little monologue and so he turned to her and added, “No offence missie, but rules is rules and I cannot allow the screeching and howling, no matter how pretty your spotted yellow dress is. I have to think of me regulars, you see?”

“Bloody Philistine!” bellowed Clarice, delivering a hefty blow to the waiter’s head with her ear trumpet.

“Tsk tsk,” tutted her companion, “PLEASE Clarice, not in front of such young ears.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the gel,” replied Clarice dismissively, “I told you she’s as deaf as a... as a...” her words tailed off into the sweet steamy air.

They looked across the table at Caroline who, apparently oblivious to the world around her, was concentrating intently upon writing in a little notebook that she had taken from her pocket.

“There,” said Clarice, triumphantly, “what did I say? The poor wee scrap hasn’t heard a word we’ve been saying. What a tragic little thing she is.”

Caroline’s notebook was full of all sorts of treasures that she had picked up. There were pressed daisies from the summer parks of last year and an autumn leaf that was as red as wine, and an old bus ticket, a feather (probably belonging to a phoenix), some crumbs of Jaffa cakes (which weren’t really meant to be there), some things she copied from a book of poetry that made her eyes widen and the world become full of enchantment and adventure, and, at the back, there was list taken from a geography book which named all the places with the most magical names and to which, one day, she planned to visit.

And now, under the word ‘palimpsest’ (which she had written earlier), with a blue ballpoint pen, she carefully wrote down Clarice’s rather wonderful description of the waiter. She was not too sure how to write it, so she wrote, ‘b..l..u..d..e..e..y..f..i..l..a..s..t..y..n..’ It certainly sounded a useful word. It was rather like palimpsest, it played nicely around the mouth and felt good on the tongue.

In fact, it sounded just the right sort of word to call the rather annoying curate with funny eyes who kept knocking on the door and asking her Mother for, “a few alms, dear lady, in the name of our sweet, dear, gentle, Lord Jesus, to aid my adventures [hahaha, snort] among those tragic young ladies of easy virtue.”

* Important Legal Note to Readers *
In view of the laws of libel, I [the author] would like to stress that the curate mentioned above is, of course, purely, totally and completely a figment of my [the author's] imagination. I [the author] would never even breathe the suggestion that a real life curate would exhibit even the minorest hint of these traits.

I thought I had better make that clear ~ knowing what a scaberous, litigious bunch of bastards all curates are.

Thank you.

The waiter, satisfied that there was no danger of his ‘regulars’ being subjected to the caterwauling of a young girl in a spotted yellow dress and gumboots, moved off, leaving an air of hurt disdain in his place.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Folio 4 ~ The Turkish Tearooms

Caroline alighted in a part of the city that she did not often visit. An imposing archway led onto a colonnaded arcade with dark varnished wood and ironwork so creamy-white that it made you want to lick them. The city’s pigeons scrabbled with scratchy claws on the glass ceiling.

There was nothing exactly wrong with this part of the city, but it was full of shops with tastefully arranged (in a minimalist sense) handbags and shoes in the windows and Caroline had never seen the need of such things. Once, she did actually own a shoe, but it was not as comfortable or as useful as a pair of red, rubber gumboots and the tadpoles escaped through one of the lace eyelets (something which would never occur with a good – or come to that even a fairly poor – pair of gumboots). And what was the point of a handbag when you had two perfectly good pockets in the front of your dress? Anyway, handbags would get caught up when you squidgeedled through gaps in fences and holes in hedges.

Nevertheless, windows are created for the sole purpose of looking through and so Caroline, with impressive thoroughness, set about scrutinising each shop window with an apparent disregard to the shopkeepers, who seemed to take exception to their windows being huffed upon. Her gumboots, on the arcade’s polished marble floor, made a satisfying squeechy noise; almost as satisfying as the sqwurlch of a particularly boggy bit of mud. In fact, so taken up was she by the squeech, squeech, squeech she was making, Caroline hadn’t noticed that, by now, the number of shoppers that filled the arcade were thinning and that the shop windows were no longer filled with shoes and handbags, but begun to display rather wonderful and colourful arrays of coloured glass bottles, others shelves of leather-bound books and, yet others, strange instruments made out of polished wood and brass.

Rather unexpectedly, the shopping-alley curved suddenly to the right and tucked into the corner was a little window; the lower half was screened by a net curtain, in which a huge and splendid aspidistra was displayed. Beside the window was a door and on the door was a big brass twistable doorknob that, in the dim light, shone like a candle flame. Such brass knobs are made to be twisted and so Caroline squeeched up to it and giving it a firm twist and with one boot braced against the lintel she tugged at the door. After a few tugs, the door swung open with the ring-a-ting of a brass bell (which also shone like a flame). Caroline peered into a room that was filled with clouds of steam and bees-wax polished wood and the most delicious sweet smells she had ever smelled. Ornate dainty tables were scattered around, all draped in crisp, white, starched-linen tablecloths. And upon each table, large ornate silver ware was set. Along one side of the room ran a dark oak counter upon which a huge samovar hissed and boiled and from which great clouds of steam kept erupting into the air. The entire ceiling comprised an elegant arch of glass – rather like the glasshouses that stood unloved in the gardens of old houses. The glass was old and greened with age and the light that shone through it was watery; mottled and greenish. It gave the feeling of standing underneath a wave that, just as it was about to break over the top of you, had been frozen into a solid block of ice. Condensation dripped from the glossy leaves of the potted ferns and the aspidistra.

To one side of the room stood a highly polished black grand piano at which an aesthetic, wan gentleman, whose hair was a huge toppling pile, like the towering waves of regency wigs, played with fingers that seemed to merely brush the keys. A smaller aspidistra, in a blue and white porcelain pot, was perched on the floor beside him. Beside them both stood – or rather teetered – an enormous woman, as if rising from the floor like a tumbling, top-heavy and velveteened, thunder cloud. Her operatic alto voice boomed around the walls. Hands clasped in front of her, she sang in rattling vibrato:
“My body lies over the ocean,
My body lies over the sea,
My kidneys lie under the curtains
Oh bring back my splee-heen to me...”

No one appeared to be taking any notice.

At one of the tables two, rather severe looking, old ladies sat. They both wore voluminous black dresses of bombazine and paramatta silk that smelled of camphor and mild disapproval. One had on her head a black crepe bonnet and, perched on the end of a hook-like nose, wore a pair of round spectacles whose lenses had fogged over with condensation making her look blind. The other matriarch, who was rather rotund and clunked with beads, looked up as Caroline entered and took out a pair of pince-nez from a crocheted pouchette.
“Hmmm,” she said, looking rather critically at her red gumboots, “ You, gel. Come over here and have a cup of tea and a slice of cake.”
The ladies looked rather ferocious, but the cake, which was a particularly colourful Battenberg, looked rather delicious and so Caroline walked over to the little table and sat down.
The lady with the pince-nez scrabbled under the table and drew out a large ear trumpet which she held up to Caroline’s right ear and bellowed into it, “How many miles to Babylon?”
“I beg your pardon?” replied Caroline swiftly judging which slice of the Battenberg contained the thickest amount of marzipan.
“You see Gertrude? Deaf as a dodo,” cried out the woman, smacking the ear trumpet in triumph against the table, “I knew as soon as I saw her, that this poor wee scrap of a mite is as deaf as a dodo.”
She then proceeded to pat Caroline on the head and to coo in sad voice, “Poor, poor thing. T’is such a shame poor wee hen, and such a brave, BRAVE little gel.”
“The expression, Clarice,” interjected Gertrude, “is not deaf as a dodo. It is deaf as a bat.”
“Bat’s aren’t deaf,” retorted Caroline who was wanting the pleasantries to quickly end and the apportioning of the Battenberg to begin.
“Nonsense!” the thin matriarch creaked back on her chair in shock, “Everyone knows that bats are as deaf as... as... deaf as dodos.”
“Ahaha! See? I told you so!” cackled Clarice in triumph and giving the waiter, who was passing by the table, a hefty whack round the back of the legs with the ear trumpet.

“Well they’re not,” Caroline was sure the slice to the left under the thin end piece was definitely the most marzipanyist and she was just about to hoik it out with her finger.
“Oh so we have a chiropterologist in our midst do we?” sneered the bespectacled widow with a nasty sneer, “And, tell me young lady if you are so wise, Goosey, Goosey Gander whither does thou wander?”
“Upstairs and downstairs” Caroline replied feeling a little miffed that there was still no offer of cake.
“OOOHH! Good, Good,” clapped Clarice with delight, “She knows her Milton doesn’t she?”
“Well be that as it may, but she shouldn’t speak with her mouth full. And let that be the end of the matter.” And with that Gertrude took a sniff of a little pot of smelling salts that was at her elbow.
Caroline was just about to say that her mouth was far from full when the first widow suddenly announced in a loud voice.
She then replaced the ear trumpet in Caroline’s ear and bellowed into it, “Lady Grey or Orange Pekoe?”
“Um,” thought Caroline (on the very edge of a huge and shuddering nose-snuffle, which she only just managed to contain, as she had found that elderly ladies tend to take a dim view of snuffled noses).
“No matter,” cried Clarice happily and handing the plate of cakes over to Caroline, “It’s all the same here; Lady Grey, Black Dragon, Orange Pekoe, Formosa Oolong, Lotus Flower, Gunpowder, Blue Sky, Russian Caravan, Lapsang Souchong.”
“Why?” asked Caroline, digging down into the pile and extricating, with practice long born out from playing Pick-Up Monkeys, the marzipany slice that she had been earlier eyeing.
“Why! Because here, it all comes out as thick Turkish tea, of course.”

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Folio 3 ~ The Magic of Words and Pillar Boxes

The city looked wonderful dressed in its spring clothes. The sun hugged the sugar brown walls and made them smile. Birds perched on the teetering roof tops and sang to the tiny racing clouds. After a little while, Caroline remembered the pocket watch that the strange man had given to her in the park and she took it out and polished its big friendly face and put it to her ear. It was still silent and the thin second hand (with a little curly wave at the end) remained as still as a heron’s beak. She wound it up. It made a loud whirring noise; the same sort of noise that you get when you run a furled umbrella along metal park railings. It was so loud the bus driver turned in his seat and glowered and so Caroline hurriedly put the watch back in her pocket and concentrated upon looking out of the window.

People got on and people got off the bus and Caroline watched the city pass by outside. And then, on one corner, she noticed that a man was selling little toys made from old tin-cans. He wore a sky-blue coat (with tails) and a top hat and he had a wooden stall which could be pushed along on pram wheels. As the bus passed, he looked up at Caroline and then pointed down a little alleyway (full of cardboard boxes and splintered wooden crates) which was beside his little stall. Caroline peered down it and on the end wall, painted in large white letters, were the words, GET OFF AT... Caroline wiped the window, where she had huffed (when the driver was looking the other way), to get a better view.

‘Why would anyone want to write ‘get off at…’ on a wall?

'How odd!’ she thought

... and then she thought, ‘how wonderful.’

The bus drove on and more people got on and a young mother, carrying a big bag of shopping and a baby that looked like a hedgehog, got off. Then, on the next corner, there was the man in the sky-blue tail coat selling tin-can toys again! Once again he looked up, saw Caroline and pointed down an alleyway. Caroline leaned forward, her nose pressed against the glass (which made the driver glare at her). This time, at the end of the alleyway, there was another message which read, … THE NEXT

‘I wonder what the ‘the next' will be?’ she thought. She looked around at the others on the bus. No one else saw. No one else was looking. People were reading the paper, knitting, texting on the telephones. Everyone was living in their small little worlds and none of them realised that somewhere outside something marvellous was about to happen.

‘Well,’ thought Caroline, pulling up her socks (because they had slipped down her feet and balled up under her instep in her boots - which is what happens when you wear socks and gumboots), ‘wherever it says I should get off, I will get off and have an adventure. Perhaps, it will take me somewhere that will mend my watch and give it back its taste for time, for this is like a dream, only it’s much better than a dream because I can huff on windows and snuffle my nose whenever I want to and you can’t always do that in a dream because you end up turning into an owl or a wardrobe or something.’

After three more stops, Caroline once more recognised the man with the tin-can toys. This time he was standing under a big umbrella with stars painted on it and selling a tin-can soldier toy to a little boy and his mother. He stood up and, once again, pointed to an alleyway. This time the words said, PILLAR BOX!!

'Get off at the next pillar box!’ Caroline repeated to herself.

And so Caroline wiped the rest of the huff off the window, for she was a polite young girl and she knew that grown-ups very rarely like to sit next to a bus window that has been huffed upon, and she got up and walked down the bus to the driver.

“I would like to get off at the next pillar box please,” she announced to the driver.
The driver puffed out his bottle-brush moustache.
“Pillar box?” he asked
“Yes, please. I would like to get off at the very next pillar box, if you don’t mind.”
“Pillar boxes are for letters and for parcels that are thin enough to squidge through the slot. Bus stops are for people and for little girls what wear gumboots and summer dresses,” retorted the bus driver unhappily, “You, missie are a young lady what wears rubber gumboots and a summer dress and h’is not, so far as I am aware, h’ay letter or a parcel – squidgey or h’otherwise. H’it is most h’regular for a bus to stop at a pillar box. What will all my passengers say h’if I start stopping at all the pillar boxes I pass?”

Caroline looked at the passengers on the bus. It did not seem likely that any of them would say anything. It did not seem likely that any of them would even notice. Then she had an idea.
“Well I think,” she said looking at the driver carefully, “that my 50 pence worth of a bus ride will run out at the next pillar box, don’t you?”
The bus driver glanced at Caroline with baleful eyes.
“Well it’s all very h’regular, young madam,” he said, his face creased in misery and his great watery eyes looking as sad as mountain mist, “ever since I heard the thwapping of your boots missie, I knew that things would be becoming all h’regular.”
“Yes,” said Caroline cheerfully and snuffling up the end of her nose with the back of her hand, “I always seem to have that effect on things.”
The bus driver sighed and said, “Odd.”
“Yes,” Caroline agreed, “but rather wonderful too.”
“Huuuuummmmmmp” said the bus driver who was not convinced that it was rather wonderful at all.

However, beside the very next bus stop that they came to was a bright red pillar box and Caroline, who was swinging on the handrail that helped little old ladies climb the bus steps and trying desperately not to huff on the bus driver’s shiny uniform buttons, let out a cry of excitement.
“Easy does it.” Grunted the bus driver as he drew into the little lay-by.

With a swishing hiss, the bus stopped and the doors swung open. With a hop and skip (well as much of a hop and a skip that big rubber gumboots will allow) Caroline leaped down from the bus without touching any of the steps.

The bus driver grunted, “Most h’regular, alighting in gumboots without using the steps therefore provided for the purpose of.”

It didn’t quite sound right, so he added another "of" at the end, but it didn’t sound any better.

With that, he pressed the large red button and the doors closed with a terrific whooshing sneeze.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Folio 2 ~ The 50 Pence Piece

Folio 2
The sun smiled and the spring breeze giggled among the leaves and bushes of the park. In the emerald cave of the horse chestnut tree, which overshadowed Caroline's bench, a blackbird sang. Its tune danced like the tumbling water in the fountain. When its song had finished, it soared into the air over her head and a jet-black feather from its wing, fluttered down in a lazy spiral and landed at her feet. Pushing the last little bit of Jaffa Cake into her mouth, Caroline bent down to pick it up and it was then that she noticed that the feather, glowing silky black, pointed – like an arrow – to a shiny, brand spanking new 50 pence piece. It felt smooth and warm and, although on one side (which coin collector’s call its ‘obverse’) it had the Queen’s head (which one would expect) on the other (the ‘reverse’) was the figure of a little girl caught in mid racing-stride, dressed in a summer dress and gumboots – and very sharp, jabbing elbows.
‘How odd,’ thought Caroline.
And then…
‘How wonderful.’
And she put the coin in her pocket, with the pocket watch, while she thought about how best to spend it.

After some thought and an immense amount of frowning she decided, what could be better than to ride round the spring city in a bus – particularly if that bus had springy, itchy seats next to windows upon which you could huff and draw smiley faces? And so off ran Caroline, thwap, thwap, jab, jab, past the old ladies and onto to the bus stop.

The bus was driven by a man who took pride in his bus and the shiny buttons on his bus driver’s uniform. He had a large white moustache and eyes made of water. Caroline couldn’t quite decide if he looked more like a walrus or an elephant. She climbed into the bus. It smelt wonderfully of bus tickets, and seats, and travel, and adventure. Putting her shiny 50 pence piece on the little counter beside the driver’s seat, she asked in a polite but firm voice, “A 50 pence ticket, please.”
The driver sucked in his moustache and looked at her through his watery eyes. Caroline thought that the driver might be deaf and had not heard her request, so she said in a voice that was still polite, but a little firmer, “A 50 pence ticket please, driver.”
The bus driver peered at the coin and then Caroline with his large watery eyes and said, “Where, young madam, would you like to go?”
“I want to have a 50 pence piece worth of a bus ride please,” answered Caroline.
“This is most h’regular, young lady, most h’regular. I need to know where you want to go.”
“I want to go for 50 pence worth,” replied Caroline, scratching her knee.
“Well,” said the bus driver, pursing his lips and making his moustache bristle like a bottle brush, “I have never known such a thing. I take people to all sorts of places; to the museum and the art gallery, to the big stores with windows full of bright colours. I take people to the dentist, to their aunts and to the big park with the boating pond. I even take people to their connubial diversions, if your young ears will pardon my directness, but I have never taken a young miss in gumboots to 50 pences.”
“Well,” retorted Caroline, “I do not know anything about connubial diversions, but I do know that I want to have a 50 pence worth of a bus ride.”

The bus driver fumbled with his ticket machine while sucking on his moustache and his eyes looked like huge oceans full of fish and weeping mermaids. “It’s all very h’regular,” he mumbled, “but if you promise not to huff too much on me windows, I’ll let you ride just this once.”

And with that, he reached down under his little counter, beside his seat, and pulled out a large old-fashioned microscope. It was wonderful and gleamed of polished brass and smelt of metal and strange chemicals. The bus driver slid Caroline’s 50 pence piece under it and he peered through the lens with one eye all scrunched up.

“That’s very old,” Caroline remarked, carefully studying the instrument.
“H’it might be, missie,” replied the driver not looking up. “The bus company supplies us with new, h’electrically operated electron scanning microscopes with two eye-pieces and a four foot length of h’electric cabling and plug, but I has no use for h’it.” He paused while he adjusted the big brass burled knob at the side. “H’it’s not electrons that I wants to h’examine. H’electrons, as a rule, don’t cause the problems.” He looked up and gave Caroline a look that suggested very much where he thought the problems usually did lie.
“Well,” said Caroline, not at all put out by the man’s glare, “I like it. It smells just as a microscope should smell.”
“H’exactly!” retorted the driver.

Caroline was on the point of turning to walk up the aisle to an empty seat near the window that looked particularly springy and itchy when the bus driver cried out in alarm.
“Hold you there young miss!! Most h’regular this is, most MOST h’regular,” The driver waved Caroline’s 50 pence piece in the air above his head.
“An’ what may you call this?” he demanded showing Caroline the reverse side upon which the running figure of the girl in rubber boots and summer dress could be clearly seen.
“I don’t know,” She replied honestly, “It was there when I got it.”
“Well, I have never seen anything of the like,” The bus driver scratched his head and puffed out his moustache.
“But it does have the Queen’s head on the other side,” Caroline added helpfully.
The bus driver looked at it.
“It has to be alright if it has the Queen’s head on it, doesn’t it?”
“W…e…e…l…l…” The driver was still unsure.
“Oh please!” begged Caroline.

“Most h’regular that’s what I call it, but just this once and mind you mind your huffing.” The driver relented. And, at that, Caroline happily slipped into the seat by the window.

“Hold tight,” called out the driver, as the bus pulled away into the traffic.

Folio 1 ~ An Ounce of Pounce

Folio 1

There was once a little girl who lived a long way away from where I live, but a little bit closer to where you live. Her name was Caroline, which is as good a name as many and far better than most. Whatever the weather, Caroline always wore a yellow summer dress (with little black spots and two pockets) and red rubber gumboots that squeaked and shone. For, even though she lived in a big city with cobblestones and roofs that reached up to the clouds, you never knew when you would find a big puddle in which to jump or a gutter in which you could find the feathers of birds, and marbles, and skeleton leaves (that looked as if they’d been etched from shining brass), and used bus tickets, and diamonds. All year round, wearing her spotted summer dress and her red rubber boots, she ran at full tilt through those granite streets. Thwap, thwap, thwap went her boots. Jab, jab, jab went her sharp little elbows whirling like pistons at her side. Pump, pump, pump went her scabbed and plastered knees. In fact, I don’t think anyone had ever seen her not running. Every day, the old ladies on the park bench would see her run past – thwap, thwap, thwap; jab, jab, jab; pump, pump, pump. “My, these young folk are always in a rush”, they would say to each other and then they would get up and have their perms re-permed.

Well, one day the city shook itself and decided that it had had enough of the winter with its bitter winds and grey skies and that today it would be spring. And so having looked out of the window, Caroline slipped four Jaffa Cakes and a Crunchie bar into the pocket in the front of her spotted summer dress, closed the door of the little flat in which she lived and off she ran to the park to look for blossom and humming birds with wings the colour of the foil that wrap Cadbury's chocolate bars and treasures she could keep in a glass jam jar that she kept on the windowsill. The trees all looked new. Their brown bony branches were tinged with green and on one or two trees deep pink blossom buds could be seen. The fountains tingled with light and the city seemed to smile. She sat for five minutes on a park bench, her feet swinging in the air. The old ladies went passed, pushing their shopping baskets on wheels and they said to each other, “My, these young folk can eat Jaffa Cakes so quickly.”

Caroline was just starting on her second Jaffa Cake when she noticed that coming towards her was the bent figure of a man. He wore an old fashioned suit that was a few sizes too small for him and was darned at the knees and elbows. And he was so tall he walked with a stoop, as if the sky were too low for him to properly stand up straight. The spring sun shone on his shiny bald pate and made the halo of hair around his head glisten like spun gold. Behind one ear was a black feather quill, its nib stained with scrivener’s ink. And around him blew a cloud of dust and tiny winged insects so that it looked as if he walked in a perpetual golden mist. He had a long thin walking cane and long thin fingers, which also were stained with ink and dust. He saw Caroline sitting on the park bench in the sun and walked over to her.

“Excuse me, young madam,” he said in a voice that sounded like an old church organ that no longer worked – it was more breath and voice, thought Caroline as she looked into his pale, long, thin face. He smelt of spilt ink and old sun light.
“Yes?” she said politely.
“Palimpsest,” the Man wheezed. “Do you know what a palimpsest is?”
“I am afraid I don’t.”
“Well I do,” said the man. “Oh yes, palimpsest is a very good word, very useful you know. Oh yes, bless me, a very good word indeed. Say it out loud, little madam, and let it roll round your mouth and play with your tongue. P..A..L..I..M..P..S..E..S..T.”
“Well I don’t know it,” Caroline retorted giving her boots a little annoyed bang together.
“Well you should. Socrates didn’t know either. Goodness gracious me, no young lady, I should say not. No, no, young lady, I certainly think that he did not - and look what happened to him."

*Note to readers*
Socrates - Lived in a place called Ancient Greece (which I believe is quite near Modern Greece), although some scholars argue that he lived in Antiquity; which is an altogether different place and suffers badly from rain. Socrates was known as the 'wisest man in Greece' because he once said, "I don't know anything." Which just goes to show how low the 'wisdom bar' was set in those days. I know EVERYTHING and still no one has called me wise.

The ancient man took a large gold pocket watch out of his fob pocket, looked at it, wound it 37 and a bit times with his long thin fingers and then handed it to Caroline.
“Thank you!” she said, delighted by this strange man’s strange gift. “It’s lovely.”
“It doesn’t work,” said the man simply and then he asked, “What does it taste of? Can you taste the time?”
“I don’t think so,” said Caroline, a little perplexed, and she snuffled her nose with the back of her hand. It was a most wonderful and GINORMOUS snuffle. The long thin man’s eyes widened into saucers, for he had never seen such a big snuffle made with such a little nose. Caroline then gave the shiny metal case a little lick. But her tongue was still all orangey and chocolaty from the Jaffa Cakes.

“No, I can’t taste time,” she said.
“Ah, that’s because it’s lost its taste for time,” the man replied, his eyes still as wide as moons (well, I did say that it was a very big snuffle), “A pocket watch is of no use once it had lost its taste for time. That’s why it doesn’t work. But then again, nor do I. So I suppose neither of us should complain.”
“What’s a palimpsest?” asked Caroline who was not really following a word that the man was saying, but felt that she should still be polite after such a magnificent gift (even though it didn’t work).
“A palimpsest?” the man repeated, as if for the first time, “Well it is certainly not a tabla rasa, dear me, that’s for sure.” And his body heaved in huge spasms of wheezing laughter.
And with that the man stood upright and he walked off clicking his long thin stick. He had just got to the place where the path curves behind a large bush of hydrangeas when he stopped and waved his black cane in the air.
“Excuse me, young lady!” his voice rang through the air like an old cathedral bell. Caroline looked up and frowned.
“Do you know where a gentleman can buy a quarter ounce of pounce?”
“Of what?” replied Caroline, whose voice was far bigger than her body.
“A quarter ounce of pouncing powder,” repeated the long man.
“I am sorry, I don’t know,” said Caroline with a little sorrowful look, because she was beginning to like this strange man who walked in his own cloud of dust. “No matter,” the stranger cheerfully replied and with that he disappeared behind the tangle of hydrangea.

Caroline gave the pocket watch another little experimental lick, huffed on its big friendly glass face and slipped it in her pocket (the one on the other side of her Jaffa Cake pocket).