Touch

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Thomashardy restored.jpg

My English teacher used to advise us to remember all five senses when we

wrote a descriptive essay, said Clammie, as she sipped an aromatic brew in

Costamuchamoulah must-seen cafe.

Yes, I replied.  We often forget to mention taste and touch.

I love the smell of coffee in here, don’t you?  Not so keen on the aurally

excruciating skoosh of the machine, though. 

I rummaged in my handbag and took out a notebook with Thomas

Hardy’s face on the cover.  It was one of a series of Famous Writers

I think I had Jane Austen and Charles Dickens too, but that is by the by.

Another friend had been delighted to note when I took it out of the fluffy

depths to refer to some scribbles, that a panti pad cover had come loose

from its contents and the emergency sanitary saviour had stuck firmly to

the grand old man’s face.  She said it served him right.  Not sure exactly

why.  A few possibilities.  Maybe Emma Gifford could have given some

explanations.  Catherine Hogarth might have something to add in that

line too.

Emma Gifford

Anyway, I retrieved the notebook with the slight sticky deposit on its

cover and turned to a page at the back.

I handed Clammie an ancient poem of mine:

TOUCH

I came to touch late- unapprreciative

of its electrifying/ soothing powers.

I knew the tactile pleasure it could give:

glossy canine heads, white, waxy flowers;

brush of a butterfly kiss; a baby’s grip

on my forefinger; a vellum bible

whose worn cover would please its readership.

And there were some who were susceptible

to a soft touch of Harry in the night.

The emanantion of a healing flow

from laying on of hands was no deft sleight

of charlatan.  In the deepest sorrow

a hand on a shoulder, merest pressure

from a clasp’s interlink, upholstery

of friendly hug-comfort without measure.

Not least of all the senses, but most necessary-

Michelangelo’s divine/human charge,

elevated to sublime position.

(God’s finger reaching through space.)  Writ large:

solidarity with Man’s condition.

Creación de Adán (Miguel Ángel).jpg

The Ghost of a Smile 2

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Lithograph - Bishops Cannings Church, Wilts. S.E. View - Day

there was no question of diabolical possession.  The unfortunate

girl was clearly suffering from Wilson’s disease.  As a Clinical Neurologist,

I would be a fool if I hadn’t picked up on the symptoms you described.

The muscle twitches, postural abnormalities and spontaneous laughter

are classic signs.  Even the extraordinary colour of her eyes was owing

to the copper deposits in her irises- Kayser-Fleischer rings, to be technical.

You amaze me, Dr Lawes.  No wonder the poor child is so restless.  We

have all misjudged her and, like Legion, she has roamed among the

tombs. We must try to placate her.  Perhaps she would rest in peace if

her character could be vindicated in our Parish Magazine?  We could hold

a graveside service and apply to the Bishop for permission to reconsecrate

the ground.

The vicar’s enthusiasm was beginning to run away with him.

He persisted: Actually there are still some Nortons living in the tied

cottages in Steeple Bayford.  Some of them work in the Wilton factory

nearby.  We could invite them, though they are not C of E.  I used to

think that some of them were rather hostile- Methodists and suchlike.

Maybe they reckoned their ancestor hadn’t been treated too well in

the Established Church? suggested Dr Lawes.  I don’t think their

perceived unorthodoxy has anything to do with manifestations of the

disease per se, though they will all be carriers.  But even should

they marry another carrier, which is very unlikely, the chance of any

child developing the disease would be 200:1.

Oddly enough, now I come to think of it, reflected the vicar, I

spoke to a Mr Norton in the local infirmary, on one of my visitation

rounds, only two weeks ago.  He was suffering from cirrhosis of the

liver.  Alcohol abuse, I’d put it down to.  As I explained, he wasn’t in

too talkative a mood when he saw my dog collar.

Wilson’s disease affects the liver, Lawes pointed out.  It would

be extremely helpful and valuable for research purposes if I could

meet with his consultant.  Perhaps we could collaborate on a paper.

If you are going to be in the vicinity on Thursday, we could go

to the hospital together.  I’ll phone Mr Milton, his consultant.  He’s

a member of our congregation.  A greater awareness of the condition

might help to lay the ghost, as it were.  Give me your contact details

and I’ll see what I can do….

The smile relaxed its sneer and faded to a slight smirk and then the

greenish eyes closed their pale eyelids.

00000O00000

Mr Norton, may I introduce you to Dr Howard Lawes from Alabama?

He has a special interest in Wilson’s Disease.

Mr Milton was more effusive than he had been on a ward round for

many years.

Pleased to meet you, sir.  I will try to give you any information, but I

think it’s too late for me.  My liver seems to have packed in.  I’m tired

of explaining that my family is teetotal and has been for a couple of

generations.  Primitive Methodists, we are.  Never touch the stuff.

It seems that your family has borne moral misapprehension and

disapprobation for long enough, Dr Lawes smiled sympathetically.

We thought the illnesses were God visiting us with judgement unto

the fourth generation, Mr Norton grimaced.  Payback for Mary

Norton’s sin.

Nonsense.  Your liver problems are entirely linked to your disease

and so were those of your forebear.

I never thought a God of Love... interjected the Rev Dodgson, a trifle

hastily, but no one paid him the slightest attention.

Mr Norton shifted on his pillows: Hmmm, I don’t know that she wasn’t

a bad case, anyhow.  The family were disgusted by her behaviour, by

all accounts.

What do you mean?  asked Dr Lawes.

The patient’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper: All those carrying-ons

in the woods with her elder brother, Francis.  Of course, when the

bastard was born, they hushed it up, but everyone knew that Abraham

Norton was not her younger brother, but her son.

So, what do you reckon is the significance of this hearsay, Mr Norton?

enquired the Rev Dodgson.

Simply this.  Mary Norton may not have been possessed by the devil,

but she might as well have been, judging by the family’s reaction and

community prejudice and gossip.  We Nortons are said to have the sins

of our forefathers visited upon us to the nth generation.

Superstitious nonsense!  the Rev Dodgson exhaled.  But I suppose we

can’t lay sleeping ghosts if they don’t wish to remain supine.  I can’t really

sanction incest, anyway.  Maybe it’s better not to resurrect the past

and its scandals.

Yes, it’s a pity that the lady did not adopt ‘the serious study of virginity’,

as recommended in my namesake’s masque.  Otherwise she might have

known ‘the transport of a thousand liveried angels’ and have been

reposing in quietude.

How poetical!  exclaimed the Rev Dodgson, who appreciated these

archaic words and was no stranger to purple prose, himself.

Mr Milton, the physician broke in:  I am very glad that we have started

Mr Norton on Penicillamine.  We had a very useful session, Dr Lawes

and I promise to keep you in touch with my patient’s progress.

Great. I look forward to meeting up with you at the next ‘Gut’ meeting

in Texas.  I’ll certainly acknowledge you in our paper.

Goodby, Mr Norton.  All three moved on.

000000O000000

Magpie arp.jpg

Above the graveyard the mouth smiled grimly.  It tried to utter something,

but only the chattering of a magpie filled the surrounding trees.  Some tears

fell as droplets of rain on the flat gravestone of Abraham Norton, aged

seventeen, who was buried with Mary’s parents and his ‘siblings’, including

Francis, his wife and three children.

Thyrsis Langford, Verderer and self-appointed local Lothario, did not even

turn over in his corner plot.

The Ghost of a Smile Part 1

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The late afternoon sun mellowed the creamy Chilmark stone of St

Osbert’s Anglican Church.  It was the same stone that Constable had

painted so warmly when he depicted Salisbury Cathedral.

The vicar had glanced at the latest entry in the Visitors’ Book, before

wandering into the churchyard.

Howard Lawes, MD, Alabama, he pondered.

Dr Lawes appeared to be a typical American tourist, judging by the

inordinate amount of camera equipment that he was carrying.  His

surname was ringing bells, but not in a campanological fashion, for the

vicar.  Wasn’t it the same name that was to be found on many of the

gravestones in Dinton?

The visitor was in the unhallowed burial section, adjusting his lenses and

trying to capture a special view of the steeple.  This had caused many a

photographer of lesser ability to flatten the wildflowers which grew profusely

in its shade.

Good afternoon! greeted the Rev Dodgson.  I believe you are a long way

from home?  This was a tried and tested opening gambit which may have

given some an impression of his virtual omniscience and benevolence.

Yes- and no, drawled the complex and surprisingly pale Dr Lawes,

in an expansive non-British fashion.  Yes, I am from Alabama, but my

roots are right here in the Wylye Valley.  I visited Philipps House this

morning and, in conversation, discovered quite a bit about my ancestors

and their Royalist connections.

Lawes… the vicar pondered.  Ah, the Comus link.  Have you had musical

genes passed down to you?

Sadly not, replied the photographer, screwing the lens cap back onto his

camera.  But I could have sworn that I was seeing creatures from my

namesake’s masque in your churchyard.  It may have been a trick of the

light, but a curious presence seemed to follow me around and then I saw

what looked like a human mouth begin to materialise.  It quite unnerved

me.  To tell you the truth, I’m glad to see someone else is here.  But

maybe I’m becoming paranoid.  Am I? he joked, unconvincingly.

How would one ever know if one was mad? retorted the Rev Dodgson,

lapsing into his tedious habit of responding to difficult questions by

posing further interrogatives.  I could quote MY namesake and add

‘You must be mad to come here.’  However, the fact is, Dr Lawes…

Howard, please, interrupted the American.

The Rev Dodgson ignored this plea and continued,…the fact is, you

have just espied our resident ghost, Risus Sardonicus.  The Latin

suggests a male gender, but I can assure you that she…

Why doesn’t he just say ‘you have just seen’? Lawes thought to

himself.  Aloud, he repeated: She?

Yes, she has similarities to that phantom feline, The Cheshire Cat,

but she is less forthcoming.  You are not the first to have been sneered

at by Mary Norton, she of the distinctively green eyes, which some have

assigned to glow-worm activity.  However, the stare often comes from an

elevation that not many animals could scale.

(Photo: Timo Newton-Syms, Flickr)

Do we know anything about this Mary Norton?

You were practically standing over the spot where we believe she was

buried, replied Dodgson.  It is an unmarked grave, so you were not to

know.  Maybe she doesn’t appreciate being trampled on.  This was intended

to be a mild plaisanterie.

I’m sure I didn’t intend to desecrate anyone’s resting place, apologised

Lawes, who was unsure of English irony.  Only, the view of the steeple,

with Grovelly Wood in the background, was so photogenic.

Indeed.  You couldn’t have known.  As one of our dramatists has said:

‘Youth emits smiles without any reason.  It is one of its chiefest charms.’

Don’t regard it as an expression of personal animosity.  She does it all

the time as she was not too keen on how our parishioners treated her.

I think she would have preferred to have been buried with certain of

her relatives-over there.

Is that why she’s restless? postulated the tourist, placing his heavy

camera bag on a ledger stone and then thinking better of it and laying

it more respectfully on the grass.

Hmmm…Yes.  I don’t think people like to be publicly excommunicated.

Apparently, Mary had an unfortunate habit of bursting into totally

inappropriate laughter at Eucharist and other services.  The locals thought

she was demon-possessed.  She would rock back and forth…

Catatonia?

The vicar ignored the interruption: …emitting guttural noises, her

tongue lolling.  Maybe the girl was ‘touched’ but these were less

tolerant times.  People were quick to detect blasphemy.  No one knows

the precise manner of her death.  Her body was discovered in Grovelly

Wood.  She’d been exercising her ancient right to collect free firewood.

I think she died on May 29th, Oak Apple Day, in 1865. All the youngsters

used to go to Salisbury and dance on the lawns in The Close.  Then

they’d lay oak boughs on the altar.  I forget why.

Well, there she lies- or doesn’t.  I could say with my favourite poet,

Browning: Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, whenever I passed her;

but who passed without much the same smile? Unfortunately, though

commands have been given, the smiles don’t stop altogether.

Lawes was tiring of the literary references, but he had been thinking

very hard during this expatiation.

Poor Mary Norton! he reflected.  No wonder she is so unquiet.  Her ears

have not yet materialised, so perhaps she will not hear my thoughts on

the matter.  I can assure you, sir, that there was no question of diabolical

possession.

(Photo of oak apple by Bob Embleton)

to be continued…!


Roundel

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Forgot to post this on St Swithun’s Day.  The weather was changeable, as I

recall, so this hopeful poem, written many years ago, may not be

appropriate for this year!  Still, one has to be optimistic.

Image result for clear blue sky

Now welcome Summer with its clear blue sky,

its dim green tunnels with enticing shade-

the humid air buzzing with insect life.

St Swithun’s Day has left us high and dry.

Forty days of rain we now evade.

Now welcome Summer with its clear blue sky,

its dim green tunnels with enticing shade.

White buddleia closeup.jpg

Buddleia blossoms to the ground are weighed,

where Peacocks, Painted Ladies are arrayed.

Now welcome Summer with its clear blue sky,

its dim green tunnels with enticing shade;

the humid air buzzing with insect life.

Peacock butterfly (inachis io) 2.jpg

(Wikipaedia and Wikimedia: photos.

Butterfly by Sharp Photography.)

Back to the Future

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So, how are you getting on with your belated Spring cleaning and

general clear-out?  Brassica asked me.

It’s too difficult.  Every time I investigate a box, I start reading

its contents.  Today, for instance, I found a ‘Guardian’ supplement

from 2004 which was all about predictions for 2020.

Hmm…crystal ball gazing.  Did they get things right?  she enquired,

munching something out of her Bento box- Costamuchamoulah’s

latest fad.

Well, there was an article in Part Two, dated 28th September,

2004, called ‘Who Will Be Who?

Ooh, do spill the beans!

It predicted that Ioan Gruffudd would be James Bond.

You mean that guy who was Horatio Hornblower?

Yip.  Timothy Dalton was Welsh, remember!  So, they may have

been thinking in similar terms.

Brassie looked sceptical.  She has always liked Sean Connery,

followed by Piers Brosnan.

Then it advocated Martha Lane Fox as possible Vice Chancellor

of the University of Cambridge.

Because she is big on marketing and global brands?

I was surprised that Brassie had heard of her.

Yes, students are customers now, you must realise.

What about the monarch?

Oh, they assumed The Queen would be carrying on.

Charles will be 71 then.  The Queen will be 94.

Who did they think would take over from Miliband?

They didn’t know then that Ed would have been Leader!

Of course not.  Who did they back?

Hilary Benn.

They might be right.  Could do worse.  They backed David Cameron

for Leader of the Conservatives.  Back then he was a fresh-faced

Chief Policy Co-ordinator, aged 37.  They said he was leader of The

Notting Hill set.

I thought that was Hugh Grant.

They did mention his ‘raffish good looks.’

No, they must have mixed him up with Hugh Grant.  Anyway, who

else was nominated?

Leroy Rosenior as England Football Manager; Helen Boaden as BBC

Director General.

I do like their clothes, Brassie sighed.

Different Boden, I explained.

Really?

Ask me another.  I pinched a sliver of sea cucumber from her

lacquered top layer.

Poet Laureate?  She shut the lid.

Mark Ford.

Who?…  Archbishop of Canterbury?

Canon Dr Judith Maltby.

Oh, I like her, approved Brassie.  I heard her in Wintonchester

Cathedral.

Only trouble is that she was nominated by Rev Giles Fraser.

And look what happened to him.

Giles Fraser Levellers Day Burford 20080517.jpg

(Photo by Kaihsu Tai)

Brassie chewed reflectively.  Wasn’t he the Dean of St Paul’s?

The one that is a Real Christian.

Brassie has her own categories of Christians- ranging from Born

Again to Brain Dead and then, suddenly she will find one to whom

she will give a Divine Imprimatur, almost as if she is standing in the

wings at The Last Judgement as The Recording Angel.

See, in 2004, women couldn’t be ordained as bishops.  So, it was quite

a bold statement, I pointed out. Mind you, I think that there were three

major groups in post-Nicene Christianity that supported women priests

in powerful positions-the Pepuzians, Priscillians and some Celtic

Christians…

The Celts!  Brassie spat out a fibrous shred of something vegetable.

She doesn’t like Nicola Sturgeon and doesn’t believe she should be

encouraged in any Assumption to any powerful position.  (Women

can be so mean about other women, n’est-ce-pas?)

What about soap stars?  She changed the subject.

The Queen Vic.jpg

(Photo by Matt Pearson)

Oh, Kevin O’Sullivan of ‘The Daily Mirror’ thought that Sonia Jackson’s

baby should be kept in the ‘Eastenders’ script and could be a future

landlady, if Barbara Windsor stopped clinging to the post.

So that was two Windsors still in power, in their estimation? 

Yes.  But they were wrong about that.  The current landlady is Linda

Carter, I believe- though I never watch it.

I looked around Costamuchamoulah nervously.

Barbara Windsor Maryebone Tree.JPG

(Photo by Portlandvillage)

I could tell Brassie was losing focus now.  She was more interested in

opening the Pandora’s Box- I mean the Bento box.  I wondered what she

had in there.  Maybe it would be like a Goya nightmare, with all sorts of

weird and frightening creatures escaping and circling our heads.  And that

was only the sociological prophecies, not the contents of her lunchbox!

Museo del Prado - Goya - Caprichos - No. 43 - El sueño de la razon produce monstruos.jpg

She took off the top layer.  Yum!  Beef and noodles!

Don’t you want to know who they thought would be Governor of The

Bank of England?

Not especially.

Well, it was the then economic adviser to Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown official.jpg

(Photo-Wikimedia Commons.  Official gov.uk portrait)

She looked sardonical.  Here!  Try a wasabi-flavoured forkful of this!

My throat was on fire, so I didn’t tell her Evan Davis’ recommendation:

Shriti Vadera.

I bet they didn’t have Bento boxes in Suttonford in 2004.

Poem for Jenny

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(Photo of Edgware Road Tube Station by Sunil 060902)

Brassie was reminding me that it had been the tenth

anniversary of The London Bombings.

Be careful if you are going up to London, she cautioned.

It’s okay.  I’m aware of it.  It was all over the news.

I also watched the drama about Jenny Nicholson, the girl

who was killed in the Edgware incident.  I was deeply moved

by the fact that she had been reading the novel ‘The

Magician’s Nephew’ by C S Lewis.  I had to re-visit

the book to remind myself of its depiction of Aslan and

the triumph of Good over Evil.  The fact that her mother-Emily

Watson in the film-was a priest only led pathos, but veracity to the

fact that Evil can affect anyone and one’s religious profession offers no

immunity to being a member of the human race and therefore subject

to the seemingly random events that perplex us all in this sublunary

Vale of Tears.

That’s pretty deep, Candia.  No doubt you dealt with it in your

usual way?

Yes, I wrote a poem, but was unsure as to whether to call it

‘Poem for Jenny’ or ‘The Deplorable Word’.  In the end I settled

for the former as I wanted to give Good the foregrounding…

POEM FOR JENNY

Lion waiting in Namibia.jpg

(Photo by Kevin Pluck: The King)

The Deplorable Word was uttered

some time around nine o’clock that morning.

The girl had just been reading about it-

how witch Jadis ‘owned’ the people of Charn,

though her powers did not work in England.

She must have touched the magic yellow ring,

for suddenly the prequel of her life

ceased and she was translated to a wood

between multiverses. Her watch then stopped.

And, not having the two green rings with her,

she couldn’t return.

She thought she could hear a low, growling sound,

not threatening; quite musical, really:

nothing like the noise of the Underground.

She was looking down at the Tube carriage;

she was looking down now on the carnage.

Someone was using her book to prop up

a stranger’s head.  She was glad they took it.

She had no use for it now, but she knew

she was a protagonist in its plot.

Those pages would never close; her story

would continue, not in allegory,

but as a dark, complicating event,

part of the concatenation before

the revelatory denouement.

Some worlds begin and others end like this:

not with a bang and a whimper of pain,

but with a story that can’t be untold;

part of the greatest narrative ever.

She looked into a pool and was surprised

to see the reflection of a lion

in a tranquil surface, with no shock waves.

The music seemed to emanate from him.

In the beginning was his word

and now she knew he would have the last one.

PRIVATE VIEW

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I never used to notice gay couples, remarked Brassie.  Twenty

years ago, people were not ‘out’ when they were out, if you see

what I mean.

You used to see them at art galleries, I replied.  That was the

place where I first became aware of men being ‘together.’  I suppose

a lot of us were naive then.  I once went to a Private View…

…and wrote a poem about it, no doubt, laughed Brassie.

Well, yes…

And here it is:

PRIVATE VIEW

It’s a Tate Private View, at l’heure bleue,

with earnest, shaven-headed male couples,

hip-joined, dressed in black, affecting ear-rings;

sharing an Exhibition Guide, as Friends.

There’s an occasional hermaphrodite:

self-contained, apparently orthodox.

Some linger by Simeon Solomon’s

Love in Autumn; study flagellation

of shivering Cupids, with detachment;

whisper about Redon’s castration theme,

look puzzled at an enigmatic Sphinx.

They pause before the liminal figures.

Sydonia Borek.jpg

Politely, they wait for me to step back

so they can see Sidonia von Burk,

with her snake-knotted overdress and filet;

Macdonald’s spermatozoaic princess;

Salome’s necrophilia.  Climax

by Beardsley is received rather limply.

They almost link hands before Lamia,

while my heterosexual girl friend

hyperventilates over architraves.

Self-obsessed I spot inaccuracies

in the labelling.  Pluto, not Neptune,

you fools.  And who is Gabriel Fabre?

Decadent afternoon over, we walk

to Waterloo’s surreal ‘normality.

The escalators do not tolerate

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: everyone must

enter the turnstile with their own ticket.

Curiously, the ear-rings have vanished.

Epithalamium

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Brassie was trying to draw me into a theological debate,

but I wasn’t going to discuss childhood religious backgrounds-

except in verse.

So, here it is:

EPITHALAMIUM

(Photo by Brian Harrington Spier)

They processed, two by two, into the ark

of the Pineapple *-first communicants,

flouncing their frothy frocks, not stained or marked:

virginal white; wee brides of Christ; amantes

at seven years , plighting their childish troth.

They flocked past three pollarded limes on grass-

a lawned intersection, where both

roads diverged-down for schooling; up for Mass.

Sentinels crowning the brow of the hill,

the tallest, Christ, the other two the thieves.

(Calvaire framed by the sill

of our window.)

I watched their falling leaves

through foggy condensation and the chill

miasma of Clydeside theology,

while daily swallowing its bitter pill.

Jealous of their time off school; espousal;

jaundiced by their elect doxology.

In my heart a reprobate arousal:

angered at exclusion.  Why all these

bigamously betrothed and me left out?

Had Mary instituted these decrees

to snub Proddy Dogs**…Rangers fans who doubt

her omnipotence?

We didn’t have oil

in our lamps, so we’d no invitation

to their marriage feast, though we were loyal

to our god.  Tickets on this occasion

were for her guests.  Their initiation

gave them female relatives’ attention.

My trees, grave symbol of expiation,

were a triptych of my soul’s retention

of a fierce individuality.

I would not batter at the banquet door,

for I preferred to face reality-

that from outside, I’d worship and adore.

Later I sneaked in and put a spadeful

of earthworms in the holy water stoup.

I did it, not because I was hateful,

but so my God could have His little coup.

(* Pineapple- ‘chapel’ in Clydeside argot.

** Proddy Dogs- Protestants)

Graduate of TV University

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Tigress at Jim Corbett National Park.jpg

(Photo by Sumeet Moghe)

You went to China, didn’t you? Brassica reminded me.

Oh, ages ago, I replied.  In the mid-to-late nineties.  We

took some students with us.  We saw quite a bit of the

country, as we travelled its length on the train, from Beijing.

That must have been fascinating.

Well, we had guides to keep an eye on us.  I think I wrote

down my impressions at the time. I’ll try to fish them out.

No doubt another poem is coming my way, sighed Brassie.

Aren’t you the lucky one?! I retorted.

GRADUATE OF TV UNIVERSITY

Our Zhaoqing guide was a smiling Tiger:

See, I used to be a buffalo boy,

he said.  And now my family benefit

because I send some of my wages home.

You’ve heard of TV University?

That’s how I studied English, got this job.

Deng’s motto was ‘not the best; good enough.’

He prattled on his microphone.  It worked.

Look! he grinned.  I even have tiger teeth.

Maybe I’ll save up for some dental work.

He switched off and so did we: too fatigued,

having just journeyed for 36 hours,

from Beijing to Guanzhou by the night train.

Buffalo boy would have conjured up jade

ornaments, bronzes collected by those

who appear on Antiques Roadshows.  But now,

having seen settlements in paddy fields;

putrid ponds, wallowing pigs, flash motorbikes,

ancestral headstones placed among sparse crops,

we knew where he had come from; just how far

he had travelled; understood Hope Project,

where wealthy cities subsidise the poor.

Though awash with Americanisms,

at ease in marble foyers of hotels,

he sat and ate his meals apart from us,

smiling at our ineptness with chopsticks:

romantic buffalo boy, denying

the not-so-distant cannibalism

China practised through desperate famines.

We turned up our noses at jellyfish;

he was grateful for a well-filled rice dish.

At the end of our stay he gave out forms,

requiring us to measure him against

some idealistic concept of guide.

Although he told us very little,

between the lines he’d told us quite a lot.

He got his tip, learned a few extra words

which alienate him further from his home.

So what, if he gains some gleaming moped,

pays many yuan for a cosmetic brace;

orthodontically has a Western face?

His buffalo will be slaughtered for food

and a billion tigers may show their fangs,

while we watch TV University

and travel the Web, rather than the world.

Maybe one day we’ll meet him again on some screen

and we will recognise him by his smile-

the one that doesn’t seem to reach his eyes,

but demonstrates his newly acquired bite.

Tunnel Vision

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Let the train take the strain- she had echoed that advertising hype,

originally linked to British Rail, as she parked her car at Keighley

Station.

She was preparing to meet a friend at The Tourist Information Office

in Haworth.  They would have coffee in one of the pseudo-authentic

shoppes on either side of the steep hill, which is the backbone of the

historic village.

Maybe then she would bring herself to show Anna the photocopy of the

letter which had been troubling her so greatly.  Afterwards they might

walk round the museum which drew the literary faithful from all over the

world.  Then she could catch the train back to Keighley and retrieve her

car, before returning to Harrogate.

The rail journey would not take long.  It was the nostalgic, comforting

element which attracted her.  The Worth Valley Line, with its steam

locomotives and Victorian stations, which had featured in televised films,

such as The Railway Children, had been on her bucket list of attractions

to be visited, for some time.

Once speed picked up, she felt her jangled nerves calmed by the rhythms

of the engine and snatches of verse associated with her childhood sprang

to mind:

This is the Night Mail crossing the border…

Imagine rhyming ‘border’ with ‘postal order! she mused.

Standing up, she looked out of the open vent at the top of a rather grimy

window.

Ouch!

She had not realised that sparks were literally flying and a smut had

entered her right eye, which began to water profusely.  Perhaps she

should remove her contact lens?

Opposite, a woman sat, reading a letter.  Quite small and somewhat

insignificant, she was dressed in dark clothing and seemed intent on her

correspondence.

Laura left her to her own devices as she was not in a mood for chit-chat

and since she was now seeing double, she dabbed her inflamed eye with

a clean tissue, which probably made things worse.  She managed to

extricate the lens with some difficulty.

The woman in the corner reminded her of her own letter, with its many

ambiguities. (At least, Laura was trying to interpret some of the phrases

as charitably as she could.)  However, the speck in her eye felt like a beam

and not a proverbial mote.  A saline deluge would have flushed the irritant

from her eye, but she had no idea how to deal with the emotional

inflammation she was experiencing.

An objective opinion from another woman would be welcome.  But did she

really want to know the truth?

Suddenly they were in a tunnel.  She could have wished to remain in the

velvety comfort of darkness forever.

She stepped off  into the surprisingly height between the carriage and the

platform.  Someone had taken her arm.  She was still having problems with

her vision.

She blinked and made as if to offer a polite appreciation and found herself

staring into the solicitous face of her fellow traveller, who promptly vanished

into the crowd, before Laura could express her thanks.

She bent down to rummage in her shopping bag for her ticket and it seemed

to have fallen out onto the ground.  But, on closer inspection, it was a

different colour than the one she had bought.  Maybe the woman had

dropped it.  She had disappeared, however, so Laura stuffed it into her

pocket, with her gloves.

She had to climb Main Street, which had been an open sewer over a century

before.  A blast of cold buffeted her.  She frowned at a wind turbine which

reminded her of an albatross which, if she had possessed a crossbow, she

would have shot down. The rotors, spinning round, combined with her watery

eye to create a sense of vertigo.  The conservationist in her battled with her

aesthetic sensibility.

Outraged sensibility– that was something to be buried in her subconscious, if

she was to survive.  Self-pity was not to be fed, nor her creative imagination

indulged.

She was too early.  Always too early.  So conscientious; so careful of other

people’s feelings.  What good had it done her?

Anna would be late.  She always was.  It would be warmer to shelter in the

church than to stand on the open corner.

She passed a little shop bedecked in sheepskin rugs and commemorative

tea towels.  The graveyard beckoned gloomily, with mossy slabs and desolate

cawing.  The spartan parsonage overlooked the scene, with its controversial

extension.

She reached for her gloves and pulled out the piece of paper.  What was it?

it was a ticket, but curiously it purported to be an entrance ticket for The

Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.

Puzzled, Laura put it in her handbag and set off to check on Anna.  There she

was at their mutually agreed rendezvous, apologising profusely, as usual.

They headed for one of the tearooms- the nearest one.

Nothing in it, I’d say, re-assured Anna.  Too casual; too chatty.  She just

sounds insecure and desperate to me.

Laura felt relieved of a huge weight on her chest.  They even visited the

museum and as she studied the contents of the glass cases, wondering

at the doll-like kid gloves, the tiny waisted dresses and yellowed bonnets,

she felt that same sense of disassociation from reality that she had felt

during her drive from Harrogate that

morning.

She resolved to destroy the letter when she went home.  She didn’t want

some future literary critic to get their hands on her correspondence and

to publish some speculative theory about her personal life.

They paused at the family portrait by Branwell Bronte.  Why had he felt

such utter self-deprecation?  Why had he felt the need to erase his own

image?

Anna couldn’t fathom why anyone could lack self-confidence.  Laura made

no comment.

Then they came across the portrait of Charlotte and the written

explanantion of her trip to Brussels with the subsequent broken-hearted

return to Haworth and the realisation that her infatuation with M Heger was

not- could not– be reciprocated.  All he could offer her was sincere friendship.

Laura was riveted by the eyes in the portrait.  A chill far colder than the one

she had felt outside gripped her heart.

That quizzical smile seemed directed to her personally.  She knew, with a

confidence that she did not yet feel regarding the letter in her handbag, that

the passenger in the compartment had been none other than Charlotte

Bronte.

The letter that she had been perusing so intently must have been the hurtful

reply from her employer.  Laura felt as if she had been touched by a native of

Dreamland, as Charlotte herself would have put it.

There was gentleness and empathy in the eyes.  Laura continued to read of

the novelist’s survival and marriage to the curate- the unremarkable curate,

who turned out to have some recommendations after all.

Life for her too would go on.  She would survive her own fantasies and lay

her own ghosts.

There aren’t any spectres- except in your own imagination, Charlotte seemed

to say.

I still don’t understand Branwell, Anna remarked.

I do, replied Laura.  He just thought of himself as a figment of his own

imagination.  And why wouldn’t a young man of sensibility, if he inhabited

as confined a place as this?

Pilgrimage over! Anna stated in her pragmatic fashion.  It is too spooky

in here.  Let’s go and buy some fudge.

Laura thought that her friend sounded like a computer game.  She

wasn’t going to show Anna the ticket, but she was reminded of the

century that she must continue to inhabit.

Thank you, Charlotte, she whispered and, dropping the ticket into a

donation box, she stepped out of the time warp and into the rest of

her life.

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