Ever narrower now, energy building,
Sluicing water upwards, roaring over mudflats,
Through to Goole, swamping the Ouse and Trent,
Removing ten thousand years
Of post-glacial civilisation.
York and Venice cannot be saved,
By Tidal Barriers.
Profits rise with the water
Until drilling down means holding on
Against the soaring tides
And strengthening winds.
And as the storms merge,
We ask, ‘What now?’
‘In the last decade, corporate-funded right-wing think tanks who do not declare their donors have been steadily increasing their connections to the heart of government, securing more than 100 meetings with ministers. More than a dozen of their former staff have joined Boris Johnson’s government as special advisers.
‘Our investigation revealed that just five influential UK think tanks had received $9m in US ‘dark money’ in the last decade. Funders included US donors who have contributed to climate change denial groups.’
She identifies the donors as climate deniers.
It would appear, that communist philosophers such as Marx and Lenin, although rejected by modern political thinkers, are actually well respected in right-wing circles. Right wing think tanks embrace the need to increase exploitation to maintain profit return.
As capitalism finds it more difficult to turn the profit it expects, it increases the exploitation of the system. For Marx, the system was the working classes, but today the system is more widespread. Climate deniers and oil companies not playing their part in reducing global warming, car manufacturers selling products such as heavy SUVs, giving advances in technology back to the driver in increased performance, instead of reduced pollution during construction and usage etc. are part of the increased exploitation to maintain profit. Of course, working people are least protected from their excesses. The latest scandal, underreported, is the underfunding of the Environment Agency, so they don’t have the capacity to prosecute water companies poisoning our waterways.
And of course, capitalism has invented hedge funds, whose managers are little more than race-course spivs, taking bets on our livelihoods.
Marx and Keynes pointed out the need to pay workers enough to consume. Marx said capitalism would never match supply and demand well enough to create security, and would need wars to smooth booms and slumps.
Paying proper wages is old hat, now. Instead we have a credit race, where banks lend to risky clients so that they can keep spending and thereby maintain the growth percentage. When the system readjusts, the savers pay the price by facing decades of low interest rates and zero or negative standard of living shifts.
We are somewhere in the middle of such a crisis, right now.
And there is the next crisis which is an absolute taboo in right-wing circles.
2% growth now, is a much bigger number than 2% fifty years ago. Capitalism has created an unstable expanding economy which is unsustainable, so they dump climate aims. Marx’s crystal ball didn’t flag that one up, but who knew?.
Nor did Marx predict that capitalism would create dark money to influence voters in a democracy, so that they vote for their own poverty, but he didn’t live in a social democracy, so how could he know? In the 19th century, such activity wasn’t hidden.
We will see if reckless capitalists are successful in destroying the planet while creating ever harsher working conditions, but their newest tool, Boris Johnson, doesn’t have the subtlety needed to keep fooling all the people, all the time.
I occasionally get the urge to write about the environment, but get kinda tired, because of the lack of resonance, even from people on the same page as me.
Bee beauty will
Dance his ass off
So his mates fly until
They reach the blossoms' source.
Then comes nectar's drill
To burrow deep,
Copulation soon fulfilled
As pollen travels with apiforce.
We use the procreation for our will
But the inevitable dialectic
Means human greed must still
Destroy nature’s hidden resource.
Our Bee works with evolution’s skill
But Darwin didn’t foresee the hand
Dealt, by chemistry’s nanogram kill.
Yet, here there is no lover's remorse.
I have no idea what the CEO of chemical-agricultural companies and their board think and dream when they go to bed at night. They have done their job – made a pesticide to destroy all life at the bottom of the food chain and a selective herbicide to remove all the unwanted plants, commonly called weeds. But weeds are someone’s habitat, and a habitat is crucial to some food chain. Without them the birds disappear, through hunger, followed by pollinating insects and other minibeasts. One milligram of modern pesticide can render a hectare without life. Without pollinating animals, we go hungry, too.
And let the pace of global warming, be a warning. Tomorrow is today in a few hours.
Chemical-industry shareholders will then discover that you can’t eat banknotes – well, not for long.
And, I cheated in this shot. Mayo uses vast amounts of sunflower or rapeseed oil. Forget such accouterments when we have no bees to do the pollinating work.
I did this poem as a challenge, so why not post it here. Perhaps it will remind some of you, how fragile the supply chain is that we take so for granted.
She held the mirror up to check her unruly hair and then adjust it until perfectly scrambled.
‘How come I see what’s behind me, in front of the mirror?’
This had to be a defining moment in their budding relationship. He would impress her with an answer she couldn’t expect.
‘That’s why they’re called virtual rays and image. The rays forming the image, don’t exist, so neither does the image.’
‘Rays, make an image we can see, but nothing is real although we have a name for everything? I can’t get my head around that one. Are you an aberration, too?’
There it was – the smile to melt his ice cream! He, a simple teacher of physics, had been presented with the opportunity to profile his knowledge, in front of this goddess, who had admitted to only having a degree in psychology. OK! He was using knowledge from the 18th century, but he could dress it up.
‘No. An aberration is when light misbehaves such as being reflected when one expects refraction, or a lens isn’t spherical.’
‘If the medium changes density, it slows long wavelengths more, causing light to bend and split into its components, which we call a spectrum.’
‘Yer having a giraffe.’
A nice strategy there, he thought, swopping subjects, but he felt up to it.
‘That’s Darwin, biology. If food is on high trees, natural selection favours tall animals so over generations animals get taller or have more neck.’
She rounded on him, but with a big smile, said, ‘And what about psycholinguistics?’
He stuttered, then came to a flummoxed halt.
‘It is the study of what language really tells us,’ she continued, ‘and I just gained quite an insight into you, my love. Exaggerated language leads to overclaiming and spin, making it harder to evaluate. But I’ve evaluated, and God hates know-alls. Would you like to wear this mirror?’ and she stroked his lips.
Devinia, would describe herself as a country girl – horses, dogs, hunting, polo and cold showers in summer. That was her sort of thing. She was larger than life in other ways, too. No male could claim not to notice her hour-glass shape when pressured by jodhpurs and riding britches.
I made a beeline for her at the New Year’s Eve party and she turned round and talked to me. After momentary stutters I let the booze take over and was in fine wit and repartee for the rest of the evening.
Water polo being my sport, I imagined, through an alcohol haze, my heroic disportment, so said yes to her invitation to the swim the following morning, forgetting the annual event was in the sea.
There was I on Bridlington beach at 10.30, trying not to shiver in a wind straight from Norway, just in my swimmies, when she appeared in a wet suit which did more for her curves than jodhpurs.
That goddess in rubber, grabbed my blue hand and we ran into the ocean. The first splash was OK, the second shrivelled my manhood and then I lost consciousness – apparently the result of cold-water bathing while way above the legal limit.
I awoke in heaven, wrapped in a silver blanket with Devinia still holding my hand and whispering sweet nothings in my ear.
Turns out, she prefers wimps she can care for, to heroes and enjoyed rescuing me.
Of course, I missed that bit. Never mind. She has promised a rerun, without the wet suit.
I haven’t written about Cheam, my boyhood location, for some time. And then on Guy Fawkes night I remembered the following story, told me by my father. Once again, I forgot to ask about details during his life, so have filled in the missing bits with my story-telling technique.
The main protagonists are my father, centre and his uncle Ray on the right. My aunty Joan looks as though she would rather be elsewhere. Ray and my father would be about the right age for the prank. The two boys were the same age despite being uncle and nephew.
The story centres around Cheam House, owned by a the Bethel family. The park in which it once stood is still referred to as Bethel’s Park, by some people. The only available picture of the house is copyrighted so here is the picture of the gate house – still standing, and Clowance House, a dead ringer for Cheam House.
Cheam House and Clowance House must have been built by the same architect, or there was a generic design for country houses. Even the sweep of the drive is the same.
Here is my dad’s telling.
More than he wished for.
Distant owls hooted to each other. A goods train shunted, steam chuffing, then silence, but again an owl and the crack of dead wood beneath the boots of boys in short trousers, woolly socks and with muddy knees. They paused, to wait for the moon again. They were cold and tried not to shiver. A cloud retreated and the house on the slight rise, was bathed in pale blue light. The moment was theirs. The Brickfield Gang were to be first. It was a matter of honour. November 5th was just two days away and this was the first clear night. They were certain that the rival Ewell mob, the Bluegates Boys would be out, too, with their penny squibs.
Who would manage get close enough to Cheam House and shove a lighted banger through the letterbox? It was the same dare every year and as usual had started the Sunday prior to Guy Fawkes night.
The Sunday prior to Guy Fawkes night was the day in 1929 when some of the Brickfield lads were scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, and marched off to Gran’s for Sunday tea. Gran lived in Ewell, so a bus journey was involved and there was always a chance of finding a Ewell larker from the Bluegates Boys, among the tea guests.
The children remained silent over tea, but once the sandwiches were cleared, they were allowed to talk in the other room but only in hushed tones.
‘We’re doing Bethel’s House,’ a Bluegate announced in the hallway, his whisper drowned out by the droning of adults arguing about the cost of teeth.
‘You’re not! That’s our patch,’ Little Louis replied, aware that his Brickfield gang membership would be under scrutiny if he didn’t get the banger through the letterbox first. He never did work out why Cheam House and the Bethel family had become his task and his alone.
The rival gangs had this discussion every year on the weekend before the 5th, and so far, no one had got close enough to make the run up the wide pathway to the portico, held by four plain columns supporting its immense lunge over the entrance. And therein lay the rub. How to get close enough, without alarming the dogs and being seen. 3rd November 1928, both gangs had failed. There had been perfect conditions, bright moon, but the crunch of boots on the gravel had bust the plan before they were within 50 yards of the steps up to the door. The previous year they had been undone by the crackle of leaves and dead twigs when they had approached from the woods.
Little Louis had to get Bethel’s letterbox, once and for all, off the Firework night agenda and he had a plan for 1929. He knew he had to get on with it before the Bluegate Boys stole the thunder and thus allow Ray, to further sabotage his standing within the Brickfield gang. Ray was the same age as Louis but the late-arrival son of the house. Louis was the bastard interloper, with a French father and enjoyed no sympathy from his grandma.
‘We haven’t been seeing this right.’ Louis told the meeting being held in a hollow on the old brickfield.
Everyone was despondent. The last two nights had been foggy with not a breath of air, and there wouldn’t be a moon should the mist lift. Under the circumstances, with no other ideas, they had to let Louis have the floor.
‘So, what’s your plan, Lou?’ Ray, the unelected gang leader sneered. He hated Little Louis and bullied him mercilessly at home, in the tiny terrace occupied by six adults and three children. It was feral.
‘The fog is perfect,’ Louis started, trying to prevent a voice, threatening to quiver, destroy his moment. ‘And there has been no wind recently so few leaves have fallen. We can approach from the woods and we won’t need to use the pathway until we are at the door. By then the dog will be barking of course, but if no one can see us, who cares if they know we are there?’
‘They could let the dog out!’
Lou didn’t bother to dignify that objection with a reply. The gang members groaned in disbelief, but Nobby answered for him.
‘If they let the dog out, he is too old to catch us, let alone bite. He can still bark, and that he will do, but it doesn’t’ matter with Little Louis’s plan.’
‘When are you going to do it?’ Ray asked, more contrite as he sensed the support for Louis.
‘Tonight!’ was Lou’s confident response. ‘Tonight.’
Distant owls hooted to each other. A goods train shunted, steam chuffing, then silence, but again an owl, then the crack of dead wood beneath the boots of boys in short trousers, woolly socks and with muddy knees. They could just make out the shape of the illuminated Victorian bay window. The portico was invisible, but known to be to the right.
Lou moved cautiously and as expected, the dog began to bark. He didn’t wait for the others. He grabbed the banger and matches from Ray and ran at where he thought the door under the portico should be. Once at the door he had to calm his nerves and ignore the stirrings in the house. The first match worked and soon had the taper glowing. Only then did he realise that he had not one firework, but a bundle held with a piece of string. The boys cowering on the lawn could no longer see how Lou was getting on. They didn’t know how close he was to aborting as he couldn’t be sure all the bangers would go through the letterbox slit, but seconds before the first banger exploded he managed to get the bundle past the heavy brass flap protecting the hallway from the elements.
Gang members, servants nor the Bethel family and their dog expected the amplification provided by the huge brass box with a wire back, placed behind the door to catch the post. The first explosion was magnificent and there followed an even louder one. The Bluegates Boys, skulking in the woods, wondered at its magnitude. The dog fell silent, too.
Lou arrived back to where the Brickfield Gang waited and heard rousing cheers from out the foggy darkness. They had done it. 1929 would be a year to remember as long as boys threw bangers. Even adults who should have known better, silently grinned their admiration the next day.
November 3rd, 1944. A Vergeltungswaffe II whooshed off a sloped runway, somewhere in northern France. It reached an altitude of 88km within 120 seconds and then, somewhere over Epsom Downs the motor cut out. The rocket buried itself in Mrs. Bethel’s house at 3000 km/h and then exploded. Everyone was vapourised, the bricks spread over the park and only a memory remained.
The Bluegates Boys and the Brickfield Lads were men by then, men, at the front, or techies in the RAF or RN – while some like Louis, and Ray worked at J. L. Jameson in Ewell as engineers in so called ‘reserved occupations’. Letters to the front, discussions in the pub or at work, or in the air raid shelter at night made no mention of the destruction of Cheam House. There was a connection they didn’t want to recognise.
60 years later, Louis, no longer little, and comfortably retired, complained to his son about the local boys kicking the fence of his 30s semi to annoy the dog and make it bark.
‘It’s what kids do, dad’, I reminded him, ‘And less destructive than throwing a banger through a letterbox. You didn’t know there was a letter-catcher behind the door. For all you knew the house could have caught fire.’
The old man paused and reflected.
‘You are right. I still regret that night. And to think of all the places that V2 could have fallen, it landed on Cheam House, the only building for miles. After all was said and done, we got more than we wished for. And you know, Bethels would never have set the dog on a bunch of kids. They were good people.’
German beer purity laws date from the 16th century, and were needed to stop the worst abuses by brewers, who added everything in the garden and beyond, in order to get the drinkers happy, but it came with a price to drinkers’ health and eventually laws were passed in Bavaria, allowing only malted barley, hops, water and yeast to go into beer. The result is that only such pure beer can be marketed as Bier.
This was most laudable once upon a time, but centuries later we have pure tasting ‘Bier’, but pale Bier such as Pilsner, or Dortmunder taste pretty much the same throughout Germany and are boring compared to British, American, Belgian, French etc. beers. And German dark beers don’t excel in any department, either.
Of course, the German brewers are protective of their product and market aggressively in order to keep ‘beer,’ out and pretend the Reinheitsgebot (1516) is a good thing but they will lose the battle. English pubs usually have at least 6 beers on their bar, all splendid and all different, but that is poor compared to a Belgian pub, which is likely to have 60 distinctive samples. Drinkers have begun to cotton on and Craft Beer Pubs are now all the rage in Berlin.
Home and Craft Brewers are free to do as they wish – and they do. They can go for total purity, which I do with my 19th century pale ales, or go whacky with herbs, spices and other malted grains such as wheat and oats or use some unmalted grain.
Most of these would pass the purity laws in Germany, so it’s hard-hat time for the stick-in-the-mud Braumeister and his boring brews.
Try the Historical Companion to House-Brewing for a complete rundown of styles available, or Brewing Porter and Stout to get into brown beers. My favourite remains Pale Ales and India Pale Ales for the best beer flavour ever invented. All my books work on iPads, Android and Windows devices as well as Amazon Fire tablets.
Ferropolis, the steel town left to rust and remind us of our energy nemesis. Even with these monsters, the DDR couldn’t rip enough coal out the ground to meet its energy needs.
A great place for a rock concert or just to stare and wonder. Now we know that they were not just monsters in size, but also landscape vandals. However, the holes they left have filled with water and are wildlife habitats. The water-sport fans have to wait until the pits have been cleared of debris and the earth recovered.
It doesn’t matter how much evidence is presented, no one in power accepts that the world is on fire.
I was stunned by the interactive version.
The picture shows a Gulf Stream as no one wants to see it. The heat should be transported from the south to north Atlantic and warm Europe. Without this process, the UK will have a Canadian climate. We are disturbing the natural convection currents, by melting cold fresh arctic ice, which dilutes the salt water. Therefore, it no longer sinks and cannot return as cold water to the Gulf. The south Atlantic water can only lose its heat to the atmosphere, exacerbating the the effect of hot air rising off the south Atlantic. The storms get fiercer and Europe cools.
More staggering is the complacency. The New York Times and Washington Post rightly gave acres of space to Hurricane Ida and its causes. Not one mention (that I could find) of the Gulf Stream breaking down. After New York flooded, the State Governor Kathy Hochul, made all the right noises about protecting life and property, but thinks the key is to change infrastructure, not address the root of the problem.
Not even a Hurricane with winds of over 200 km/h can knock heads together.
We have all heard the song, A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square. I had heard that nightingales have now colonised Berlin, although in our square behind the splendid turn of the century front, I have rarely heard a nightingale. However, woodpeckers, flocks of sparrows and starlings, various tits and finches, crows, (including jackdaws) and at least one owl have made themselves at home in our 50m x 100m oblong.
They are helped by the fact that no predator has easy access – not even cats and foxes – and vital is the casual garden architecture adopted by the various condominiums which make up the oblong.
What do the birds live from? The owl has no problem finding rats – this is a big city and only after years of defence building can we keep them out our cellars. The sparrows and starlings manage to find enough seed material from the grass etc. and the woodpecker enjoys devastating the fat-balls put out for the tits and finches. Woody woodpecker usually gets through one in around half a minute. It’s quite spectacular.
The crows remain a mystery, but I assume they are casual visitors and find their food elsewhere – only dropping in for visits. There is plenty of pickings from the fast-food joints on the T-Damm. They also have the run of the green strips between the dual carriageway outside our house.
It’s probably not such a big contribution that we are making, but it shows that these animals are adapting and will use whatever is around, to survive. In my 1966 edition of the Observers Book of Birds, jackdaws were only to be found on cliffs in Scotland. I doubt that was ever true but –
knock yourselves out, homo sapiens. There are plenty out there waiting to take over from your folly.
An author likes to have a project on the go, which isn’t always easy due to the vagaries of inspiration. In such circumstances I look back through some photos and choose one to write about. After all, the act of making a photograph is, in itself a mindful act.
I spotted this amazing woman, in Berlin, as a graffiti and thought, she has to be worth a book cover, so I sat down and wrote a novel about her. She seems a totally free spirit and so is her alter ego, Connie Grimshaw, the heroine of Goddesses. Look carefully and you will see graffiti-woman is holding an enormous knife although she doesn’t appear to be ready to use it in any violent way. Perhaps she is mocking me, looking at her. Who is in the zoo here? She, or is it me and she is the observer?
The heroines of my novels enjoy payback moments, but are not in any way haters of men, just haters of bad men. Connie discovers unconstrained sex in my story, which I believe is something we all dream of achieving whilst knowing, it isn’t going to happen.
I have recycled graffiti-woman in my forthcoming book on public artworks in Berlin. I photograph and then complete my study the work by writing a Haiku. I stick to the traditional form of 5:7:5 syllables per line, with a twist to the last line, but accept this is unnecessary in our modern days of rejecting strict form.
I intend to share pictures and their haiku with the reader and encourage them to come up with their own, using my picture or one of their own.
So, this what I think of that amazing woman, looking down at me from a railway bridge is thinking. She has achieved Connie’s abandonment to her libido and I give graffiti-woman Connie’s power. That leaves me the poor sucker dreaming of their abandonment and so envious of these two free spirits.
Easy-Vamp views us, Relics from the uptight zoo, Through impassive eyes.
I had a go at a German version.
Leichtes Mädchen guckt Verstört wir, die verklemmten Zoobewohner an.
Since then, the unknown artist has added another, so more work for me to do.
Writing expressionist novels leads me inevitably to write mindful literature. The technique of exaggerating the observed in order to explore its forces, forces me to create situations in which every human emotion is examined. This includes the fears and loves of the reader.
The chapter in The Last Stop where Jack and Maria dispose of the body, has caused many to lay the novel to one side. It was simply too exciting, too erotic and too demanding. Others found it the funniest thing they have ever read. That’s mindful writing. I explore everything there is to explore, even when it hurts beyond what one can stand.
The ten pages about Felicity’s adultery is a study of human weakness, but still leaves her a heroine because we understand and love her for her fallibility. I’ve been told it is a tour de force and probably the best thing I have written.
This is Mindfulness in Modern Literature.
Give the free pages a try. Put Clive La Pensee into your Amazon search and stop at The Last Stop. See if you can stand the Sturm und Drang of a Berlin novel about Mindful Crime.
The portrait below is of Mary Elwell and was executed by her husband, Fred. It reveals a wistful wife, thinking thoughts Fred must have wished he hadn’t captured. This time it’s not me being mindful, but Mary!
Mindfulness not only comes in useful to determine what we thought at the moment, but eighty words might reveal what the model was thinking. Who knows?
Damned artists! I sit here, in the altogether, pretending to be a wronged goddess. Thank goodness he agreed to put in the animal parts, later. The smell was something awful. And apparently, some prat will sit at my left foot, playing the lyre, all in the name of socialist art. How does that work?
He pays by the hour, and it covers my bills for the week. That just about sums it up.
Exhibition of DDR art. Gallery Barbarini -Potsdam.
Get mindful. Appreciate things around you more by writing 100 words about your first impression.
That hat, tilted jauntily forward, to say, ‘I’m something special.’ But only because of the silver spoon you were born with, tucked safely now between those carefully rouged, but too severe for comfort, lips. And those hands, pushing the book’s wisdom away with their dismissive stance, but eyes still searching for some meaning to the day. Your children will pay for your ambition. You will suffer from self-pity and too much cake, because that is the destiny of your tribe.
They scratch their head. They do it when they write a plot and when they are finished and revising the plot, and when the revisions are finished and it is to be published and then, finally when it is to be sold. That’s when the scratching really begins!
Marketing is the most intractable.
You know you have written a good book, because, respected literati with no axe to grind or reason to flatter, have told you so. Besides, when you know, you know, which was basically what Romeo said to Juliet.
Look where that got them!
So how do you market this good book? How do you bring it to the public.
Give it away! It’s what people expect. No one wants to pay an artist, author, musician, games programmer, etc.
I’m giving it away on Amazon, next weekend, 3rd and 4th July. Enjoy!
Here is the summary.
A short history of anxiety
The Sixties is within living memory, but there was no internet, or mobile phone, but we had the Beatles, which was a bigger leap forward than digital connectivity. Finally, our own music! Prior to the 60s the youth were clones of their parents. They wore their type of clothes and listened to their music, watched their TV. The reason was simple. There was nothing else available to young people. Just one telephone, radio or TV available in a household and the old man decided who got to watch what or how much time could be spent on a phone system, metered by the minute. If you forgot something, you lived with it and if it were too dire, dealt with the consequences. My memory of the 60s was having a bad conscience about things I hadn’t done well enough. Teachers were abusive, you often got only one chance to ask a girl out, before contact was lost – maybe forever! She didn’t have a texting device to pick up where one had left off. Advice was scant in a world parents didn’t or wouldn’t comprehend. I can summarise the 60s with one word – angst. But it was OK. We survived, had fun, got into a pickle and got ourselves out again as this set of humorous stories illustrates.
We all do it! It takes a momentary judgement lapse and your life is in the balance.
A cautionary tale.. My angling friend hurt himself when his line snagged, he pulled, it stretched, snapped and propelled his weight thingy back at him. Lots of blood. Carp 1: David 0. He revealed his story to lessen my embarrassment, so I don’t gloat.
Forget angling. There is more than one way to be a fool.
While riding recklessly on a coastal path, County Durham way, I was snagged by a gorse, precipitated from my velo, and had my life saved by a 15 quid helmet – not a scratch on me.
Just a sunburnt nose, but that was my second idiocy.
Don’t forget, if you are cycling by the sea, it’s not your head that catches the reflected light, but your nose. Ouch! I’m home and safe now.🐧
So, if I haven’t a scratch, how do I know I would be dead, without the helmet?
I don’t remember coming off. It happened too quickly. I remember the sound of ringing in my ears as my head in a helmet made contact with a hard-baked mud ridge that had prevented my shoulder breaking the fall. That was when I knew.
I saw a bloke, cycling on his MTB, shorts, no shirt despite the wind off the sea, no gloves, helmet, sport spectacles – just shorts. He looked at me with derision and probably ate raw turnip for breakfast.
That’s life. I’m able to live with derision (because I’m alive).
The community of Clowes Memorial Methodist Church, Greenwood Ave, Hull, and Hull Civic Society, put together a calendar of events to celebrate the life and work of a charismatic missionary and preacher, who was based in Hull and from there walked many miles to deliver passionate sermons across the country.
William Clowes is one of 47 influential Primitive Methodists, who are buried in Prims Corner at the now disused, Hull General Cemetery.
For a century, until the Methodist Union (1932), Hull had a higher proportion of residents following Primitive Methodism than elsewhere in the country.
Women preachers always worked alongside men. In fact, William Clowes was invited by women to come to Hull. One of the strengths of the Prims was their acceptance of women as equals at a time when the mainstream churches resisted this.
Primitive Methodists set up Sunday schools and generally promoted education among the poorer population, looked after the sick and were instrumental in encouraging workers’ representation.
Prims’ Corner has fine monuments to wealthy businessmen such as Henry Hodge, who were determined to create a better life for the poorest and needy.
Their generosity and their achievements in all areas of city life left their legacy in countless and remarkable ways.
The time line below tries to give an impression of what daily life was like for the inhabitants of rapidly changing urban areas in the North of England, during the 19th century.
Progress of Primitive Methodism in Hull –William Clowes Bi-centenary (Prims Corner at Hull General Cemetery)
Important Dates and Facts in Hull’s History
1780 – William Clowes born 12th March in Burslam, Staffordshire son of a local potter from the Wedgewood family.
1720 – Daniel Defoe commented that Hull was ‘exceedingly close built’.
1800 – William Clowes marries Eleanor (Hannah?) Rogers.
End of 18th cent. population 22,000 1778 – The docks were growing and the safe haven dock-extension to the river Hull, was the largest in England.
1804 – Clowes begins work in a new Hull pottery .
1799 – poor relief committee was set up. It was estimated that 1 in 20 were receiving poor relief.
1804 to 07 – The American evangelist, Lorenzo Dow (1777 – 1834) preached in Cheshire. Hugh Bourne and Clowes attended meetings.
Non-conformism grew – Methodism became firmly established.
1805 – 20th January. Clowes was converted. He and his wife decided to put their lives in order.
Severe overcrowding in Hull – in many residences up to 12 people from 3 families said to occupy one single room.
1807 – First Camp meeting in England on Mow Cop. Clowes assisted Bourne at the event. Some view this as the beginning of the movement.
1809 – Humber Dock opened for business. ‘The Hull Dock Company’ was established to create an entrance to the Humber.
1808 – Clowes appointed as local preacher by the Wesleyan Methodists.
1829 – Princes Dock connected the rivers Hull and Humber. Built with five million bricks from town wall.
1810 – Clowes’ name was omitted from the Methodist preachers’ plan because of his association with the Bournes.
1832 – Cholera outbreak in Hull, 270 deaths recorded largely in the North West of the City. See Cholera Monument at HGC.
1819 – 1839 For 2 decades preachers from the Hull Circuit covered more ground and secured more converts than anywhere else. (‘Fruitful Mother’)
1835 – Introduction of the New Poor Law. Policy to transfer unemployed rural workers to urban areas where there was work.
1829 – Decision made for a mission to America.
1832 – 1849 ‘heightened awareness of fragility of life’.
1830 – Total number of Prims in England estimated at 35,535, of which a third were in the Hull circuit.
1850 – Victoria Dock opened. The first on the east side at the site of the citadel.
What this time line does not show, is the industrial pollution and smoke, the squalor and the cramped conditions breeding disease.
Many agricultural workers arrived in towns and cities to find work and brought their farm animals with them.
Hull was also overcrowded with –
Irish building workers, who lived as lodgers among the local community.
Sailors from across the world, who had to wait 3 weeks while their ship unloaded, due to lack of mooring space.
Large numbers of migrants come from the European continent. Famines and political turmoil drove 2.5 million German speakers alone, to find a better life elsewhere. Most travelled via Hull to America, but a significant number stayed (e.g. Hohenreins).
In 1809, waits of 17 days for a berth were possible. Dock capacity increased during the 19th century, but this meant many months of huge building sites in the centre of the city.
2019 was the bicentenary of William Clowes and his compatriots beginning two decades of preaching across the country. The records of the men and women buried in Prims Corner should remind us that in Hull and in other Primitive Methodist communities around the world there is a history, which cannot be found in textbooks, but would bring us closer to the real past.
As Hilary Mantel says: ‘History is not the past, it is the method we have evolved of organising the past’ (1st Reith lecture 2018).
This sounds a very parochial title, but Renaissance Beverley was anything but parochial. Beverley merchants traded (and thus were influencers) across Europe – as far East as present-day Russia and south to Italy and beyond. Of course, it was two-way traffic and ideas on trade, religion and art found their way back to the north of England. We are unaware of this dialogue, because then as now, London was the hub. If you arrived by boat in London in the 16th century, you were aware of an extensive building complex with a tower, a large crane and steps down to the Thames waterfront – a complex covering 0.6 ha (1.3 acres).
Called the ‘Steelyard’, it provided living quarters, common rooms, a garden, and spacious warehouses and was inhabited by around 80 young, unmarried German merchants, who had to abide by almost monastic rules while residing there. So, this wasn’t about kings and queens or nobility, but about adventurous savvy traders and merchants. Facing the street was the ‘Rhenish Wine House,’ which was largely a courtyard and open to visitors. Nowadays this is the site of Cannon Street Tube Station in Cheapside and next door was the quarter occupied by German traders and artisans with their families. It included a ropewalk, the usual workshops and of course breweries. Cheapside comes from Old English – ceapan, to buy, itself related to the Dutch, German and Scandanavian – kopen, kaufen, köpa.
The popular ‘Rhenish Wine House’ was frequented by the important and influential residents of Tudor London including Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More. The wine was very good and the latest news from the continent were hotly debated. The Hanse merchants residing in the Steelyard were part of an influential, international and very wealthy elite, who maintained their contacts across Europe through extensive correspondence.
These letters were a vital part of the business and contained information important to Tudor politicians. They had every reason to keep up-to-date with events across the water.
Another notable visitor to the Wine House was the painter Hans Holbein the Younger. He had returned to London in 1526 from his home in Basle, because there was no work for him in Switzerland. The strict Swiss protestants rather destroyed religious images, so he set up house next door to the Steelyard in Dowgate and began to paint portraits of merchants. He also completed a mural for the main hall of the Steelyard.
This portrait of Derek Born hangs in the King’s Closet in Windsor Castle. A Cologne citizen and only 24 years of age, he supplied the King with weaponry and other military equipment from the Rhineland and exported lead from England in return. Such trade became even more important after the Northern revolt, ‘The Pilgrimage of Grace’. Henry VIII realised that he had to build an armed force, which would be under his royal command. He also feared the threat of a foreign invasion, after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the Holy Roman Emperor’s niece.
Derek Born and Hans Holbein were also frequent guests at Thomas Cromwell’s house in Austin Friars. Holbein’s portrait of his host depicts a profoundly serious, hard-working man, an image that is undoubtedly correct. However, Cromwell was also a generous host and a lover of the arts, who provided sumptuous feasts for his friends and contacts. There were imported spices and marzipan from Lübeck. If you go to Lakeland in Toll Gavel during Christmas time, you can still enjoy fine Lübeck marzipan from Niederegger.
The Lübeckers also presented him with a live elk and the merchants from Danzig (Gdansk), not to be outdone, gave him four bears, which were kept in his garden. Thomas Cromwell and aristocratic ladies enjoyed hawking. Birds for hunting were raised in Norway and imported, sitting on purpose-built poles in Hanse ships.
Hans Holbein the Younger produced many portraits of merchants at the Steelyard. He lived for a while in the More household on the recommendation of Erasmus, so he was well connected.
Portraits were fashionable in English art and Cromwell saw the painter’s potential. He suggested to the king he should employ him as one of his court painters. Holbein remained a sought after artist in London until his sudden death in 1543.
The wealthy gentlemen of the Steelyard were instrumental in negotiating the trade privileges with the monarchy, but they were by no means the only Hansards trading in England. In fact, the League’s influence extended across Northern Europe and was a major player in the economic and political development of the 13th to the 17th centuries.
Their ships, called ‘Kogges,’ sailed to most ports on the English East coast and when challenged, claimed the same advantageous conditions as their partners in London. They owned warehouses and living quarters in Hull and York and certainly were guests at Beverley Guild Hall.
By the time of Henry VIII, England produced and exported more woollen cloth than raw wool and this trade spread from Lübeck eastwards. It was conducted by Hanse merchants, known as the ‘Easterlings,’ among their English contemporaries.
Hanse trade was organised in small networks, based on family and personal relationships. Over time, this enabled their English business partners to infiltrate the Hanseatic network. Increasingly, English merchants claimed their share of this lucrative and expanding business. The Northern ports had cornered the Baltic market and since the middle of 14th century Beverley merchants travelled extensively and lived in the state of the Teutonic Order. They were initially very welcome, because many English knights fought alongside the Order during the Northern Crusades.
These burgesses were away from home for many months during the summer and some decided to live permanently abroad with their families. Like their Hanse partners, they had to stay in touch through correspondence. Their letters contained business and private news. In a medieval household, there was no separation between work and family life. A merchant’s wife was very much involved in the business, especially when the master of the house was abroad and might never come back!
Beverlonians were familiar with life in the Baltic and stayed in thriving and wealthy cities like Stralsund, Elbing (Elblag) and Danzig (Gdansk). They knew about the beautiful large houses built of stone and the splendid guild and town halls. They also must have stopped over in the large and forbidding fortresses of the Teutonic Order.
These Beverley traders received news from home and so knew that in 1520 the tower of St. Mary’s collapsed. Doubtless, the letters they sent back contained news of Martin Luther’s pamphlet titled ‘The Freedom of a Christian Man’. It was short, easy to print and to smuggle. The distribution became a lucrative business for the Hansards, many of whom had converted to Lutheranism.
Tyndale’s bible translation had already arrived from Antwerp in the same way and nobody could stop this tide of new readable material rolling off the printing presses. Inspired by their German drinking companions in the Steelyard, Luther’s words convinced several young London lawyers to convert. Amongst them was a man named William Roper, who was also a member of parliament.
He married Margaret More, Thomas More’s favourite daughter. She was one of the most learned women of her age and assisted her eminent father in his work. She was the only family member to visit him in prison after his arrest by Henry VIII.
Holbein depicts her reading a book, and in that moment, looking up at her father. If you study the painting of the Mores, it is as if she says: “I haven’t got time to sit here for hours. I have work to do!”
After their wedding, the couple lived in the More household, which meant William had to convert back to the Catholicism.
More news of upheaval came in 1525 from the Baltic. The Teutonic Order’s 37th Grand Master, Albert of Prussia, had left the Order and converted to Protestantism. It was on Luther’s advice that he secularised the former Monastic State, which emerged as the Duchy of Prussia. So, when the reconstruction of St. Mary’s began, the wealthy burgesses of Beverley had to cope with more news of tumultuous events overseas.
One place of worship for merchants was St Nicolai church in Stralsund. Nicolai is the patron saint of sailors and merchants. This building served as a church, town council chamber, as well as a reception hall for trade delegations. In its heyday, Stralsund was second only to Lübeck in the Baltic, in terms of wealth and importance. The columns in St. Nicolai still have the original paintings beneath the heads of merchants and knights. Merchant marks on the side identified the individual portrayed.
We know that during a dispute, the English merchant colony moved for a time from Gdansk to Stralsund. It is tempting to wonder if the heads of the merchants, who helped to finance the restoration after the collapse of the central tower in St. Mary’s, were inspired by what they had seen on pillars in Stralsund. Despite some original remnants of polychromy, we don’t know how the columns in St Mary’s were painted. What is clear, is that Tudor merchants proudly had their full names chiselled in stone underneath the head, not just merchant marks such as the much earlier medieval examples in Stralsund. The 600 unique wooden ceiling bosses in the church are another sign of a new age. It seems as if the carvers’ images have come out of hiding from under the medieval misericord seats and are now visible for us all to enjoy. Tudor Renaissance! A Tudor bust of Mr and Mrs Crossley (a Beverley merchant family) look down at the Holbein portraits. We might wonder if we, too, are not living through times of great change. This year the town of Beverley has joined the modern Hanseatic League!
This article was published in the Christmas edition of the parish newsletter ‘White Rabbit’. Inspired by the exhibition(1st Oct. to 31st Dec. 2020) of Tudor paintings from the National Portrait Gallery, London, it marked the 500th anniversary of the collapse of the central tower. (Reform, Rebellion, Restoration – St. Mary’s, Beverley & the Tudors).
Eva La Pensée.
Beverley and District Civic Society Beverley, January 2021
A revered childhood mentor, Mr Eveleigh, with the football team – a man who tried to get us to a guilt-free adolescence.
In my last blog I asked why authors continue to write, despite gaining so few readers. Am I sure that we have few readers? An internet search reveals that average US sales for a book, during its lifetime are around 200.
So why do we write?
Is it an ego trip, a wish to get rich, put over a point of view?
I suggested writing, along with some other art forms, is a way of working through some uncomfortable facts about oneself and shifting them to a more comfortable place in our subconscious.
So, here I go with some examples. My first choice is a woman who made millions from her writing. Enid Blyton, is the most successful children’s writer of all time, but she might have disliked children.
Children behaving as we don’t wish them to, brings out the worst in adults. I suggest that, to assuage her bad conscience, Blyton created super-hero children who were beyond reproach. Had she had the mythical offspring she created, she would have had time for them. As it was, she treated her own children with indifference, which is the most hurtful of all parental responses.
And she added a dog. Dogs are the perfect children. When you don’t want them, they can be put in a corner, or in the garden or garden shed, and when needed, will provide a cuddle on demand.
By writing about super kids, pets, trolls and characters too politically incorrect for modern-day audiences, she moved her bad conscience to her bank account. She was able to provide the very best materially for her daughters and that made up, she hoped, for her overall rejection of the child-like state she couldn’t tolerate. She employed nannies, I am sure.
I checked my assumption about Enid after I had written the above.
So Imogen substantiates my theory. Not so her older sister, who has a more benign memory of her mother.
Being an awful person isn’t all bad! Has anyone not had a Blyton moment in their childhood? Her sales of books and translations are eye-watering.
I remember my Blyton moment, and remember my primary school teacher, for whom, 50 years after his early death I still have undiluted admiration. He told us, ‘If you have to read that awful woman, don’t bring the books to school.’
Anyway, we can’t see his face, as it is well covered in a shirt and he presumably (like me) has only limited vision. That isn’t stopping him. He climbs into the fountain basin and wades trough the water, but trying to avoid the fountain. It must be an attempt at keeping dry. Can’t be done.
After two rounds of the fountain, he is soaked. At the end of his fountain odyssey he stops, and punches the water vertically – piston fashion – two or three times with his left arm which has a strange dark blue colour. I can’t identify why or what he is wearing on his arm. He then climbs from the basin and walks off, head still covered, jeans still rolled up to over his knees, as though his actions must be comprehensible to his audience. I realise the dark blue arm colour is a plaster-cast or something similar to hold a fracture firm. Perhaps the tour round the fountain gives him a few minutes relief from itching under the plaster.
‘Does he do that every evening?’ I venture to ask – she who is next to me and is no longer reading.
‘No idea. I’m not usually here,’ she answers.
‘Looks almost like a ritual,’ I risk saying.
She returns to her book. I now dare try a disruption. Her face has me so enchanted that I have to chance something.
‘What are you reading? Looks like poetry or very short stories.’
I’ve done it. Now she knows I can see nothing but shapes at one meter fifty.
She says something I don’t understand. Now she knows I don’t hear too well either. I ask for a repeat.
‘They are essays,’ she says slightly louder.
Essays. That’s not giving a lot away.
She falls back into silent reading.
I consider many times asking her to go to a nearby café and share a wine with me. I don’t do it. But I so need to sit opposite that face. It’s like an illness. I want nothing from her but to look at her face. Why don’t I just tell her that?
An old man walks round the circular perimeter path looking at all the seat dwellers. Is he a voyeur enjoying the youth making out and hoping to see a grope or two? More likely he is trying to pick someone up for the evening. He stares long at me every time he passes. If I so much as twitch, I’m sure he will approach me. It would be a disaster. Petrified sums me up.
I realise for the nth time that I have no interest in some aging gay. How dare he look at me lasciviously when I’m in the presence of a stunning woman?
It must be clear to him that I don’t, in any way, belong to the stunning woman. She is by no means beautiful but she has ‘it’, that je ne sais quoi of good years spiced with experience. She has the joy of the good times and the character building of the bad ones, lined in her face. She is so special!
He disappears behind the water cascade. A couple enter the square; I keep calling it a square but it is clearly a round. A couple enter the circus ring from stage right for that is what it has now become. He is tall and elegant but so clearly proud of his acquisition that it is tasteless. His acquisition is stunning. No. His acquisition is startling; has bodybuilder physique with such monumental pectorals that they can double as a bosom and she flaunts them as such and wears very tight trousers with slightly high-heeled sneakers at their base. The combination causes a walk like a man not used to heels and skin-tight slacks, which I deduce as they approach, is exactly what he is. I’m sure I can detect a hint of lipstick. They are so proud, one can’t be cross with their vanity. I am mesmerized by so much bad style and I fail to notice what is going on next to me.
The wind blows and the trees rustle. All other sounds are momentarily blocked out and I have looked away from her for just a minute while I consider my options and admire the audacity of the gay couple. I think of Julian Clarey. I admire him, not for his gay send-up comedy, but for his outrageousness. What courage? And while I’m thinking that, under the cover of the rustle, she has got up and walked away, with a cute and provocative ‘bye’.
I just manage to return her farewell before she is out of earshot and the face has gone forever. Run after her!
For Christ sake. At my age? What do I have to offer her? It would be an insult to try to get closer to my goddess. Get old gracefully with the proven woman, whom you love to bits and give up on pipe dreams. You wanted nothing from her. If she had gone along with an adventure, it would have been out of economic necessity. The world is full of women who have given their life for a cause – man or family or both – and end middle-aged paupers. It would be disingenuous to pretend I can be anything to her. I once had a colleague who screwed his way round the Balkan states, promising to take young women from their destitution and then moving on before they had time to get their side of the deal. He was very tall so he got his comeuppance. All the bed-work played havoc with his back and he died well short of sixty. I know not from what; shame I hope! Or perhaps a cousin or brother of one of the cuckolded women caught up with him. I warned him that they settle scores in Slovenia differently to us.
The fountain suddenly stops. The quiet is awesome. I leave.
On the way home I find myself cycling behind a girl, maybe eighteen. She has chosen very tight slacks for the evening and knows her backside is a treat for an old man in a dry month. She can’t carry it off. Her body language reveals serious embarrassment. Why wear them if you feel awkward? I accelerate even though I am tired, just to put her out of her misery. She drops a long way behind.
Although we are on the four-lane Sachsen Damm, it is lonely and troubling in the twilight. The cycle path is far from the road and the cars move quickly. To the right is a deep cutting, hiding part of a motorway junction and to the left, businesses, long shut up for the night. No one would have seen or heard a predatory attack. Perhaps she is more scared than embarrassed. I’m suddenly glad I made the effort to overtake her. She’s scared? – I’m scared! Thinking of predatory attacks has made me realise that I’ve been foolish, and unlike the girl with the nice arse, my danger could have easily been avoided by taking keys to the main entrance of my apartment block. On my way out the house, I noticed the bicycle exit from the building had been used by junkies to prepare their fix. The tell-tale squares of charred aluminium foil were around the door. I only have a key to the bicycle cellar entrance. What do I do if a half dozen crazed crack buddies are shooting up in the lonely bicycle cellar when I arrive? I certainly won’t try to get by them, because once on the wrong side there is no quick exit from the other end. I could be overpowered and robbed in seconds and no one would hear. And why wouldn’t they attack and rob me? To them, I have everything.
Just like the young woman with the cute butt, I worry about nothing. There is no one waiting to rob me.
Fear of crime can be worse than the crime. Fear of sexual orientation is always worse than reality.
I believe a hero/heroine should have the same set. That’s what liberation is about!
Do male writers have a harder time creating a super heroine? Is it more difficult than a woman creating a super male?
This conflict for male writers has been simmering for decades, but popped recently when the long-overdue #metoo campaign took off.
The problem is much older and broader than #metoo. And because of #metoo, genuine women’s lib blokes get in an internal turmoil about tacking the topic. What right do I have to right about women in the first person?
Despite these fears, I ignored the reasons why I shouldn’t write a super heroine, and as I constructed my three superwomen, I gave them common attributes.
Sense of the ridiculous
Of course, there was more to their characters. They need to
Empathise with those not so strong
In fact, all the attributes one would want in any man or woman, who one wants to love.
Fallibility, is often the most interesting to write, because that is the thing with which we can most easily identify. Jane Austen knew that truth and used it perfectly.
For my Berlin novel, The Last Stop, I let Maria be Polish and then I can take the liberty of letting her heart rule her head. It is a weakness, but is a paradox – a weakness that gives her strength. Here is the jacket summary.
Maria, an innocent from Poland, is caught in the Berlin underworld. To survive, she must learn to fight back. Maria recruits Jack, the artless retired tax inspector, to help her in this mission. Which is great, until he’s arrested for murder.
Jack’s wife, Felicity, is otherwise busy while Jack is on ‘holiday in Berlin. Realising all is not well, she journeys to be with him. And that’s where it all goes wrong.
Her life is now in danger – and it’s all Jack’s fault. He needs to rescue his wife, save his marriage, get Maria back safely to Poland and make certain he isn’t killed by the people out to kill her.
Someone Tell Me What Is Going On, Millie has desperately poor sight. She doesn’t know what she looks like, because if she removes her specs, she can’t see herself. She thinks of herself as a bit of a vamp, and assumes others see her the same way.
The jacket summary gives some clues.
Every novel needs a turning point. This one will stun you!
Mystery, comedy, suspense. Mendacity, murder and lots of love. When 19-year-old waitress Millie takes a summer job as companion to wealthy Lady Vera Ashington at her Suffolk stately home, she has no idea that a mystery will unfold which puts her own life and her family’s business at risk. Unexplained deaths will test her morality. Can the end ever justify the means? Lady Ashington (Vera) fears a breakdown due to personal regrets. She has one last go at seeking long-term happiness. Having taken Millie as a companion, the two women become friends and enjoy arguing about Vera’s wealth and her inability to use it wisely. ‘Too much cake’ is the problem. Millie employs strategies to empower Vera. She keeps a first person diary, and includes Vera’s viewpoint. This diary is the novel. It tells how the talents of two very different women, when harnessed, seem to move mountains.
Vera’s huge local influence means she can always fix things, but finds that fixes mean there is always a loser. Millie had not appreciated this and as she empowers Vera, she finds conflicts mounting. Eventually, conflicts lead to disasters, but Millie keeps faith with Lady Ashington. She believes in her good intentions, but her doubts grow.
Millie’s diary reveals her viewpoint, how things appear to her sister (12) and her father. She provides an interpretation of Vera actions and excuses. Above all, the life of an Oxbidge working-class girl, who unexpectedly finds herself sitting at the big table, is analysed. ‘Someone tell me what is going on!’ She shouts in exasperation.
And games. Vera loves games. Millie loves inventing them for her friend. Love and fun result.
The diary runs for three weeks, skips a month and then skips nearly a year, to provide a resolution to events.
My heroine in Goddesses becomes addicted to risky sex and gets in a pickle.
Goddesses or 49½ shades of charcoal, is a fitting riposte to the misogyny and cliché of much BDSM literature and is delivered through the chaos of one Connie Grimshaw, a successful business woman in an international consultancy agency. She has worked hard and ignored her emotional needs. One day, on a business trip, she realises the cost of her repressed attitude to sex. Her PA (Dee) recommends she models herself on the pagan goddesses, lives by their rules and develops the vamp in herself. The Goddesses help to rationalise her lascivious behaviour, but don’t stop her getting into hilarious, embarrassing and sometimes, dangerous situations. But there are forces at work, which see the opportunity to make money through mismanagement of Connie’s feelings. Can she defeat the bad boys?
Connie uses the myth of ancient female goddesses to guide her through her emergence as a sexual being, but they make her reckless and the risks mount.
Faced with identity ruin, loss of prestige and employment issues, she enlists the help of Abe, the bored insurance assessor. A trip to Baltimore flushes out the enemy – a man obsessed with charcoal décor, to hide the blood.
He reveals her betrayal by friends and lovers past. He says she is powerless, and is in his hands, but she has other ideas. The fightback begins.
All these women have a steady Eddie around to keep them out of trouble, or, as a last resort, get them out of the stew they are already in. We know that these power women would have managed without the bloke, but a love interest always helps a story go round.
The only heroine to have met resistance from women readers is Connie Grimshaw, in Goddesses. Do women hate her because she has thoughts, no woman would entertain, or because women find her behaviour unacceptable but just a little bit attractive.
They are not telling me. But you can! I will publish the complete chapter on Connie and her lover, trying to work through Beardsley’s Venus and Tannhäuser. Watch this space.
Top reviews from United Kingdom
Richard W Baker4.0 out of 5 stars A stage play methinks. Reviewed in the United Kingdom Verified PurchaseGet on board with a feast of real life characters as they courageously slalom through Berlin leaving a trail of blood. This is a modern day glimpse of corrupt, drug inspired prostitution set against the backdrop of people trafficking. Read it if only to experience the sights, sounds and odour of Berlin street life. Terrific appeal from a virgin novelist.
The usual suspects from the English Department
Assemble, Levitically, as romantic as Monday morning.
Late, crusty defensive years and ears hear
Sunny but arid words.
Brynmor evenings thwart noon’s thirst for torpor,
But siestas can be a moveable feasts.
Midday slumbers threaten the evening air.
Gangs of knowing smiles
Show pinched appreciation
And uncertain comprehension
But precise applause -
Just in case.
The Token Foreigner
Kim stood with her notes
Her voice sang remote sounds
About a blade which came and went,
Its long profile accumulating perspectives.
And then she praised a disabled artist
Pushing air onto paper,
Thus seeking a colour to define
The hands he had been painting?
For some reason it didn’t matter
If one accidentally cut off the toad’s leg.
2017, year of culture, had been honoured
And then put to bed.
What a relief!
And a special mention for Matthew,
The Hull poet we had understood.
He was urged not to apologise.
Performance poetry has its place – apparently.
I first heard the term ‘Women’s lib,’ sometime in the late 60s or early 70s. At the time we dreamt of men becoming more like women and to a certain extent, some men have softened their approach. It was never going to be enough to make a difference and so the outcome is understandable, but I don’t think anyone expected women to become more like men. E.g. Play rugby, football or cricket, box or wrestle.
OK! I can see it is right to enjoy team sports but I would have preferred men to abstain from boxing, rather than women participate, but that is just an opinion and very few women wreck their health by boxing.
So, I’m gong to make two contributions to World Women’s Day. Here is the first. Is misogyny OK if women indulge themselves?
Damp Patches, Highsmith and Misogyny.
Two female authors revelled in hating their own sex. I’ve just finished Little Tales of Misogyny, by Patricia Highsmith, and Girl Friday, by Charlotte Roche. The original German title is Ein Mädchen für Alles. There is the first fascinating conundrum. Charlotte Roche has a British passport, because her parents were both British citizens. Charlotte lived in Germany from her infancy. Hence her first language is German, her three novels are written in German, but the German press and reviewers always refer to her as an English authoress. Is the reason for this odd definition that she is the author to hate and one doesn’t want to own up to her?
Her first two novels received disgusting reviews from scandalised literati, became best sellers and have been made into films. They have also been translated. Feuchtgebiete appeared in English as Wetlands, which is a cop-out. OK. It is a correct translation, but Damp Patches would be better. Anyone and everyone who has read the book understands that Wetlands, refer to a woman’s damp areas. Her second novel appeared in German as Schoβgebete – translated as Wrecked. That’s kinda OK as a part of the novel is autobiographical and refers to the death of her brothers in a car accident, on their way to Charlotte’s wedding, but it isn’t a translation. The other sentiment in the story is about coming to terms with sexual relationships post accident. Schoβgebete – Prayers from the lap? Does it for me! It’s a correct translation and conveys the message.
Why are her novels so hated and so widely read? She tells it how it is to be woman, who has had a screwed up childhood and is now trying to deal with a decent portion of self-hate. She leaves nothing out in her study of the female anatomy and psyche. I now know what it means, as a woman, to have wet areas.
The critiques for her third novel, were so awful, I refused to part up with €16 in a bookshop. Within six months of publication, I found a second hand copy on ebay.de for €3.50 including postage to the UK. It had never been read. The critics have won. It won’t be translated into English and won’t become a film. It is powerfully misogynistic, and blokes don’t do too well either. I’m glad I read it, because I can’t imagine she has another novel in her after that final chapter! I would so like to meet this woman.
Alongside Charlotte Roche, I read Patricia Highsmith’s Little Misogynistic Tales. They are gems of short fiction, but take every stereotype of female nastiness, amplify it and serve it up cold and indigestible. Edna is about a mother/mother-in-law, living with her son and his wife. This so reminded me of my own fraught relationship with my mother in the months before she died. Men get fat and lazy in old age. That can be annoying, but is better than wanting to run people’s lives under the pretence of being useful. While minding her own business, Edna takes over the house and the lives of her son and daughter-in-law.
In these stories, Highsmith takes every facet of the female psyche and gives it back with a hateful twist. She chose the title and the stories are misogynistic. Do such women, as she describes, exist? How would I know? All I can say is, I’ve never met them – or have I?
In order to understand where Highsmith and Roche were coming from, I looked up their biographies. Like Roche, Highsmith was brought up by dysfunctional parents, who failed to put the needs of their child, before their own. Most people involved in pedagogy agree, it doesn’t matter how you bring up your children, so long as you have thought about your system and it has the interests of the child as a priority. I suppose the corollary is – anti-authoritarian or the odd thrashing – it doesn’t matter, so long as the parents care enough to make the effort. One says that the difference between a successful school career and dropping out with no qualifications, is a five-minute chat with a parent every day, about what happened at school. Take those headphones off mums and dads and turn off the phone when walking your little ones to and from school. Otherwise your children might become novelists!
Highsmith never stopped hating. She became a brilliant writer, but couldn’t conquer her demons. Roche still has time to let go, unless her writing is therapy. She describes a bowel movement as a metaphor for getting rid of her anger. Her metaphors are the reason the critics hate her. Chapter 17 of Ein Mädchen für Alles by Roche (Girl Friday), is a red flag to nice middle-class critics with a degree in creative writing, who never got beyond page 3 of their own novel, but now have a cushy number trashing the novels of others. They would say, ‘Nice people don’t write like that!’
Highsmith is cleverer, or more skilful. Her stories are gems. She has the drop on the critics. She has them running scared.
This blog was first published for the last International Women’s Day in 2016 by New London Writers.
Ask ten brewers how to brew beer and geteleven opinions.
Ask ten brewers – get eleven opinions. As a brewer and a writer and a one-time writer on brewing, I have always been fascinated by the truth of this brewers’ paradigm. More interesting is applying the idea to other creative areas, such as writing and publishing.
I think most writers do as I do. We get an idea onto paper anywhichway and worry about the content, style, grammar, syntax and spelling, during the editing stage. Ask ten writers then, you should get one answer. Not so! Apparently there is another way. Thomas Mann, so the story goes, sat every day with a fresh sheet of writing paper, and hand wrote a page, and didn’t cease toiling until he thought his labours had produced the perfect 200 words. His wife then typed and looked after his six children. She ended in a sanatorium in Davos, suffering from exhaustion. He visited her and had the idea for his greatest work, Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). It is among the greatest works of world literature (according to a Channel 4 documentary). Proust, Kafka, Conrad and Dostoevsky were the other runners and riders.
My copy of the Magic Mountain is 1002 pages long and each page is around two sides of hand written text. That means it took him 5 years 5 months to write, which isn’t that bad. Many of us have been hacking around on novels, much shorter in words and for longer in time.
Mann started the novel in 1912, finished in 1924, but added nothing to it during WW1. After the war he revisited, rethought and rewrote the whole project. In that time (6 years) it grew from a novella, much in the style of Death in Venice, to the monster it now is. His wife typed and provided the cash for his lifestyle.
My copy has been out of reach on the top shelf since 2000. I can be sure, because I used a post card as a bookmark and can still read the date on it. The post card was last inserted on page 380 – where I gave up. Mann said that any prospective reader should be prepared to read it twice so I have 1624 pages still to do. I read on a little, from where I stopped. My translation – Then death was just the logical negation of life; between life and barren nature was a gaping abyss, which research tried unsuccessfully to bridge. I’m amazed I got that far before throwing in the towel. I’m equally amazed men and women faced the task of translating his beautiful German it into every major language.
The truth is, I started reading it because of the Channel 4 documentary and everything else of Mann’s I’ve read is a breeze and pure genius. The Buddenbrooks – read twice and the film once and the same for Death in Venice – pure delight. What went wrong with Der Zauberberg for me? Simple. It’s too clever for mere mortals. In one volume he redefined sickness and health, time and place, and everything and anything else we can think of. A sanatorium up a mountain is the setting, and is the perfect place to do this. It is full of sick, educated people, hanging on, loads of money, unlikely to recover, trying to make sense of their mortality, but each with their own little bit of worldly wisdom and philosophy, which they have time to impart to their companions.
In the story, Castorp goes to the mountain to spend a few weeks. The doctors find an ill-defined murmur and convince him to stay – years. He loses touch with time, space and reality, except once, when caught in a snowstorm. The book is about the ideas with which Castorp – the main protagonist – is bombarded. Maybe he was a metaphor for the millions bombarded on the battlefields of Flanders, a bombardment which changed our world view forever and is discussed by the patients on the Magic Mountain. Germans discuss things to death.
Back to brewing – Castorp’s first concern when arriving at the sanatorium was whether Porter was available on the Zauberberg.
Woolf to the Rescue
Is Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway an English equivalent? The British don’t bombard with ideas. They slap make-up on uncomfortable truths and hope they stay out of sight. No such luck with Woolf! Reading Mrs. Dalloway is like hiking with a pesky stone in the shoe. You keep shoving it out the way, into some remote shoe corner, certain it will return to remind us of its presence in the most inconvenient way.
How did Woolf write? Not like Mann! I believe she used her illness to propel her writing, because writing can be so cathartic when the blues set in. When she knew a final bout of depression could not be avoided, she took her own life, to protect her family. I imagine she poured her emotions into her writing, whenever she was strong enough and in so doing, kept her demons at bay.
She has one similarity with Mann. Her husband Leonard, devoted himself to her literary success, as convinced of her genius as Katia Mann was of Thomas’s.
Too many words.
In our digital age we are producing words faster than ever, and no one uses pen and paper nor sits every morning until they have a perfect page. And the influence of conflict? Which post war? I am asking which proxy war in the 21st century shall we put as our datum point? Who will produce the piece of literature to define these decades, and if someone does, who will publish it?
Would anyone try to read it? We shall never know.
If ten brewers are worth eleven opinions then a hundred publishers will provide just one.
Risk has become a four letter word.
And I doubt Mrs. Dalloway drank beer. She was definitely a Champagne or Mosel wine person.
Thomas Mann lived for a while in Nidden, then East Prussia, now Lithuania. That is further east than Pomerania, once Prussia, now Poland and the birthplace of the super-heroine of my new novel, The Last Stop – A novel about the Berlin Sex Industry and one woman’s fight back. Available on Amazon.
The Ring Cycle, – full name ‘the Ring of the Nibelungen,’ finished its Gateshead run and made that night in 2016, one to remember. Sixteen hours of drama spread over four nights, two long intervals each night – about a day of your life. I have no idea what decent seats cost, but as the whole shebang demands a massive orchestra, a team of top singers in their prime, vast stage settings and a conductor who doesn’t get out of bed for less than a year’s average income, they can’t have been cheap. Yet they were sold out for all locations around the UK, months in advance. Had I got myself turned around to get tickets, including hotel and restaurants, I would have allowed at least £1000 for the week.
And I just did it again. Radio 3 from the Royal Opera House in London, four nights and my poor neighbours must be glad it is finished.
ROH did the full stage version, but I had to imagine that bit, as a radio listener. And that is the beauty of radio – I had my interpretation, not that of the opera company. The usual portrayal uses clichéd Arthurian rubbish, so I took the text on my iPad and scrolled through the nights of gods, goddesses, dwarves and giants, maidens and crooks, love and deception with not a hint of stage kitsch in my mind’s eye.
Opera North cut corners. Why not? They used modern projection technology to save themselves the expense of the sets Wagner demanded at Bayreuth – his purpose-built theatre in Bavaria. Wagner imagined the orchestra hidden in a pit. Opera North had it on stage, in full view. This improves the acoustics and the entertainment value, as there is never a dull moment for the players. And Bayreuth needs knocking down. I watched a live-stream of Tristan and Isolde from Bayreuth in 2015. Temperatures inside the theatre were in excess of 40oC. I was in an air-conditioned cinema on the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, and at €20 my seat was a twentieth of a Bayreuth wooden bench. The announcer in Bayreuth assured us, performers have died on stage in the heat, and some listeners have failed to see the end, despite the ticket cost. He went off to wring himself out.
Cost and comfort apart, there are other reasons not to buy a seat for Wagner. Opera, generally, is the barmiest art form ever! You need subtitles. No one can understand the singer. The language, usually German or Italian, is too distorted by the musical demands. Does one need to understand? Opera plots are sometimes non-existent. Where they do exist, they can be incomprehensible and if they make sense, predictable. Nevertheless, when an opera production works, it is one of the greatest of experiences, but that won’t be down to the plot! German opera-goers have a stanza to summarise.
First act – they don’t want to. Second act – now they do want to, but can’t. Final act – now they do want to and can, so do, after all.
Not so Wagner. He uses multi-layered plots in which you discover something new each listening. After decades, I begin to get them. Books have been written on books about Wagner, some using Jungian psychology to analyse the plot – especially the Ring.
Are Wagner’s plots stupid? I can’t say, but they are original, contain philosophy, wisdom, the development of capitalist production, love, hate, incest, dwarfs, giants, mermaids and a monster, but above all – amazing, and at times, very loud music. He invented the cadence which brought tears to our eyes, the first time we saw ET. His most famous tune is the Ride of the Valkyries, usually played as an orchestral version or ring tone. In the theatre, the Ride, is fortified with Brünnhilde and her sisters, who boast the ultimate octet of girls’ names. (Helmwige, Gerhilde, Ortlinde, Waltraute, Siegrune, Grimgerde, Schwertleite). The sisters need massive voices, able to shatter glass at fifty metres and all shriek in fear as Wotan approaches. They have to drown out a hundred-piece band with horns, Wagner tubas and trombones a plenty. Magnificent mayhem. After the ear-bashing Wotan received from her indoors, in the previous act, for allowing twins to procreate, in order to get the hero he needs, to undo all his daft actions, this is the ultimate stage domestic. Fantastic fur-flying fun – unless you are Brünnhilde, who unfairly gets the blame for everything. The final act of the Valkyries is the most delicate farewell between Wotan and Brünnhilde – father and favourite daughter, who must be separated, to appease moral decency in a hypocritical world. It is rated as Wagner’s most successful attempt at the ‘total artwork’. He wrote the librettos, in amazing poetry, the music, created the drama and designed the visual experience. His notes on the sets are precise and unacceptable! The prelude demands Rhein maidens swimming – and singing – at the bottom of the River. The final moment of Twilight of the Gods, 16 hours later, has Walhalla, the castle built for fallen heroes, going up in flames. There are minor demands between the two – a mighty dragon slayed by Siegfried, and a subterranean workshop, into which Wotan and Loge descend, while eighteen anvils are beaten on stage in time with the music. Somewhere in the middle, Wotan summons Loge to surround Brünnhilde with fire, so that only a hero can claim her. There is a hunt scene during which Siegfried is assassinated, the famous Ride of the Valkyries, where Brünnhilde and her sisters arrive on horseback at a craggy mountain top, as well as a fight scene between two giants, one killing the other. I assume Wagner told his set designers, ‘Don’t bore me with problems – I only want solutions.’ Who paid for it all, is another story.
The New York Met created a computer-controlled mountain out of slabs that could slide into different craggy shapes. The burbling brook was a step too far. They used projection. Who can blame them?
What about Hitler and Wagner? He claimed to love Wagner, but didn’t get it. Even a man as obtuse as Hitler realised the parallels between Walhalla (the castle for fallen heroes) going up in flames, at the end of the Twilight of the Gods, and the demise of the Third Reich. The Ring lost its charm for the fascists as the truth in Wagner’s dramatic thread, dawned on them – the bad boys always get their comeuppance, but many will suffer on the way.
Wotan, the boss-god, was the ultimate wide-boy, who loses some godly power every time he does a dodgy deal. His misdeeds are notched into his staff as a reminder of how much he owes, and how much power he had gambled away. But Wotan still has Siegfried, born out of incest, and raised as the ultimate hero, but innocent of emotion and fear. A beautiful contradiction, enjoyed by Wagner – hero and fool in one personality. Siegfried is to put right Wotan’s recklessness and save the Gods. He has the love of a good woman, his mentor and aunt, Brünnhilde, but he betrays her through naivety. Brünnhilde takes revenge for her treatment, burns the house down and destroys the gods. The Ring, all four nights, can be summarised with ‘cheats never prosper and don’t cheat on a good woman’!
Why then, was Hitler besotted? Wagner did himself no favours by writing anti-Semitic pamphlets. His only hope was that his outpourings were such garbage, no one bothered with them. But for the National Socialists, they would be long forgotten for the nonsense they are. Why did Wagner do it? No one knows. It is unlikely he was anti-Semitic as so many of his friends, sponsors, mentors, and promoters were Jewish – Mendelssohn the best known. We do know he was furious at his lack of success in Paris – the art-centre of Europe. His competitor, Meyerbeer, was however, the darling of the Paris opera and a Jew. Was it envy, spite, intrigue against the opposition? Who knows? No one says a genius has to be a nice person. Meyerbeer’s operas have disappeared in the mists of time. Wagner goes from strength to strength, but we could have done without his racial rants.
Wagner’s other problem with Hitler was not of his making. Wagner’s Germany was held back in every walk of life, by its fragmentation. Operas such as Lohengrin and Die Meistersinger, contain references to the need for a strong, unified German state and identity. Such messages are carried by heroic tunes and singing. Enter over a half century later, the National Socialists. They misappropriated Wagner’s sentiment in a way he couldn’t have foreseen. The NS interpretation would have horrified a man who risked his life on the Dresden barricades during the 1848 uprising.
The final reason to avoid Wagner is the length. My first Parsifal involved me arriving in the Liverpool Empire at three in the afternoon, and leaving at eleven. That included a pre-performance talk and two long intervals with space provided for a picnic. I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew, especially as act one is over two hours. Time flew by! Wagner has many acts of that length. I’ve never been bored, (but I’ve never sat on a wooden bench in Bayreuth at 40 degrees. Nor will I!)
On that Liverpool visit, I kept quiet about having travelled the length of the M62 for the occasion, only to find the woman to my left had flown in from New York, where she had been listening to – Wagner, at the Met. That was when I learnt how obsessive one becomes about his music. The Liebestod, frequently gets outings on Radio 3 and I find it impossible to ignore. Turn it off or sit down and listen – there is nothing in between.
Leeds based Opera North started the cycle in their hometown, in their grand, refurbished opera house. They finished on Tyneside. The critics haven’t ceased praising them for managing this momentous artistic achievement. Normally, such a regional company, devoid of the pickings of London theatres, would steer clear. They worked up the Ring over four years, producing an opera a year. That night in Gateshead, was the culmination of all four, performed on consecutive nights, as intended.
The art world is ecstatic about Opera North’s production. Tyneside is not known for losing its cool, but the auditorium went mad – four times – on four nights, clapping, cheering, whistling, and stamping, until Radio 3 faded the noise. The ROH received the same response. Then the announcer had to do the impossible – read the cast list with a steady voice. At least he wasn’t in tears, which was audible at the end of a Tristan und Isolde relay, I once heard, from ENO.
Nevertheless, this was an emotional moment on an unforgettable night – the night when it finally came to an end with Brünnhilde’s immolation. With that act, she avenges treachery and brings the down the gods – forever removing their power
This is quite a controversial title, but I don’t expect to get sued.
I’ve just seen an advert on Instagram for an IPA (India pale ale), which showed a picture of a brown beer.
I’ve seen a stout with an OG of 1040.
I have bought a porter, so sweet one couldn’t taste the hops.
So that’s my defence.
These are just the brewery sins that come to mind, sitting over a PC, but as we all recognise marketing hype, we probably were not deceived, (unless we didn’t know better).
There is nothing wrong with brewing beers to fill a consumer demand, but I don’t approve of abusing historical fact, to gain a dodgy marketing edge.
Pale Ale should use white malt, finished at a low temperature. The only commercial malt, which is pale enough, is lager malt and that is still too dark.
Stout should need only a few grams of hops, because the malt is so dark it yields its own bittering. So how can one sell a sweet one?
And then there are the con-artists marketing beer in clear glass bottles, because it looks pretty. You might have observed that it sometimes doesn’t keep and soon tastes medicinal. It’s called skunking. A complex reaction between hop bittering and yeast in the presence of supermarket lighting, can produce sulphur compounds, called mercaptans, renowned for their evil ways. Our taste buds can detect them in ppm.
As craft brewers, we can get round these problems, but if you want a genuine pale ale, you might need to start malting. Soak the barley, allow to germinate, halt growth by drying and finally, finish off at a temperature chosen for the malt you need for your target beer.
Read my blog – Malt Like and Egyptian and you will understand the delight of going back to where our hobby began. Furthermore, malting grain is good fun and if you can control the finishing temperatures in your oven, then a spot-on historical malt will allow a genuine Munich Bock Bier for example, to come out your brewhouse.
‘History is more or less, bunk,’ claimed Henry Ford. ‘We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present.’
We all have an agenda, and Henry Ford’s was not to go back to the horse and cart. As brewers, we might want to see things differently. The best beers ever were brewed 200 years ago in places like Edinburgh and Munich, Madrid and Marseille, so for brewers, there is a fascination in looking back.
So, Malt like an Egyptian. Make craftbrew buzz again, as never before.
We should remember that our brewing hobby could go back more than 5000 years. Who can be sure? We do know the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians were great brewers. How did they know how to malt barley? How did they know that mashing malt would lead to fermentable sugars and fermentation gives happy hours?
They found out because someone was careless and allowed grain to become damp. Before they knew it, the wet grain germinated and sprouted. This took just a few hours at Babylonian summer temperatures, but it was a nuisance – valuable food being wasted. So, the command was, ‘Dry it quickly!’ and in the hot Middle Eastern sun, that was equally fast.
The barley seemed to have been saved, but was now a different beast to before. It was rock hard and after the spouts had been cleaned off, had its own typical smell.
‘It’s too hard to comfortably grind so soften it in water!’ was the next bright idea.
Once damp, it took on a life of its own. The water became sweet and while they were trying to figure that one out, bubbles appeared as the wild yeast went to work on the sugar. The taste changed again and the observers kept drinking in an effort to identify the new substance.
They became very happy and they decided to do it again.
‘The rest,’ as they say, ‘is history’.
Or get the ancient unrevised paper copy $30 to $60, suffer soggy pages and feel good, because I haven’t earned a sous.
Clive is a free-lance fiction and beer writer, occasionally taking a tilt at poetry. He believes words must serve a purpose, beyond entertainment. If you have new thoughts after his pages, then the read was worth it.
He self-published the Historical Companion, back in ’89. Was he one of the very first?
I visited a museum in Weimar. There was a quote from Goethe. ‘Ich bin zu alt um nur zu spielen, und zu jung um ohne Wunsch zu sein.’
The greatest lines can be an inspiration to writers and get the block out the way.
‘I am too old to only play and too young to be without desire.’
It works better in English (for me), because I can pep it up a bit in translation, to make it stronger. I’ve replaced Wunsch. which means <wish> with <desire>. Goethe couldn’t use desire in German. Lust sounds too coarse. Is this allowed? As Heinrich Böll said, ‘You put it out there, you lose control of what people do with it’. I call it, artistic licence. Goethe would be furious.
That one sentence by Goethe is the perfect description of the contradiction of getting old, made more poignant by the fact that Goethe made a complete fool of himself by proposing to a woman 50 years younger than he. She and her mother, fled town without sending a response, just to make sure that he understood the answer was ‘NO!’
I worked his line up to describe how I feel about old age.
What Goethe MeantGoethe wrote, ‘Ich bin zu alt um nur zu spielen,und zu jung um ohne Wunsch zu sein‘.
I am too old to only play,
Too young to be without desire.
Too old to tumble in the hay
Too young to quench my residual fire.
Too old to miss my midday nap,
Too young to never think of straying,
Too old for hormones to cause a flap,
Too young to stop my eye surveying.
Too old to pass an empty trap,
Too young to stop believing,
Too old to play with ball or bat,
Too young to trickle when relieving.
Too old to worry what comes next,
Too young to admit my leaving,
Too old to bother to get vexed,
Too young to start my grieving.
Too old to think we can live forever,
Too young to concede this cannot last,
Too old to want some new endeavour,
Too young to wallow in the past.
Old enough to know those amazing years
Are in life’s bank, secure and undeniable,
Young enough to sup life’s remaining beers,
And pretend the last few years, aren't so friable.
I always feel I have to apologise for rhyming, but the rhythm in Goethe’s line, (Ich bin zu alt um nur zu spielen, und zu jung um ohne Wunsch zu sein.) seduces one to keep it, and Goethe always rhymed. It’s not good to compare oneself with one of the great masters, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Sandra followed him on Instagram. Her profile picture was stunning – beautiful, symmetrical face with long raven hair and a smile to melt the rivets on a thousand ships, fit and just a hint of a pout, after a workout. He followed her back, out of politeness, but with a tinge of curiosity. His policy was always to be truthful and not to do or say anything daft or compromising, although, at that distance, he wasn’t sure why he had to be so careful. He messaged her to say something nice about a picture she had posted, but he found she had written first.
‘Hey,’ she said, which was the usual bimbo introduction.
‘How are you today?’ appeared on the second line.
He was quick to move off the dumb stuff. If she wanted to tap him for money, she was out of luck, but her first real piece of information made him feel guilty, then angry.
‘I live with my grandmother in California, since my parents were both killed in an accident.’
After the initial shock, he decided it was the beginning of a sob story that would lead to a plea for money. Yep. There it was.
‘I’m 29 and just finishing my master’s in business studies.’
He waited for the for the second part which would tell him how she had no money for the exam fees. But it didn’t come. No request for money! She went straight to discussing names. He tried a quip to point out her shallowness, but forgot that Californians don’t do irony, or any humour, for that matter.
He could give her something but would risk becoming a scam target.
He sent her an Amazon voucher for $30. The next day brought a polite and seemingly sincere thank-you message from her – and 32 requests from Bimbos Worldwide, for multiples of 30.
After a long time at home, one’s mind wanders to happier moments. He thought of Zoë, the wonder woman with charisma and an Essex accent. She ran a betting shop in town. They sacked her during reorganisation. She isn’t worried. She can dominate a room with her voice, shattering all opposition, while her observant eyes use her spectacles to hide what she is thinking. This makes her perfect to become an MP.
Then he considered the problems, such as her predilection for jumper suits with bunnies on. She must change her Facebook page or the tabloids will have her political career on toast. She carries the bunnies off with confidence and style, and is almost her brand, but a new Facebook profile, he thinks, will advance her cause. In this room, she dwells among the empathetic, but that will change once in Parliament. Her symmetrical face beams intelligent observation, and her stunning figure must make her a target for pathetic old socialists who still think any woman is a pushover. Perhaps she can charm them into behaving themselves. If that doesn’t work, her bookie’s voice she used for calling the odds, will impale them with common sense.
He caught himself sighing while watching her prepare for the meeting.
He hears her call the meeting to order and she glances around the room. She knows her power, but is too clever to flirt. Her look says, ‘It’s OK to be in love with me. It won’t go to my head,’ but also told him, ‘Everyone is safe in here.’
‘I’m going to be the parliamentary candidate at the election,’ she announces in a matter of fact way. He felt the relief of the meeting. Thank goodness someone wanted it, was the sentiment. No one cared that there hadn’t been a vote.
‘You’ll have to get a new Facebook profile,’ the secretary joked. ‘The tabloids will have a field day with that picture of you in a jumper suit covered in bunnies.’
‘No I won’t,’ she replied firmly. ‘The picture stays.’
A pregnant silence was broken by a nervous cough from the treasurer. The old man sitting next to him whispered, with glee in his voice, ‘You don’t mess with our Zoë’.
‘She must be a target for daft old men at party conference,’ he suggested.
‘Her withering look, when she uses it, will cool their ardour,’ the party stalwart grinned between sips of beer.
She glanced around the room and her eyes rested on their table for just a moment. He lost all sense of reason and mouthed, ‘I love you.’
Not a flicker of emotion could he see!
‘Any more contributions?’ she asked.
No one dared, yet everyone was glad she was in charge. He was relieved to have finally come out to her, but wondered what he would do if she ignored his declaration – which he was sure she would.
Grandad smokes pot – three words, but how much information do they impart?
I found seven meanings to ponder:
who is old
who have children
Here’s my memory of my father’s step-father. He should have smoked pot, when crippled with arthritis, after a life of work, too hard, but he didn’t.
Pine box, morticed corners, polished lid,
Holding hardened steely pieces.
Shining sharp shapes in ordered rows
Each for hacking a different desire.
Wires, springs, lignum vitae grips
With smooth grain patterns,
Ready to gouge, but forever waiting.
I inherited it, with its dusty years, and
The cabinet-maker's name in the box
Welcoming the skilled journeyman
To his craft.
It was grandad's pride,
But by the time he could afford it,
Was too weak to use it,
So left it to me, with a small legacy.
I bought the power-tool version.
My mother’s father, would have smoked pot.
Both my grandfathers were called Will. Unlike the paternal side, my maternal grandfather was so incensed by the treatment of soldiers returning from the first war, that he went on a personal crusade to shaft the state of everything he could. He was always a respectable reprobate, but capable of violent outbursts when he sensed injustice. The priest discovered that, when he blamed the death of my aunt from a botched abortion, on my grandfather’s disinclination to go to church.
We think we are the stressed generation, but we know nothing!
He was fighting throughout the war, and regularly ordered to charge at heavy machine guns. ‘We only did it because we were drunk, due to small food rations and large shots of rum, just before the charge,’ he told me. Back home, there was no work, no welfare safety net, which meant if you defaulted on the rent, you were on the street. By 1923, he had five to feed, and did and cheerfully broke the law whenever necessary! Doubtless, MPs at the time, in top hats and choking collars on silk shirts, called his type, ‘cheats and scroungers.’
The description doesn’t fit the man in the picture.
Time and space change
Our perception of reality.
We no longer form family tribes,
But isolate in cells of lost identity.
We, now richer and fatter,
Need analysis to know
From where we come and
What needs to be done.
Stress is the modern test
To give us credibility.
A century ago,
He knew the symptoms,
But not the word.
Trenches, charges, mud, blood
Machine guns, lost friends
And then, with King and Country,
No longer to defend,
He padded the streets, he would
Live on, if the spend didn’t
Stretch to the rent.
He knew Stress,
Just not the word.
It was the old test, too
For a face in a different crowd,
With different knowledge,
But the same point of view.
I mentioned brewing in a small space, in blog no. 1. It’s a problem many will face and when my family became fed up with me blocking the kitchen and odourising the house with wort smell and then boiling hops, a solution had to be found. The smell isn’t that bad so don’t panic, but we know how judgemental the friends of teenage daughters can be! Thus, we built a tiny brewhouse, which also served as a pantry, so I was allocated the sink and about 1 ½ m2 space – or about 16 sq foot for US readers.
Our planning department kept my plans to prove to incoming colleagues how wacky some residents in our town can be.
Why call it a macrobrewery? Large commercial breweries give their annual production figures in millions of hectolitres, microbreweries probably talk in thousands and I don’t quite manage 4 hectolitres or 90 gallons per year. But that serves me and the immediate family and friends.
Photographing my brewery is problematic with space and light considerations, but here is a diagram I made from a 19th century sketch. The process is described in the Craft of House Brewing.
Avoid polypropylene (plastic) buckets. If they fail, you could be showered with boiling water. They were once considered OK, but I always had reservations. Cheap, cheerful and dangerous. Stainless steel boilers must take plastic from the boiling side of the brewery. A 2.6 kW tea boiler is perfect for preheating the mash liquor.
You can make your mash tun, or buy a converted insulated cool box.
4kW is better for boiling the wort in the 50 litre stainless steel vessel. It will need a gas burner, to avoid point heating and some tricky wiring.
I haven’t used a purpose fermenter for years. I cool the wort in the boiler, adjust the gravity with cold water, pitch the yeast, cover and leave in a cool place until fermented out. I get away with this because I don’t brew so often and it is OK if my boiler is tied up for 10 days whilst fermenting.
Cool – I live in a temperate part of the world and could brew with care throughout the year. I don’t! Traditionally, one brewed between October and March, hence the occurrence in brewing history of March and October beers – the first and last brew of the season. Humid summer days are deadly for the sugary wort, the smell attracting fruit flies from the whole county.
It’s been a hard slog through 2020, but brewing at home doesn’t offend lockdown requirements, is good for mental health, so now might be the time to begin a wonderful hobby. You can buy most things online, but plenty of hardware stores that are currently open, stock your requirements. Try to support the retailers by buying online from a homebrew stockist.
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However, there are reasons not to brew. Here are a few, that are garbage.
It’s expensive. Not normally true, unless you are a techno freak who wants a fully automated, gizmo rich, brewery. Generally speaking, more is less, when it comes to brewing at home, because brewing is about feelings and intuition, as well as knowledge. The more you observe and get to know your beers the better they will be. Most brewers start out using buckets and kitchen utensils that are in the house and if they live and love their topic, the first beer out the keg will be admirable.
You need space. Space is good, but if you don’t have much, then taking over the kitchen is an option. It’s only for a few hours. I have brewed for 40 years on a dedicated space of about 1.5 square metres. Confined brewing is helped by a gravity fed system, and details on that can be found in my eBook on pale ale, or the paper version, The Craft of House Brewing.
Homebrew is second ratebeer. Not true, unless you are bad at brewing and not prepared to learn from your local club members, or you buy sub-standard kits to brew from. I have always been a grain brewer, but kits nowadays are better than they were when I started. Many are excellent! Ask your local club members or go on homebrew forums.
And here are some undeniable truths.
One drinks too much if one homebrews. This is personal choice and doesn’t have to be true. I found that making beer, just as when preparing food, makes one respect the elegance of a method, now at least 4000 years old. The quality of the product makes us treasure it and not want to binge drink. BUT! Cheapness and availability can lead one astray. A pint a night’s enough, especially as the best beers are highly hopped and have an OG above 1066. Watch out.
Alcohol is a poison – true. No way round this one, so limit your intake.
Beer is carb and calorie rich. Yep, but not as bad as one might think. I keep to a low carb diet for weight reasons and find that a glass of beer when I want one, is not a problem. Several glasses in an evening are a luxury best kept for special occasions.
The peanuts etc. that we eat with our pint are the real carb carriers. Peanuts are moderate in carbohydrates but high in calories. I follow the advice of health professionals and put my peanuts in a small dish. I leave the large tin out of easy reach. Once again, it’s all about quantity.
Crisps and similar are deadly and do more harm to your waistline than a pint or dish of nuts. Crisps are carb and calorie bombs, especially when we eat from the packet, which means, we eat until the packet is empty.
So start with a beginners’ text and work your way up to the top.
I have started a myth-busting series of stories, about life in the sixties. There were good things, like snow at Christmas. If I am honest it was only the once where we lived in South London – and plenty of it. I could concur with Dylan Thomas’s description of, ‘pouring out the ground’. I remember 6 weeks of sub-zero in 1962, but not at Christmas.
Apart from snow we had to be grateful for the trends – things were becoming better, radio played our music, fashion was a new idea, teachers were considering not hitting pupils and began using their first names, but I never experienced that. Cities were dreary, with too much traffic and too little civility and remained that way for decades. Forget the Brexit nonsense about the good old days.
1960 was a time of fear for young people. Saying the wrong thing or the right thing in the wrong tone, earned you a smack round the ear, at school, from teachers and other bullies, and at home. By 1969 we were fighting the last of our parents’ bad habits, and things were on an unalterable course. We were no longer clones of our mums and dads. Those days will never return.
The downside were the announcements that cigarettes would kill us, which we knew already and global warming was upon us – which was news we would ignore for another 50 years, to everyone’s cost.
In my second story, April in Starnberg, I have taken a neighbour from Priory Crescent, Cheam two doors from where we lived and released him from his fear of women, and everything else that struck terror in that poor man. He freed himself in his late 60s by spitting his dummy out at the local bowling club AGM. Using artistic licence and the badge of fiction, I’ve given him a life and his liberty in his 30s. He was a top bloke, generous to a fault and I never heard him speak badly of another. He deserved better. He won’t appreciate my effort. For him it is, alas, too late.
The action is the lake at Starnberg and I’ve used The Wasteland by Eliot as a vehicle to release him.
In my first story, The Holy Mere, Beth was set free by the poem, Death and the Maiden, by Matthius Claudius, made more famous by Schubert’s eponymous quartet.
I had this great idea – publish a novella I wrote years ago on mental health and depression and give the proceeds to a charity – e.g. Mind.
The idea is to supply Mind charity shops with paperback copies for £2 and they would sell them for £3+
I would make nothing, but then, like most fiction writers, I make next to nothing anyway. No loss there then. And if Mind shifted a few thousand, my Amazon algorithm would benefit, as would my sales figures. That brought me back to another question posed by a writer friend in the US.
Elyse Salpeter asked why so many people start reading our stuff on Kindle Unlimited and stop after 14 pages? My theory is, we are too cheap. When I was a kid, I took half what I earned on my Saturday job to the bookshop as soon as I’d been paid and bought books. I still have most, now very yellow and they include Metamorphoses and The Age of Reason.
It’s fair to say I was clueless, but read them cover to cover because I had worked as a delivery boy, (a job I hated) for several hours, in all weathers, to get them. I was committed to my purchase. Nowadays, eBooks are pitched at £0.99 and free with KUL. No commitment there then!
And that’s why my charity shop idea won’t work. I’m guessing charity shops are inundated with second hand books which they can’t move for £0.10 per item. Anyone spotting my book for £3 would be scandalised!
Give it a go
I’m going to try, anyway and have contacted Mind. If you buy a copy – the profit goes to them, I promise. If you read it on KUL, keep turning pages, please.
It’s not fashionable to write about mental health, but sometimes one has to try and point out that actions have consequences, so this novella is aimed at those in power, who walk away from the consequences and retire to their yacht, leaving tens of thousands unemployed and without a pension fund. And it is about politicians who short our currency to make a quick few quid, but in the process cease to operate in the best interest of the country and its economy. Both these groups have betrayed their nation. But above all, it is about the people left to pick up the pieces, pay their taxes and try to make ends meet, for themselves and for the country. They are the heroes. Beth and Manfred are my chosen few, along with Henrietta, their guard dog and an ageing Mercedes, which they need in order to find Beth work.
It’s not a happy story, but we all have to find our solutions in the hostile world of work we occupy so in that sense, it highlights a negative solution. I have a trusted beta reader, Charlotte, a recovered addict, who entered prostitution to fund her habits. She is now a successful artist and holding her life together. I admire her so much. That was a mighty achievement, the like of which I will never manage. She told me I captured the moment and that is a comment I have treasured and one that gave me the courage to publish The Holy Mere.
Another respected beta reader ended up in tears, which is a relief. The English are so into black humour, they don’t get tragedy anymore and The Holy Mere isn’t meant to be a pretty read.
Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it and feel wiser, afterwards. That’s all I ask.
Christmas Ales – dark, bitter and strong. They were bottle conditioned and laid down for years until considered ready. I was afraid my Fullers Ale would deteriorate, so drank it when only 2 years old.
The bittering and high hop rates mean they will keep longer. Majority Ales were brewed upon the birth of a male heir, to be drunk at the 21st birthday celebration. Did they last that long? We don’t know. We do know that most was returned to the brewery, after the party, for disposal. We can draw our own conclusions. 21 years is a step too far, but 3 or 4? Risk it! Make it strong enough.
So, if you want a genuine Christmas Ale, brew now for Christmas 2021 or 22. You might be lucky enough to come across a limited edition, such as the Fullers, but don’t bank on it.
You will use malt, so dark, that only moderate hopping will be needed to achieve the bitterness. Your OG will be so high, you might need a special hydrometer.
Select a gyle from my book on brewing Stout and Porter and get the kettle on for lockdown relief.
This strip of grass used to be the hangout spot for the homeless, drunks and drug dealers. It’s not surprising that the city fathers decided to open it up and make it less attractive to nefarious deals. On the one hand we have gained an area to admire the brutal art the city has purchased over the years, but we have lost the casual contribution by the homeless, who, in this case cast a pair of serviceable trainers in the vicinity. I love the brutal fountain, out of concrete slabs, but the casually discarded shoes asked another question.
During C-19 lockdown, I decided to post chapters of my 5* novel. Coming of Age – the fast way, as a free read.
Since then, Goodnovels have signed me up and are serialising the whole novel – free to read at the moment.
Here is the link and I leave chapter one below, to give you a flavour.
Stats! Within a few days with Goodnovels hundreds of readers had viewed the free chapters and over 250 signed up to read it. Just Click and enjoy. The first Chapters are completely free so you get a really good insight to the novel, before you commit to spending. That’s fair!!
Day 1. Vera.
‘Millicent! I need to talk to you.’
I wouldn’t have noticed Vera as she sat down, because of my terrible eyesight. The name was mine. It had to be me she was calling. But from where?
I searched the café. This meant peering across the space between, through powerful lenses. Vera wasn’t a regular visitor, even though it was her café. Most café owners would breakfast in their restaurant every morning, but not Vera and I certainly don’t eat here. It isn’t my café. I’m just a worker from the village, who tries to earn a few quid as a waitress, so when I finally spotted her over by the long trestles, used by coach parties, she was waving me over.
My heart skipped a beat as I imagined the conversation to come.
‘Millicent, we have too many staff on and being casual, I’m afraid I’ll have to let you go. I’ll have your last wages ready at midday.’
This wasn’t panic. She was on the other side of the room and had made an effort to call me. And how did she know my name? She’d had to learn it to sack me! A disaster! One always needs the money.
I walked over and tried not to curtsey. How daft is that? Just because she is Lady Vera, doesn’t call for a bended knee in the twenty-first century, but, if I’m honest, I would have curtseyed to keep my job.
And there was the next problem! What to call her. Vera? Impossible – even though she was technically a work colleague. Your Ladyship? No idea if that is even correct. I decided to treat her like any other customer, even though her husband owns the remarkable eighteenth-century hall and gardens and most of the villages around it, including the one in which my extended family live. The café is part of a tourist attraction, which provides most of the jobs in the area. It is nationally famous for its astounding home-made cakes, so Vera is a powerful woman and not one to irritate unnecessarily!
I arrived at the table with no decision made and tried to play safe.
‘What can I do for you, madam?’
It sounded all wrong. She thought so, too.
‘Sit down, Millicent.’
That was another surprise. I wasn’t mistaken. She did know my name. Nearly my name, I suppose. To this day, she is the only person who occasionally calls me Millicent instead of Millie.
And ‘Sit down’? Was my hearing playing tricks?
She is in her late forties, tall for a woman, stunningly elegant with her rich wavy slightly copper hair which is now gently greying. Her voice is beautiful, even though a little old-fashioned, almost an affectation nowadays with a twang of over-correct Oxford English. It’s so different to our Suffolk brogue that I assumed she hadn’t really meant for me to sit at her table and looked for some other opportunity that required me to be seated.
‘Oh, do sit down, girl!’ She barked at my moment of hesitation, but there was still a friendly intonation in her voice. That was a clue. I wasn’t about to get the sack, but still couldn’t imagine why else she had called me over. I gently and nervously dropped down opposite her.
‘Had breakfast yet?’
‘I’m not due a break until eleven Miss er madam. Sorry.’ I was flustering like a ten-year-old. She rescued me.
‘Call me Vera, for goodness sake.’
‘Thanks,’ I mumbled.
Why was I thanking her? Why was I mumbling?
An imperious call to my colleague and oldest school friend, who also waited tables, confounded the riddle.
‘Bring Millicent a full English breakfast Sidonie and put it on my tab.’
Sid blanched. She couldn’t abide Sidonie. No one used it.
‘Yes, madam,’ she replied in a tone barely respectful.
‘Millicent, while you are waiting, read that.’
She turned the copy of Country Lives she had been reading, on its head and pushed it across the table, scattering her breakfast crockery and nearly tipping the milk jug over. I rescued the milk and then studied the open pages for some time. I couldn’t concentrate. What was I supposed to be reading?
‘You’ve lost me. It’s mainly ads for high-class plant nurseries, horse tackle and nanny agencies.’
‘Try again. You are looking for the odd one out.’
I can’t abide the cat and mouse stuff. Life isn’t just a game, even if Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Why can’t she just tell me?
I scanned the page again, but still it felt like an exam I hadn’t learned for. I could read the words without comprehending a thing. She ran out of patience, much to my relief.
‘Well? What do you think?’
That put me on the spot.
‘Sorry Miss, Vera. What am I supposed to be looking at?’
‘The ad I put in. What else? You’ll have to be sharper than this,’ she retorted, but still friendly.
A long and beautiful finger glided across the table, across the paper, and settled on a small, advert in the ‘Vacancies’ column. I read the ad and then read it again.
Lady seeks smart cultivated young female companion for the summer months in the first instance. Apply in writing by 10th inst. to Lady Vera Ashington, Ashington Hall, Suffolk.
‘What do you think?’
‘I’m confused. Are you asking me to apply for the post?’
‘The tenth was last week. Do pay attention! Applications are closed. I got two hundred, all rubbish, from funny sounding women after a summer meal ticket or bimbos with dodgy boyfriends, for whom they were supposed to case the joint, no doubt.’
‘Not many young working women with honest intent have time to include Country Living in their regular reading.’
‘I’m sure you are right. Silly of me I know. Ad cost a fucking fortune too. That’s why I’m short circuiting the process. I want you to take the job. I’ve checked up. A-levels in music and English literature are just what I need. Apparently, you dance beautifully too. How is your art?’
Did she just use the F-word? I was too stunned to answer. I swear myself plenty when it’s called for, but Lady Vera Ashington complaining about the fucking cost. Wow! What my young brain must still learn about the fucking aristocracy. I composed myself for the nth time since sitting down with her.
‘Art knowledge is not notable,’ I replied with humble honesty.
‘No matter, you can swot up. And here is your breakfast. Eat up!’
Sid clattered the plate onto the table from an impolite height.
‘Want any sauces, Millicent?’ Her voice was a mixture of irony, sarcasm and mockery. I decided to play it safe. I could jeopardise things by not taking Vera seriously.
‘No thanks, Sid,’ I quietly replied and started eating. She had spilled the tea into the saucer – surely an attempt to make it difficult to drink in front of Her Ladyship. Vera noticed too.
‘Get Millicent a fresh cup of tea!’
Sid stalked off, nose in the air and sniffing a bit too ostentatiously for comfort.
‘While you are eating, I’ll tell you a story. It was written by a German Jew in the twenties or thirties – I can’t quite remember. Joseph Roth, he was called. Don’t confuse him with that dreadful American anti-Semite Jew Philip Roth. Did you know I’m Jewish?’
‘I had no idea and why would that be important?’
Oh dear. That came over too abruptly, so I added for further discomfort, ‘I’m rather fond of Philip Roth novels.’
I searched my memory for a title. My little pretence could backfire if she realised how clueless I was.
‘I find they tells it how it is.’
There! That did it. It was a risk bragging about an author I’d never heard of, but I felt the need to do a bit of protest after my earlier simpering performance. On reflection I thought I’d probably manoeuvred myself back to the dole queue. Wrong again.
‘I suppose you are right. A girl has to gain an insight into male masturbation somehow.’
Fortunately, I wasn’t drinking my tea as she said it. I swear I’d have sprayed her ladyship as I choked.
‘But that was a good answer. I like it. That’s the point of the story. Be honest with those with power over you. The pressure is always on, to keep the influential happy. You don’t want to annoy someone who has the say over life and death. I could sack you on the spot, but you didn’t try weasel words with me. Well done.’
I didn’t continue my honesty by revealing how little I understood her. I thought I had been unnecessarily rude and there she was – thrilled by my integrity and not a mention of a dismissal. From which job would that have been?
The way she drew breath I knew I’d have plenty of time to concentrate on my eggs, before another answer was required.
‘Joseph Roth wrote a story about a powerful Sultan, who really had the power of life and death over others. It was called the ‘Thousand and Second Story’ I think. The Sultan’s problem was that no one told him the truth if the truth would upset him. No one wanted to risk his wrath by annoying him with bad news. He could never find out if his wife loved him, if his chancellor understood economics, his farmers agriculture or the captain of his yacht, navigation. If I remember, they got into a terrible storm, because the captain didn’t want to admit bad weather was on the way.
‘The Sultan became bored, because if you only ever hear good news, where is the titillation in life? So, he went on holiday to Vienna, and there the Sultan fell for a beautiful Baroness. The Austrian courtiers and diplomats didn’t want to displease him, and couldn’t tell him the Baroness was off limits, so they fixed him up with a prostitute who looked a bit like her and convinced him that the whore was the woman of his lust. You have probably guessed, he fell in love with the prostitute and began treating her like an aristocratic mistress. Huge and embarrassing gifts and so on. There was a terrible confusion. The prostitute and her madam got the blame for the chaos and went to prison, I think.’
I nodded and pretended to be interested while trying not to let the fried egg yolk slide off my fork. Getting a whole egg yolk in your mouth in one go is tricky enough without trying to hit a moving target, so I stopped nodding as soon as was polite and shovelled the yolk in. Delicious! My favourite way to eat egg. I looked up at Vera. Her mouth had fallen open in horror. She quickly regained her composure.
‘Interesting manners, Millicent. Have you heard a word I’ve said about the parable of the Sultan?’
Her voice cut through the air, but her tone was full of humour. I felt a giggle coming on. Suppress it girl. I couldn’t. The yolk escaped the corners of my mouth and Sid hadn’t left a serviette. Vera reached a beautiful white, folded, delicate, lace-edged lady’s handkerchief across the table. I wanted to protest that I couldn’t wipe egg off my chin with such a work of art, but if I’d opened my mouth the contents would have landed on the tablecloth. I wiped my chin instead, finished my mouthful, calmed my breathing and said, ‘Sozz but it’s the only way to eat fried egg, and why are you surprised the innocent whore and her boss got the blame? Sounds about typical to me – I’ll wash and iron the handkerchief.’
She reached across the table and took the lacy egg-stained article from me.
‘Don’t be daft. First use it’s ever had. You can’t blow your nose on it. Snot goes through the lacy bits.’
I was ready to wet myself. It wasn’t so much what she said as the dry delivery in her posh accent. I was reduced to sniggered snorts. She grinned, too. She was having a ball. Let’s keep it going. I looked over to the counter, where Sid was preparing a tea tray.
‘Sid,’ I sang, in order to mellow giving a mate an order. ‘Can you bring Vera two very runny fried eggs?’
I cleared the crockery from Vera’s side of the table, and had finished my own breakfast, just as Sid arrived with the eggs. Vera looked on mystified. She still hadn’t cottoned on, to what we were up to.
‘Can I stay and watch?’
Vera looked at Sid.
‘I think Millie has plans for those eggs. Cut the white off, slide the yolk onto your fork and then in it goes, whole. We always do it that way. It gives a different edge to the word ‘yokel’.’
Vera was baffled. Sid offered further explanation.
‘Saves on washing up as well.’
Vera looked at me and then the plate and then at Sid, standing by her shoulder.
‘Go for it,’ I said. ‘It’s not better than sex but comes near and is definitely safer.’
Vera looked at the eggs again and started removing the white. She then pursued the yolks round the plate a while, not having the courage to hoist them onto the fork, but endangering the delicate membrane that was struggling to retain the bulging yellow mass. I moved my chair to the side of the table adjacent to her, took my fork, scooped the first yolk onto it and headed toward her mouth. She sat there, tight lipped. Just as I thought the yolk would be wrecked somewhere between chin and nose, her mouth opened and in it went. Her eyes widened as she wallowed then swallowed.
‘Wow!’ she exclaimed.
‘Next one,’ I said, as I scooped at the second yolk.
This time her mouth was already open in greedy anticipation. Her eyes shut in desire and she swallowed again, this time very slowly. Was she aware how full of lust her face was?
I looked at Sid, who had a huge grin across her face. She turned and swaggered back to her post at the counter.
Vera opened her eyes.
‘You’ve got the job! You will take it, won’t you? Twice your rate here.’
Will I take the job? Do cats crap in our seed beds?
‘Sure. What are my duties?’
‘Talk to me!’
‘That’s it? Where does the Sultan come in?’
‘Talk to me honestly. No flummery. You’ll be sacked for holding back the truth, not for telling it. I’m bored out my mind. My husband is away on business for weeks at a time, my own children have flown the baronial nest. I need an old-fashioned companion. Do you have a suitcase?’
I couldn’t admit that, as a family, we never went anywhere, because, if we had, we wouldn’t have had any money to do anything when we got there. And that assumes that the old banger we called a car, which was a van, would have got us there. So why would I own a suitcase? She sensed my embarrassment.
‘Every time you hide something from me, I’ll say ‘Sultan,’ and then you have to tell me. Deal?’
‘Deal,’ I said. This woman was a bit special, I decided. ‘And the same goes for you.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I mean the Sultan rule applies to you, too.’
She paused, seemed about to tell me not to get above myself, but checked herself, and in a friendly voice said, ‘That’s OK. If we are to be friends, that is how it will have to work. And about the suitcase, I’ll send one over to your house. You are in the Church Cottages, aren’t you?’
She knew the answer already.
I was back into mumbling mode.
‘You’ll need at least three outfits. Smart, like you are now, smart casual for walking, and rough for the garden or stables.’ I continued studying the floor. The silence between us was deafening. She broke it.
‘Don’t worry Millicent. I’ll find something for you out of our wardrobes. See you tomorrow, eight sharp, use the main entrance.’
I stood up, unsure how to make my exit. She took my hand tenderly but firmly.
‘Don’t worry girl. You’ll do fine,’ and she left.
That evening, after work, I was obliged to relay the bits of conversation that Sid had been unable to eavesdrop. It wasn’t much.
‘What’s it all about? You must have an opinion.’
Sid was always quick with opinions, even when not asked for one.
‘Strictly speaking, your honesty and pride as a villager should debar you from hanging out with her,’ she began. ‘On the other hand, the café is a converted orangery and we know how unbearable it can be to work in there if we hit a spell of good weather. So, take the job. What’s the money like? It must be more than waitressing.’
”All she said was, ‘it will be better,’ but as she doesn’t know what we make in tips, how can she be sure she’s offering more? But the issue is, why me?’
‘Why she offered it to you?’
I looked to her for help although after years of friendship, I already knew she usually finished things with a raunchy or lascivious punchline.
‘She’s lesbian and fancies you,’ she concluded, and strolled off chuckling and congratulating herself for causing embarrassment.
Sid had no idea how profound her analysis was, but it didn’t turn out to be me Vera fancied.
Enjoyed this excerpt? The whole novel will be available through Goodnovel by end of January 2022.
My dad asked me to take him to France, one last time, to buy his cigars. ‘They are cheaper in Calais,’ he assured me.
Long grey waves, white topped, sway us. The captain says, ‘Force 7 Beaufort,’ in a matter-of-fact way.
‘It won’t be moved,’ I assure my dad. ‘65000 tons, rock solid and rock imperceptibly.’
‘Stabilisers out,’ the captain says, yet I know who will win, eventually.
‘Of ships and men, nature has the last say,’ I tell my dad. ‘Steel stretches, imperceptibly, but nevertheless – crystals form and plates weaken, under constant water movement. It’s a law of life. The sun’s energy makes the waves, gives us life and takes it away.’
‘Whatchoo so mawkish about?’ he asks in his broad South London. My mum once said, ‘If you or your brother ever talk like that, you’ll get elocution lessons.’ We had no idea what that meant, but it sounded horrible, so we don’t talk like our dad. ‘A friend just died,’ I explain. ‘That’s where we are at in life, I suppose. School, girlfriends, job, marriage, kids, kids’ girlfriends, divorces, retirement and now bereavement. The way things are. The natural progression.’ ‘What? Are we going to fall off our perches, now, one by one?’ ‘Afraid so,’ I say, but wished I’d spared the old fellow that news.
‘How’d he die?’
‘His heart stretched once too often, and one last time. A bit like ships plates – they stretch, and contrarily, lose malleability, until deemed by a smart engineer, no longer fit for service. They are beached one last time, on far Asian sands, for a shoeless army of pieceworkers, to rip their guts out with bare hands. That’ll be us, if there is anything worth having when we go.’
‘What are you talking about?’ he mumbles through a mouthful of chips, while admiring the white topped spray in the distance.
‘Just waving goodbye,’ I say.
‘Don’t buy so many‘, I say, worried he might not live to smoke them. He drove the 90 miles to Dover at 86 years of age, parked up there, with the confidence of youth, but struggled with the slope up to the ship. Once in Calais, I took money from an ATM. ‘What’s that for?’ He shouts. ‘I said, today is on me’. ‘We might need a taxi back to the ferry,’ I reply and watch him concentrate on coordinating unruly feet that, these days, pay scant regard to what his brain is telling them. This outing is too much for him.
We made it. He won’t let me carry the cigars, which are stowed in a large white carrier.
‘You drive home. I’m tired and I don’t see so well in the dark,’ he explains.
He’d enjoyed his last drive in his last car. I took the wheel of the bright blue Rover 200, 1.8 litre turbo. It was designed for the race track. Cars mean everything to his generation. He’d rather risk driving off the end of the quay, unable to see, than surrender his licence.
I look for the exit signs, but am waved down by a young immigration officer. She is smart in her uniform, and confident.
‘Additional security today sir. Sorry for the inconvenience,’ she tells me. ‘Passports please.’
I hand mine over. We wait for my dad to respond.
‘I think he has dozed off,’ I say and lean over to take his passport from his hand. I have to prise it from his fingers, which are stiff and cold.
‘Is your dad OK?’ she asks as she returns the passports.
‘Just tired,’ I say. ‘It’s been a long day.’
She leans through the window space and looks the old man over. She thinks of all the aggravation if she challenges us. She’d rather let me drive home with a stiff in the passenger seat, and who wants his dead dad impounding, pending a post mortem?
‘If you are sure?’ she asks with compassion. ‘Well, drive carefully, sir.’
I let the window whir up and glance down at the bag, tucked between my father’s feet. I decide to test the water.
‘How many did you buy?’
His face falls into a smile. He’s OK, or is that just the muscles relaxing?
‘Never you mind how many,’ he chuckles. ‘Just don’t tell yer mum.’
‘The lass from immigration thought you had croaked it. I wasn’t sure.’
‘200 best duty-free Havanas in that bag my old son. I’ll smoke those bastards, if it kills me.’
You think you brew for the delight of that first taste of a special beer. That’s how it all starts, but 20 years later I discovered historic beer glasses, each with its own story to tell. Today’s collection was a morning’s work in the Frankfurter Allee in the old east Berlin. Locally, it is known as Little Moscow, due to the impressive Soviet Russian buildings, supposedly clad with Meissen tiles.
Beneath the apartment buildings are comfy arcades of shops, now schicky micky outlets, but a few years ago, it was all second hand bookshops and junk stores. It was in one such that I discovered the beer glass with PdR on the side.
I had to ask the significance and discovered it was the logo for the Palast der Republik – now scandalously demolished by an over-zealous Berlin Senate, but once, during the days of the DDR, the favourite entertainment venue for East Berliners. And if you went there for Sunday tea and a dance, you took a souvenir home – a glass or cup and saucer. The junk shop owner explained.
‘This glass is a perfect example – never been drunk from, or perhaps just the once. Stealing a souvenir was an act of revenge by the people, who were being screwed over by a government as never before.’
There should be numerous examples of this glass, if every visitor took one – but not so. When the Wall came down in 1989, the East Germans were so sick of their history, that they must have ceremoniously smashed their stolen goods, as the final revenge act.
In the same junk shop was a rare Pilsner Urquell glass, with a frosted cracked look. I’m still trying to date this beauty.
I also collect kitsch as well as beauty. This one shouldn’t have been allowed out the factory.
So, let’s end with a German beer gyle. This is a Bavarian Brown Beer, recorded in 1842 and begins halfway down the page in my book on historical brewing. This is a screenshot from the author’s previewer provided by Kindle.
This shot was taken from the iPad Kindle reader, with an Android camera. Stunning clarity!
And finally, so that you can brew Müller’s Brown Beer, the last page of the method.
I decided to display this, because the original paper copy of the Historical Companion to House-Brewing, is fetching eye-watering prices on the second-hand market.
Here is the page from the 1990 paper version.
E-Book versus paper version!
the force needed to keep the book open, which will soon break the spine.
and if the spine survives the treatment, the paper won’t stand being splashed with hot wort.
the e-version costs $6.99, not $200. Does anyone get the e-bay asking price?
I have removed the printshop gremlins from the e-version. OGs are back where they should be. (It’s always the printer, never the author).
modern software makes tabular presentation possible. It’s easier to find where you are on the page. Tables were a printer’s nightmare in 1990.
tablet screens will always be slightly warmer than ambient – no steaming up.
Let me know if you brew Müller’s Brown Beer. The special malts required might not be available to you, but I describe how to make the malt varieties, at home with nothing but a fridge and old baking oven. If you live as far up the northern hemisphere as I do, you can dispense with the fridge.
See you next week with more beer glasses from back when I was the principle speaker at the LA and Baltimore AHAs.
I walk through the midday Alt-Tempelhof heat and cross the four-lane Tempelhofer Damm to get to the discounter supermarket. I should go to the Turkish grocer on my way, because I know that the discounter will make me buy a sack of onions, most of which I won’t be able to use. I will leave town soon.
I don’t go to the Turkish grocer. It’s hot, I’m lazy and assume I will find a small enough onion quantity and not have to bother with two shops.
‘But the discounter only has pre-packed goods. It’ll be a couple of kilos or nothing,’ my inner voice of reason tells me. Today, my inner voice of reason is less persuasive than my outer voice of idleness.
I buy the beer and mineral water and lo! There in the corner of a vegetable box is a single onion. Just what I need. In the basket it goes.
I put the onion on the checkout band with all the other goods. In front of me is a man with a defeated look. There is only one band open and a young woman scanning the goods. Her face is thunder. She checks his stuff. I later realise she was making sure no alcohol or tobacco products were in the basket. She prices it up and looks at a slip of paper he hands over.
‘Not enough,’ she gruffly announces. ‘What shall I take out?’
He takes a few items out and she stores them under the counter. The rest he packs in a carrier and leaves. I assume he had a food docket. I don’t know how it works. Somehow companies issue coupons worth one Euro per hour to otherwise unemployed people. They can exchange the coupon at certain outlets for essentials.
My stuff jerks erratically along the band like a metaphor for one Euro Jobs. It arrives in front of the woman working the check-out. She is young, has short blonde hair, a charming, slightly plump figure and a determined energetic working-woman face. She knows the realities of working long hours for low pay and it seems, does not have much time for men with coupons. It’s my turn.
Her voice is well aggressive. She holds my onion in the air as though it smells more unpleasant than an onion should. Despite the heat, I’m feeling mischievous.
‘An onion,’ I reply truthfully and somewhat timidly. I soon regret my daft answer. She turns into a power woman.
‘Well you can’t have it for nothing.’
‘I want to pay for it!’
‘Can’t! There is no way I can scan an individual onion so if you think you are getting it for nothing, you are wrong!’
Wow! I draw breath and keep calm. She must have had some rubbish experiences at the hands of people trying to spice their lives with an onion.
‘I don’t want it for nothing. I’ll pay for it.’ Now I’m becoming assertive.
‘You’ll have to take a two-kilo sack. I can scan that. And any aggressive behaviour by customers will be dealt with so tone your voice down.’
She is beginning to bristle. I try to explain, knowing I risk being ejected, but she interrupts me and decides to shame me into submission. In a loud voice that goes twice round the supermarket she yells, ‘You can’t have it for nothing. I’ve told you twice. Stop trying to get things…..’ she pauses for effect, ‘without paying for them; for nothing!’
I put the onion back in my basket. I know this is provocative. It works.
‘You can’t take it without paying,’ she screams, ‘and you can’t pay and you’re not getting it for nothing!’
She is becoming a little incoherent in her anger. By now, customers are looking to see what the commotion is behind the greens.
‘No fear,’ I say calmly although I am seething inside. ‘I just want to put it back in the box where I found it.’
‘Give it to me!’ she barks.
I take it out the basket and hand it to her. She throws it on the floor at her feet and starts scanning the rest of my stuff. I suspect she deliberately trod on my onion.
I’m too scared to risk her wrath by holding up the queue while I fetch an onion sack. The Turkish shop is a hot walk away. Thus, I pay for everything but the onion and then walk round the supermarket very slowly, expecting she has forgotten the incident. I return to the checkout with a sack of onions. There are now three checkouts open. Although her queue is longest, I wait in it. It’s my bit of protest after my earlier pathetic performance and it’s as much as I dare under the circumstances. The woman is ready to kill. She should audition for Lady Macbeth!
It’s my turn again. She manages to scan the onion sack and take my money, without making eye contact.
I wonder why I am generous to a woman who tried so hard to humiliate me. A complaint in the right ear would see her shamed. A letter to head office would get the sack. I know the company has CCTV at the checkouts and her body language would substantiate my side of things. I do neither, but walk home wondering about the confrontation and why I feel uncomfortable.
I have plenty of time to think about her; her lost dignity behind the checkout, enhanced by a scream worthy of an opera heroine. I’m becoming besotted by her. In deference to her power-performance, I make my usual carrot salad with extra onions and look up a recipe for an onion cake.
Two days have gone by since the check-out incident over an onion. I am armed with composure as I head for the discounter supermarket. I queue at the checkout with my mineral water and beer, and a bag of apples. A man is in front of me – possibly my age but he looks much older – and he piles bottles of cheap Schnapps on the band. Where is the food? No wonder staff get tetchy.
I look up to see my persecutor of two days ago. She sees me and recognition flickers across her face. I stay calm. She becomes nervous. Is she embarrassed about her behaviour the last time we met? Does she fear I will complain about her?
It is my turn and my goods come to €18.25. I give her a €20 note. She is so flustered that she loses concentration and gives me back €18.25. €1.75 goes in the till. I walk towards a bench put there for customers to pack their bags and consider my options. It would serve her right if I walk out the shop leaving her till €18.25 light. While packing my bag I glance up at her. She knows something is wrong. I wait for her to ask me to come back, do her a favour, but she doesn’t. Her movements tell me she is furious with herself, but I don’t think she is going to relent and go through the embarrassment of talking to me in a civil tone.
I finish packing my bag and see a gap in her queue. I hand her the receipt and the €18.25.
‘Maybe you want to check that,’ I murmur.
She doesn’t look at the bill or count the money. She has noticed her mistake, but doesn’t want to risk having to apologise. She is prepared to work two hours for nothing rather than admit she needs a kindness from a customer she taunted.
She puts the €18.25 in the till, and gives me €1.75, without looking at me.
‘Thank you,’ I say with politeness and sincerity.
She ignores me and speaks to the next customer.
I leave the air-conditioned supermarket. Hot air rises from the car park tarmac, wavy striations distorting the view of the Turkish grocer opposite, across the four-lane carriageway. A pang of conscience hits me. How long would it have taken me to go to the Turkish grocer? It can be a pain crossing the busy road, but I knew she couldn’t scan an onion. I set her up for a fall and then caught her as she was looking at two hours unpaid work, which makes me a hero – the nice guy. If I’m honest, that was shoddy of me.
I hear a voice behind me of the Jehovah’s Witness selling her paper. I try to ignore it. My indifference is a red flag to the Lord’s messenger!
‘Excuse me sir. Can I ask you if you have read the bible?’
‘Yes! At school; of course I did,’ I call over my shoulder.
I turn round and see a handsome forty-something woman, staring me provocatively in the eyes. I thought that a good answer. Her face has a smile that tells me different.
‘That was a long time ago,’ she reminds me.
‘Are you calling me old? Don’t be so personal,’ I joke.
‘No, no!’ she exclaims. ‘I merely wanted to say that you have some catching up to do.’
‘Indeed I do! Nice of you to offer. Your place or mine,’ and I put on a lascivious leer.
Her face shows the self-satisfied smirk that says, ‘I have received today’s lashes for the Lord. Now I can go home.’
That was bad of me, but I enjoyed it and it seems I have helped her on her way. I watch her walk to her car, her light summer dress oscillating with the rhythm of her majestic figure. I consider walking after her. ‘Have you read the bible,’ could mean any number of things in a modern parlance and hers was a face to die for.
She turns as she opens her car. Her face says, ‘Don’t even think about it!’
I am distracted by another woman, who appears to be waving at me. She is standing in the doorway of the customer exit to the supermarket and judging by her blue smock, is an employee. I’m sure she is walking towards me, so I hesitate.
‘I have a message from Trudi,’ she shouts across the space between us.
I look blank.
‘I don’t know a Trudi,’ I say, trying to keep my voice down.
‘Yes you do.’ she chirps. ‘The check-out assistant, who gave you too much change.’
‘Oh… right,’ I mumble. I smell trouble. I’m going to be accused of staff abuse or harassment and they are going to prosecute. Instead, I receive my orders.
‘Her shift finishes at four. Meet her here, in the car park.’
She smiles briefly and turns to walk back to the entrance.
I know I have nothing on this afternoon and I would cancel the Queen to meet Trudi off the field of battle. I will be in the car park waiting, because there are riddles in life, to which every man wants the solution. Nevertheless, I feel the need to test the water.
‘What if I am busy at four?’ I call after her.
‘That would be daft,’ she twinkles over her shoulder. ‘I think she wants to say thank you properly.’
At four o’ clock the sun has lost its strength and the car park has the jagged geometrical shadows of the neighbouring buildings, patchworked across its tarmac.
I see Trudi in the distance, leaving by the staff exit. She wears a skirt fractionally too short for her generous thighs and above it is a bosom, hoisted up for maximum effect. She moves with the confidence of a woman who knows she looks great. ‘Dressed to kill,’ crosses my mind.
She walks over, gives me a warm smile as she gets close, but says nothing. Instead she puts her arm in mine. We walk through the shadows, towards the car park exit, towards the Turkish grocer across the road, who could have ruined everything. I remember Watchtower woman, whose divine intervention, delayed my exit. She too played her part in getting me to heaven.
‘Where are we going?’ Trudi murmurs.
‘You decide,’ I tell her, ‘but I have an onion cake in the oven warming, if that helps you make up your mind.’
I feel her giggle. She takes my arm more firmly and presses her hip against mine. Maybe I’ll stay in town.
The mirror sphere rotated. It was all my dreams, scattered across walls and ceilings, even the floor, where pretty maids trod on them. Only now, do I realise, their agonies equalled mine.
My mate, Bill Prentice said, ‘If you can’t pull off the walls of the Croydon Lucano, you’ll spend your life in chastity.’
I think he meant celibacy, but I didn’t argue. I sensed the failure in his voice and shared his gloom. We wouldn’t pull off the walls of the Croydon Lucano. Of that, I was sure, even though we knew many of the girls on the other side, who went to the neighbouring girls’ school. I kept wanting to say Meccano instead of Lucano, and so decided a vow of silence was safest. A vow of silence, only to be broken if….. If what?
Times were desperate, but Bill had status and provided he didn’t walk someone home, life would go its untroubled teenage boy without a girlfriend, way.
What if Bill did…. And I didn’t? A scenario so scary, I considered hiding in the car park with the smokers.
I was recovering from my dad’s first lesson on the facts of life. I walked down the hallway that evening, dressed like a Christmas Tree – ties were obligatory – when it occurred to him that he had never said anything relevant about sex.
‘Remember son. You can get what you need at the barbers,’ he had murmured.
What? I was fifteen, on my way out at 7 o’clock in the evening, to my first dance, and my father suggests I need a condom and could reasonably knock on the barber’s door and ask for a packet of three. Why didn’t he plunder his store if he thought I was going to get laid?
Wire brushes on side drum, announced the music would begin. It was followed by a chord full of expectation and hope, which disintegrated into a foxtrot.
My mate, Bill Prentice said, ‘I think that’s a foxtrot. No one here can dance a foxtrot. What are they doing?’
I sensed heightened desperation in his voice.
Opposite, sat the opposite sex, beautifully white in dresses made of materials I’d never heard of. I imagined my gran using words like, ‘crinoline, damask – or is that a scent, poplin, or perhaps popelin. The first time I heard that pronunciation, I thought she said ‘pipeline.’ My granddad had a line of pipes in an oak rack, each stinking according to its history. If I did get a dance, and did manage to open a conversation, please Lord, let me not mention my granddad’s smoking habits or say Meccano.
My eyes wandered from the crinoline to the faces and hair, back-combed to within an inch of its life, lipstick, identical in every face. I thought of the saying, ‘all cats are grey at night.’ Perhaps it was the light.
I asked my mate, Bill Prentice.
‘Are the lipsticks all the same colour?’
He was unprepared for this intervention on the science of colour and lipstick. Perhaps, he was busy working out his opening line for the next dance. He cussed a lot and when his power of dialogue returned, called me every swearword he knew.
That’s OK. That’s what mates are for. I felt reassured.
There was one girl who I really fancied, but knew the outlook was hopeless. She was more worldly-wise than the rest of us and was busy marshalling her troops. She wore a plain black dress, straps, with a yoke round the neck and the back had a large round opening, revealing…… flesh.
Her hair was confident, worn loose, the make-up measured.
I asked Bill Prentice, my mate. ‘Who is the girl with the dress open at the back?’
‘That’s Belinda Titts older sister. Belinda brought her for moral support.’
I mentioned once, over dinner, that there was a girl in a parallel class, in the parallel girls’ school, called Belinda Titt. My dad said, ‘That must be John Titt’s daughter. I went to school with John.’
My God! This, has been going on for generations and no one has done anything about it. You can’t go through life being called Belinda Titt and what woman, with a sensible maiden name such as Smith or Baker, would court a guy called John Titt
If I were called Mathilda Ramsbottom, I might consider it.
Mathilda Ramsbottom might even consider Clive La Pensée. What were my parents thinking of?
‘Belinda’s sister is very confident, Bill,’ I said, hoping I wasn’t interrupting some major strategic, dance-opening manoeuvre, fermenting in Bill’s cortex.
This time he answered without wrath.
‘Enviable, isn’t it? I reckon it’s the – Boy named Sue – syndrome. You know, the song by Johnny Cash?’
‘How do you know this stuff?’ I asked.
He ignored me. It took me years to work out what he meant.
The foxtrot was threatening to finish, and no one had danced.
Belinda Titt’s older sister broke rank and walked across the dance floor towards the male line. She seemed to be heading in our direction. This was interesting. She was looking at me. She was coming straight at me. I felt my hand taken and pulled gently onto the dance floor.
‘I can’t foxtrot,’ I stammered and thus, exhausted my knowledge of ballroom dancing. I had never stammered in my life until that point.
‘No one can foxtrot,’ she reassured me. ‘Just shuffle.’
She was confident, took me round the shoulder and shoved me round the floor.
I took her in a similar clinch and felt my hand slide into the hole at the back of the dress. I shouldn’t call it a hole, but have no idea what the correct name for deliberate vandalism whilst dressmaking, is. I wasn’t thinking dressmaking. This was my first genuine touch of female flesh. She smelt and felt divine.
‘Take your hand out my dress,’ I heard her command.
‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to.’
‘Don’t apologise. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but tonight I am here on a different mission. You are Clive, aren’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I answered with concision, despite total confusion. Had Brenda Titt just said I could put my hand in her dress, normally? She commanded my attention before I had chance to work that scenario through.
‘Good. I’m Brenda – Belinda’s sister. Do you know Belinda?’
‘Not really,’ I admitted. ‘I know who she is, of course.’
I was cross with myself. As a person, I hate causing pain in others. I might as well have said, ‘Who wouldn’t know who Belinda Titt was?’ That said, it wasn’t my fault her name was Titt.
Brenda was unabashed and not cross with me. She was fabulous. Under her influence, I was beginning to dance in a halfway reasonable manner. That woman controlled the world. No! That was my gran, who had she been born a man, would have led armies across Europe. Brenda was less scary than my gran.
Brenda put her face close to mine. I felt her soft cheek skin, then lips, against my ear. It was heaven. She whispered something in my ear. I had to strain to hear above the music.
‘I want you to dance with Belinda.’
‘Sure thing,’ I said. I would have lay down on railway tracks for Brenda.
‘She likes you and you have to dance with her,’ Brenda continued.
‘I said I would.’
‘And spend the evening with her – well most of it, and be attentive when she is on her own.’
‘OK,’ I promised. ‘Attentive – you mean hang out with her?’
‘Precisely, and walk her home afterwards. It’s not far.’
The music stopped. Brenda had ended us up near Belinda. I felt a gentle but determined shove, and I was in Belinda’s arms.
‘Yes. I’d love to dance,’ she said, before I had chance to ask, and she propelled me back to the dance floor.
You have to remember my confusion. I had just fallen passionately and eternally in love with Brenda. Belinda wasn’t in the same league. She was my age, a little dumpy and wasn’t tall enough to whisper in my ear, the words I longed to hear. She wasn’t going to tell me to dance with her sister. She was hanging on like a limpet. Our knees were in permanent conflict.
My hand was round her back and it slipped naturally down to the dell above her bottom. It was dark, so I put it on her bottom and waited for the protest. We shuffled. She said nothing.
I had always been baffled by the female form. My mother wore items designed to change what nature had given her – turn her into an armadillo. Linda had no armour on and an adequate backside. This was only my second dance in this life, and this life had just changed.
A few other couples were grinding across the floor.
‘Thank you for dancing with me,’ she said.
‘Pleasure is all mine,’ I said and increased the pressure on her left cheek.
‘It won’t be pleasure on Monday morning, when all the lads rib you about dancing with a Titt.’
I let my left hand find her right cheek, and squeezed.
‘I think Monday morning can look after itself.’
I was learning how someone could end up courting a girl called Titt.
The mirror sphere rotated and among its thousand light dots whizzing across the walls, ceiling, floor, Belinda wrapped her arms around the back of my neck, and kissed me.
Ever narrower now, energy building Sluicing water upwards, Roaring over mudflats, Through to Goole, Swamping the Ouse and Trent, Removing ten thousand years Of post-glacial civilisation. York and Venice cannot be saved, By Tidal Barriers. Profits rise with the water Until drilling down means holding on Against the soaring tides And strengthening winds. And as the storms merge, We ask, ‘What now ?’