Sunday
Apr212019

Asleep in the Churchyard, part 2.

Notre Dame burns. No one dies. Days later terrorists destroy churches across Sri Lanka killing hundreds of Easter Sunday worshippers. The different reactions to these two events will haunt me. It is true, of course, that churches and Death quietly slip their hands together when no one is watching and that, perhaps, is why I'm reluctant to embrace it. The church that is.

 Meanwhile in the Night Planted Orchard everything is in full cry. The cherries are clusters of white fireworks. The apple-blossom buds are fat pink and white cherubs. The pears are almost done. The quince blossoms are blousy and rival any magnolia. In the extraordinary April heat, the mixture of scents is a joy. Best of all, the fruits on the medlar are already fattening in the sun, reaching for the light like the beaks of birds, or miniature Gaudan pinnacles. There is an argument over who said 'God is in the details', but nature, it seems, can build a cathedral on every branch whenever it feels like it.

Monday
Apr152019

Asleep in the Old Churchyard

One of the perils of booking a service through third - or possibly fourth and fifth parties - is that the provider of that service has free rein to stuff one royally at the last minute. With Lady Snoutingdingle's long planned weekend away in tatters, we trawled the last-minute sites to find somewhere to stay. In our younger day, we would have piled into the automobile and headed for the hills, going as far as the traffic would let us and then availing ourselves of the services of those nice ladies they used to have in Tourist Offices who knew every B&B for fifty miles and would sort you out in a jiffy. These days, with the Old Hunter unable to 'do stairs' our options are a bit more strictly limited. We found somewhere in the Peak District. A charming chapel conversion.

In a graveyard.

Naturally we assumed that the aforementioned graveyard would be a few old headstones, half hidden in the grass, wobbling distance from a pub. Not so. It was a full-on graveyard in current use, surrounded on all sides by high walls, and a forbidding wrought-iron gate at the boundary. It was well tended, and flowers were struggling out of hibernation in the bushes and on the trees. I couldn't help thinking that the winking eyes of the flowers were, in fact, composed of bits of long-dead persons hauled from their sleepy hollows by unrepentant roots. In the sun, it was beautiful and the chapel was beautifully appointed. In the rain, its charm faded a little. At night, with no external lights, those watchful blooms seemed even more like eyes than before.

The Old Hunter loved it, of course, not least when he returned from some foray with a large peice of bone. I assume that it was not human.

By far the dominant feature of the graveyard was a magnificent Horse Chestnut tree. It filled one corner and coated the floor with both conkers and the old skins of conkers which the Hunter muttered about as they stabbed his paws. She had nine trunks, each too thick to wrap my arms around, and each trunk reached up over a hundred feet, like a great crown festooned with pyramids of flowers. I wondered what kind of soil might breed such a tree, but of course, the graveyard was richly endowed. I looked up at the tree and it looked down at me with a million tiny, blinking eyes. In the way of such co-incidences I have recently become besotted with a traditional song by the Wailin' Jennys whose version* contains the lines:

But were I at rest 'neath yonder tree
Why would you weep, my friends, for me?

 

When I sleep in the graveyard, I can only dream that some part of me will become something so magnificent whether it be a tree or a song.

 

 

*other versions are available.

Thursday
Mar212019

A Wolf By The Ear

Visiting the battlefield memorials at Manassas, I saw this quotation by Thomas Jefferson.

"But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go"

This is from a time when people were trying to reconcile irreconcilable tensions. Their compromises attempted to maintain an impossible balance which slowly failed. Today is the equinox and like the equinox, the balance of light and dark forces can only be temporary. In the USA, in due course 600,000 people died when that balance collapsed.

 

 

 

Sunday
Mar172019

Three Beautiful Things

I lost my mojo for a while, but in the great wilderness of negativity that is The Internet, I think it's important to remind myself that there are jewels of positivity out there, and one of them is  three beautiful things. Although the original has had its final curtain, it's easy enough to find others who have been inspired. I intend to add my tributes once in a while.

  1. Grey trees dusted with bright green.
  2. The first fat bumble-bee of the year trundles past, mumbling at the cold.
  3. Two small boys, not conforming to their stereotype, walking along the road talking one aged about five, one aged about eight. The little on puts his arm around the other's back, and the bigger one puts his arms over the other's shoulder and they walk along in step.

 

Monday
Jan142019

The Angel in the Scrapyard, act 4

It seems that when I return to the USA, I often find angels whether I'm looking for them or not. 

Visiting the heart of the Mid-West I figured that a good steak in a quiet bar would not be hard to find. I was not wrong. I ordered the barkeepers' recommendation and sat back at the bar to wait for my food. The barkeepers' name was Kimmy which Kimmy told me at least twice, clearly and carefully.

Kimmy.

Kimmy could have been in her late forties but the lines beside her eyes suggested closer to sixty. Her face had a still-evident softness. I say that because it was also care-worn. Her jaw was squared off, muscular at the sides and the lines in her face were few but deep. She had a carefully neutral expression, flat almost, from which a smile exploded from time to time. A long practiced and grooved smile not unlike the cooing of an old cuckoo-clock, slightly worn and rattling at the limit of its travel. She was blonde mixed with ash and silver. She reminded me of retired military women that I'd met who still worked in the military orbit. Straight and solid, with a well honed physique which would never go away. Around here, I imagined that she may have grown up working the land. Maybe she worked the bar to make ends meet in hard times. I decided that I might ask her, if I could find an opportunity without getting into all kinds of wrong-idea territory. I'm hesitant to start the tale by saying whether she was attractive or not, because that might also give the wrong idea. Instead, I'll say that her studied neutrality placed her at the perfect balance point between those two lethal pigeonholes. Perhaps they teach that in Barkeep 101.

A younger man approached the bar, looked at me, looked at Kimmy, looked at the Other Guy and sat down closer to him than to me, but closer still to the beer taps. He nodded at the Coors which Kimmy was already pouring. He was six feet tall and solid with a slack face and worn hands. Unlike Kimmy he was no longer solid. He sagged a little in his chair but not as much as the Other Guy. His physique was on course for a subtle rounding from a time when it was obviously square. He had tiny eyes which flickered a little in the tough facade. He turned to the Other Guy.

"Listen," he said and banged his forehead with his knuckle. It gave a dull metallic thud. "Whad'ya think of that?"

"Titanium?" Asked the Other Guy, breaking the word before the second 't'.

"Indeed it is titanium." He nodded. Stared at his beer.

"Iraq?" said the Other Guy. There was a long pause into which Kimmy poured loud squeaks from her ever dryer, ever cleaner glass.

"Sir, I wish I could say that but I surely did not. Hit a tree with my head is all."

The Other Guy nodded.  He was almost bald, with an attempt at a comb-over. Perhaps he hadn't always been fully rounded but any youthful fitness had been thoroughly buried. He wheezed a little. The tops of his arms stretched the holes in his polo shirt. His neck strained the one done-up button. He wore his shirt tucked into his big belt and it spilled over the top of his big buckle in a way that was almost impressive. His belly stuck out and up, perhaps held up by muscle, or perhaps held up by several consecutive days of steak dinners. He was physically imposing, but his shoulders sagged like he was trying to duck under everyone's gaze and get to where the menu was at.

Kimmy polished a glass.

"I assume there was a windshield involved at some point?" Asked the Other Guy.

"There was a windshield. Didn't last long." Titanium man raised his fist and delicately, like a yoga move, flared out his fingers with a 'foooshhh'.

"Uhuh."

"And yes I'd had liquor before you ask."

"Wasn't gonna. Been there buddy."

"What's your name since you know mine?"

The Other Guy raised a bushy eyebrow, wrinkling a mess of corn-fed wrinkles in his own forehead.

"Arnold, since you ask."

"Bud."

"Ah, I getcha," said the Other Guy. "Bud. Buddy," he explained to Kimmy, who nodded and reached for another glass.

"Oh. Yeah I getcha," she said with a neutral, swirling ream of the bar-towel.

Bud was working his way manfully through his beer, so that by the time Arnold ordered, Bud was ready.

"Sure," said the other guy without being asked. "Get him one too Kimmy."

"You know K?" Asked Bud.

"K? We just met and she's kindly going to be bringing me steak and taters." He nodded at me. "What's he having?" 

I was saved by the arrival of my steak. It also came with a side salad bearing a bowl of blue cheese dressing balanced on top. Then came, to my amazement, a plate of steaming green vegetables"

"Them veggies will kill you fella." Said Arnold. "Hold the veggies and double the ranch, K."

"Kimmy." Said Kimmy.

"Alright then K K Kimmy. Don't burn it like his. Show it some flames till it's stopped its mooin' and started boo-hooin'."

"I gotcha." Said Kimmy.

Bud leaned in. "He's having French fries? He's not from here."

"He don't appreciate a loaded baked potato," replied Kimmy. "But I ordered him some anyway."

I raised my glass in salute.

"Drinking wine too, I see," said Bud, with a touch of contempt. "I been to England. I was in Hannover for two hours in 98. Can't say I could hear a word out of that accent."

"That happens a lot," I said and set about my steak in what I hoped passed for a manly fashion in these parts.

*

Bud turned as Arnold's steak arrived. So did two more beers.

"Thanks, Arny." He chinked their glasses together. "Did I mention I been to county?"

Arnold's fork shivered for a moment and then continued on its way. Blood ran down the tines.

"Nope." Said Arnold as he chewed. "You surely did not mention that."

"Yes sir. Can't say I deserved it but the cops had it in for me. But, well, full disclosure and all."

"Uhuh. Appreciate it."

"A year in the hospital. Another year doing rehab and they came for me when I could stand properly again."

"Tough break."

"Uhuh. Two plates in my head actually. Repair jobs on four vertibras. Ribs. All kinds of stuff. Damn near took my knee off too, but hardly noticed."

Bud stared into his puddle of suds.

"We'll take another. You want one stranger? I ain't payin for wine though."

"Thanks but I'll pass," I said. "Long day tomorrow."

"I find it helps personally," said Bud, "with the long days and all." He turned back to Arnold. "Wanna know why I went to the big house?"

"He's going to tell you anyway," said Kimmy.

"I reckon so."

"It was on account of the other person hit the tree. She didn't make it. Big tree. Little person."

Arnold's fork stopped for good this time.

"Really."

"Yeah. They said it was my fault."

"Was it?"

Bud turned toward Arnold. Arnold was taller, in fact, but Bud dominated him.

"As a matter of fact it was, truth be told. That bother you, Arnie?"

"Arnold. As a matter of fact, it does, truth be told, Bud. How small was this person?"

"Five years old."

"Five."

Kimmy picked up another glass and polished it again. It shone like silver.

"You eatin' that?" Arnold slid his plate over and Bud started to eat the steak. Blood pooled in the corner of his mouth. "Anyway, wanna know why we she's called K?" Bud paused, scanned eyes, but not Kimmy's. "It's her stage name."

Kimmy stopped polishing the glass and put both hands on the counter-top, leaning in, but not saying anything.

"Kimmy is too long to chant see? K-K-K. That was her stripper name. She had some moves I'll say that."

Arnold's gaze turned to Kimmy and took an altogether more liberal and convoluted path as he re-appraised her.

"Well that hit the spot," said Bud, "I'll get my check."

"Sure."

Facing the till, she had to cancel and correct whatever keys she was pressing a number of times. Her jaw was set, but the steely eyes weren't so steely.

Bud and Arnold left at the same time, but not together.

"Shall I get your check too?"

It didn't sound like a question.

"Thanks, Kimmy."

She gave me a gracious, wounded smile which left me emptier than the big deserted bar.