Sunday, 6 August 2017

THE SUMMER FETE





THE SUMMER FETE

BY
BARRY VAN-ASTEN

 

‘Once a girl or a woman is kissed out of the sleep of her
Ignorance by love or suffering – they are generally
synonymous – she gets a grip on reality,
she seizes the concrete in life.’

[The Regeneration of Two. Discords. 1894. George Egerton]

 

 

Jenny Pole was a somewhat curious, nervous and rather awkward girl of fourteen years with long auburn hair and large hazel eyes; her frame was slight and to her seemed quite shapeless without the merest hint of feminine beauty, but of course that was how she saw herself and the truth was she stood on the threshold of her own sexual awakening before a Pandora’s box of adventure. Jenny was an only child who lived with her mother Elizabeth, a woman who excelled in her career and failed in romance terribly.  Jenny had never known her father and according to her mother he wasn’t much to go by for the relationship was brief and exceptionally uninteresting as they had nothing in common and they never kept in touch after they parted (she didn’t think to mention to him that she was carrying his child at the time). Elizabeth was a devoted modern woman and mother to Jenny and treated her as an equal in intelligence and in worldly matters for there was no reason on earth to hide anything away from the child as that only causes secrets and allows sin to flourish where sin does not exist! Do not misinterpret these sentiments for any deep religious or Christian belief for thoughts in that direction were few in Elizabeth’s case and only suggested by phantoms of philosophical ideas and questions in Jenny’s case. Elizabeth worked at a firm of solicitors’ in town and she had spent all her life at Bournebottom Green, a rural idyllic village in the heart of England, dull by the standards of many who enjoy the cosmopolitan splendour and energetic thrust of most towns and cities. Jenny often thought about things, in fact she thought about things a lot and was a dreamer, always drifting off into space and she would discuss matters with her mother for there was a great bond of trust between them; Jenny can remember telling her mother when she was a little girl that she intended to join with (she refused to use the word ‘marry’ as that implied some sort of religious conviction) a beautiful Indian girl with large eyes and long lashes, long dark hair and soft dusky skin wrapped in a colourful and opulent dress, richly embroidered; her mother did not question this or deter her in any way and to Jenny it seemed inevitable that this was the course that her life would settle upon for her heart had not changed and she had no male role models in her world and looked upon the male species as nothing but ugly and brutal; there would be no Prince Charming or brave White Knight sweeping her off her feet, they did not exist, not even in her dreams for she dreamt of beautiful strong women making their way in the world and free to love as men love without any notion of fear or regret. She painted a perfect picture of love, happiness and devotion and her mother did not discourage her in this for we have over-reached the point where the shadow of fear for loving someone of one’s own sex had long diminished and freedom of choice in one’s sexuality was an important matter and an inevitable journey for the young. Jenny did not question the identity of her father and rarely mentioned him and on the whole the strong figures in her life were the women she knew and the women she read about but most of all she looked up to her mother!
It was the day of the Bournebottom Green Summer Fete and Elizabeth was hurrying Jenny, who didn’t really want to go and would be much happier staying at home with her collection of tea-pots and buttons, or reading one of the many novels she had begun and put down, to get ready as the fete opens at eleven and she didn’t want to miss anything. Despite Jenny’s reluctance to go, she put on a beautiful cream dress which she thought accentuated her frail body and actually gave her the appearance of having womanly curves and she tried to put a brave face on for her mother, who said how pretty she looked.
At the Fete mother and daughter walked into the big marquee tent which had been erected on the Green and held the various stalls and such events from the Best Beard contest to the Ugly Baby competition which were scheduled throughout the day; they stayed a while looking at the jams and preserves and pickles where Elizabeth chatted a little to Mrs Tollen who chuckled as she thought of her husband sitting there opposite behind his large cabbage in the enormous vegetable contest and she couldn’t help wondering which was more intelligent, husband or cabbage and every time she came to the same conclusion that it was the latter! Jenny had wandered off to look at the snail races, their polished shells painted different colours using nail varnish and all lined up and roaring to go; a small, snotty brat of a boy with an exceedingly freckled face and his own snail trails permanently adorning his upper lip from his nose to his mouth signalled the off by blowing a loud raspberry, he could have been a champion raspberry blower for he was quite deafening in his purpose to be heard! And the snails raced towards the finishing line as only snails are able to do, a finishing line which by the way was drawn with an old biro on a sheet of white paper a few inches from the starting line and it would take at least half an hour Jenny deduced to complete; Jenny quickly tired of such high-octane entertainment and went back to her mother who was amongst the mammoth marrows in the strange vegetable section where prizes were given for various shapes and sizes; chief among the marrows were Mr Hughes who was wearing a dark suit and a buttonhole as if in attendance at a wedding and Mr Potkins in a pink shirt with a green tie, both bearing facial whiskers of some distinction as they were favourites to win in the Best Beard competition, Mr Potkins winning it two years running with his mutton chops, little Vandyke beardlet and waxed, curled moustache combination while Mr Hughes was sporting a fine and wild bush of peculiar pomposity! Jenny’s mother was drawn towards a stall selling ribbons and pretty lace while Jenny lingered awhile by the marrows and overheard the remnants of a conversation which had taken place between them as Mr Hughes said ‘the vicar is more than conspicuous by his absence!’ and Mr Potkins agreed and retorted ‘I’m afraid it’s all tea and sex at the vicarage now!’ Jenny wondered why it was all ‘tea and sex at the vicarage now’ and smiled at Potkins thinking he looked like some exotic wild bird in his pink and green ensemble and Mr Hughes came behind Potkins saying ‘c’mon Henry, I won’t have no moon cow makin’ eyes at you like that!’ They were like two old women thought Jenny as she gazed at the humongous marrows upon their table that they nursed like sick children, two bearded maids protecting and mothering their unsightly marrows and she imagined them sitting at home in their feminine enclave all badly applied eye-shadow and lipstick dressed in oversized frocks and undersized women’s lingerie and calling each other Mary and Doris, and it brought a wry smile to her lips. Just then the lady organising the ugly babies’ contest, Mrs Jaggs caught her eye and she could not help thinking how much the poor woman resembled a nun in that blue and white outfit which was a terrible choice but she can’t be a nun she thought, nun’s are married to Jesus when they take Holy Orders being brides of Christ and all that and I know for a fact that Mrs Jaggs by all accounts is married to Mr Jaggs! Jesus must have a lot of wives with all those nuns betrothing themselves to him and falling at his feet and if he were here on earth he’d be wanted by the police for bigamy! I’m sure of that! I suppose being who he is he can get away with that sort of thing; they don’t say much about that in the churches do they? I wonder if a nun ever divorced Jesus because she stopped loving him or she assumed he was unfaithful to her in some way?
Just then, Jenny recognised the beautiful features and superb figure of Miss Samantha Wandell who was presiding over the decorated cakes stall; she seemed like a poetic vision of perfect beauty in a pretty red and white dress, sitting behind a large Victoria sponge cake smoothing out a wrinkle in her stocking. Samantha looked up and smiled and greeted Jenny in a friendly and familiar manner saying how lovely she looked in her dress which made Jenny blush a little as she inhaled the sweet perfume that orbited around the pretty physique of Miss Samantha Wandell, who was several years older than Jenny and was a typically beautiful blonde creature with pale blue eyes which Jenny could not help falling into and a fine shapely body which Jenny could not help admiring and which attracted the gaze of all the men in the village but there was something about Samantha which seemed to compel Jenny towards her whenever she happened to see her; a certain something which fulfilled her romantic inclinations and ideal of feminine beauty that spoke to her deeply for she not only admired her exquisite beauty, she was fascinated by her mind as Samantha was an intelligent young woman who was studying to become a nurse. After a few words were exchanged Samantha picked a small pale pink rose from the flower stall next to her and attached it to Jenny’s dress saying ‘now your beauty is completed by nature!’ Jenny looked long and hard at Samantha as the colour flushed in her cheeks then she looked away as Samantha went to speak with Miss Justina Albright who sat next to her defending the various cheeses on cocktail sticks from the slippery hands of the snotty nosed, freckly brat who had been handling his snails and not washed his hands! Jenny stood watching the perfectly formed Miss Wandell for a while and thought how she must have noticed her flirtatious and outrageous behaviour; her flagrant display of heroine worship and thought her a silly little girl for being so stupid, of course she was exaggerating for there was no flirtatious and outrageous behaviour except in Jenny’s mind and the truth was that if anything Samantha probably thought she appeared a little shy and was probably being a little extra pleasant and encouraging towards her out of sympathy, whatever the truth of the moment was there was nothing in the world which could compare to the wonderful feeling Jenny felt inside and nothing which could compare in beauty with the sweet little fairy tattoo Samantha wore behind her right ear which enticed Jenny in thought toward her and into a romantic embrace and a lasting image of eternal love! Jenny eventually pulled herself away from the vision and felt glad that she had let her mother persuade her to come now! Although she would deny it, Jenny was often very lonely and despite her ability to remain positive and to fill her time with interest and activities peculiar to her she felt the awful pang within her heart, a cold and intense desire for companionship, and it is here in the tangles of her heart where she is alone at night that dreams fill the space of loneliness; but today, in a singular moment, her heart was distracted and something quite spectacular had occurred, something which superseded childhood, something which called to her from afar and accepted her as a woman on the cusp of her own liberation, her own earthly adventure in love! She walked as in some weird state, a perplexing mixture of sleeping and wakefulness and everything seemed brighter and clearer to her, and a definite change had occurred in her nature, she was different somehow!
Next to the floral display which was all the beautiful handiwork of Mrs Sanderson-Lowe was the curiously named ‘Guess the weight of the Tramp’, a raffle in which the winning weight would be rewarded with a marvellous hamper care of Dobbs and Dawson in the High Street. Jenny recognised the ‘tramp’ as Mr Hengis, the former History teacher from her Upper School who left under a bit of a cloud and had a terrible run of bad luck following his wife’s death three years ago. Mr Hengis seemed to be asleep and Jenny thought he looked a lot like Moses but for a few differences in circumstances, perhaps Mr Hengis could have been just as important a figure as that old Biblical sage or even just like Jesus as a couple of thousand years can easily make some old tramp appear as if he is ‘otherwordly’ and performing miracles when all along he is just a simple yet ingenious man with a minor god complex, down on his luck trying to get along by some sleight of hand when all of a sudden there are a lot of strange followers hanging around you demanding miracles and declaring that you are indeed a god or some spokesman for the people that you represent. It just goes to show that mental illness is nothing new! Mr Hengis, or Moses as he may be, had become the middle-man in a fragrant battle going on around him for the flowers, declared Mrs Sanderson-Lowe were wilting and curling away from where he sat with his offensive odour, sleeping unaware of his damage upon nature, and it seemed his own very pungent aroma was upping the stakes! Mrs Sanderson-Lowe was complaining to Mrs Scrottock, who had hired the tramp on the premise that he would be given ‘fags ‘n’ scotch’ for his ‘performance’ which was his price, was getting annoyed with the ‘flower lady’ as she called Mrs Sanderson-Lowe and was busy dropping spoonfuls of eau de Cologne upon the tramp – perhaps she should be washing his feet and drying them with her hair thought Jenny! Poor Mr Hengis, being exploited like that, it almost brought tears to Jenny’s eyes when she thought about the sad demise of dear old Mr Hengis! Just then Mr Hengis woke up and as soon as Mrs Scrottock’s back was turned Freddie Faraday slipped him a strong cider laced with vodka which he drank in one long gulp, apparently this was something Freddie had been achieving all morning unbeknown to Mrs Scrottock and then came the straw that broke the camel’s bake: Freddie passed to Mr Hengis a pint of vodka laced with the merest hint of cider; he was in effect lighting the fuse and stepping back to watch the fireworks which he knew would inevitably explode! And sure enough they did explode just as the magnificent marrows of Messer’s Hughes and Potkin were about to be judged for Mr Hengis stood up like the biblical prophet he resembled, swayed a little, saying ‘I’m no damned monkey for the entertainment of pigs!’ and began removing the tattered remains of his clothing to the gasps of shock and disbelief from a confused crowd of onlookers; off came his shirt followed by his trousers, shoes and then his holy socks and underpants and once divested of his rags which it seemed were held together by prayers and miracles he was as free as his mother had brought him into the world and so he stood there like a naked Moses, clutching at a bunch of Mrs Sanderson-Lowe’s best Dahlias and shaking them at Mrs Sanderson-Lowe! ‘Disgusting!’ shouted Mrs Sanderson-Lowe, turning away as the whole distasteful performance played out before her. Then Mr Hengis stumbled and the whole arrangement of flowers which took Mrs Sanderson-Lowe all morning to perfect, rising very early indeed to prepare came tumbling down to the screams of horror from Mrs Sanderson-Lowe and then Mr Hengis staggered to the next stall where the marrows were being scrutinized and he fell upon the marrows with great affection and one might even say tenderness for he caressed them lovingly and smashed several prize-winning monsters to the intense displeasure of Messrs Hughes and Potkins who both fell into a swoon and fainted away! As he fell amongst the marrows and attempted to get to his feet Mr Hengis slipped on the fleshy vegetables and clutched at the tablecloth of Mrs Tollen’s stall and her lovely display of home-made jams and preserves and pickles came tumbling down, the jars smashing into each other upon the ground one by one! Just then the Salvation Army Band came in for some refreshments while giving a rousing rendition of ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ and seeing the disturbance swiftly handled the tramp with all the delicacy of your average concerned Christian and threw him unceremoniously outside on the grass of the Green like a bag of rubbish for all to see and laugh at along with his rags to hide his shame and swiftly followed by Mrs Tollen cursing him to hell who then threw a bucket of cold water over him! He was then dragged and tied to a post in some remote place out of harm’s way and the gaze of children to sleep it off before criminal proceedings would be made against him!
Jenny looked around after the disturbance, her bewitching eyes searched for those of Samantha but she had gone in the commotion and was not to be seen. Outside the Bournebottom Green Morris were busy singing and dancing which drew Jenny to the door of the tent to watch and her mother joined her there, half roaring with laughter and half upset by the devastating scene she had witnessed. But all Jenny could think about was Samantha Wandell!
As mother and daughter wandered from the tent, Elizabeth chuckling to herself, there was an announcement over the speakers to say that a minor disturbance had occurred in the competition and display tent and that it would be closed for the rest of the afternoon but it went on to say that the Annual Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase would take place shortly and can spectators please make their way to the race course. The announcer then gave a list of the runners and riders which were making their way to the starting line: ‘at number one we have Mrs Josephine Harper, aged seventy-six, riding King Harold; she was last year’s winner you will remember on Time for Tea and has been widowed twice and in her spare time she enjoys ballroom dancing and studying and preparing herbal medicine (with two husbands underground I shall definitely not be going to her with my psoriasis); at number two is a bit of upper class alright, Lady Mary Tremaigne, aged seventy-two, riding For Gawd’s Sake, she does a lot of work for the church and helped raise much-needed funds for the old town Hall which has since fallen down; number three is Mrs Amanda Collins, aged seventy-eight, riding Push-Up Bra, she lives alone with her three cats and likes nothing better than a quiet night with a romantic novel – good for you Mrs Collins! On number four we have our oldest rider Mrs Olive Banner, aged seventy-nine, riding What will the Neighbours Think, she is recently widowed and says that she hasn’t much to live for these days, well let’s hope she find enough incentive to make it round the course today! And at number five is Mrs Geraldine Chive, aged seventy-six, riding Not Enough Sex, well I hope if she’s lucky today she’ll be revising that statement and getting lots of what she’s missing! At six is Mrs Sylvia Hoskins, aged seventy-one, riding Not in my Back Yard; and last but not least at number seven is Mrs Mary Whittaker, the youngest of our riders at seventy years of age and making her first appearance, riding Mephistopheles. And so ladies and gentlemen there we have the runners and riders and fate is in their wrinkly hands today!’
Jenny and her mother made their way to the race course which was ran over several fields near the Old Hobbledehoy Public House. After a few minutes of adjustments the horses and riders were ready to take their places and then the official signalled the start with a pistol.
‘And at the start of the annual Bournebottom Green Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase all seven riders have got off to a good start and are steadily approaching the first hurdle – the Triple-Bypass; slowly taking the lead is number two, Lady Mary Tremaigne on For Gawd’s Sake closely followed by  number four, Mrs Olive Banner on What will the Neighbours Think, next is number seven, Mrs Mary Whittaker on Mephistopheles and on the inside is last year’s winner and favourite number one Mrs Josephine Harper on King Harold just ahead of number five Mrs Geraldine Chive on Not enough Sex and next is number six Mrs Sylvia Hoskins riding Not in my back yard as number three Mrs Amanda Collins is in the rear with Push-Up Bra. And as they approach the first fence of the Triple-Bypass its For Gawd’s Sake still taking the early lead as all the runners and riders make the first jump successfully and hurtle towards the second fence, and oh, For Gawd’s Sake refuses to jump and What will the Neighbours Think takes the lead followed by Mephistopheles, King Harold and Not enough Sex and then Not in my back yard with Push-Up Bra and For Gawd’s Sake now at the rear with a despondent and angry looking Lady Mary Tremaigne in the saddle! They are all swiftly over the third hurdle of the Triple-Bypass and its going to be anyone’s race from what we can see!
Jenny felt small and lost amongst the crowd cheering and shouting but was caught up in the excitement of the race, which for a moment had replaced the romantic feelings she contained in her heart!
Steadily they take the first corner, Coffin Corner as it’s so named where we find young Peter Braithewaite, The Crying Child. ‘Don’t worry ladies and gentlemen; the young lad is only intermittently poked and prodded with that sharp stick wielded by the Vicar’s assistant Mr Mildew to make him cry and appeal to our rider’s sense of nurturing motherhood, thus tempting them from their mounts and instant disqualification from the race!’ The boy Braithewaite screamed and balled in floods of tears as Mr Mildew jabbed at him in the ribs and in the buttocks. ‘Fortunately none of our septuagenarians have been drawn by the mothering instinct and the race continues apace as they speed towards the next hurdle – The Scythe!
And as they take the jump it’s What will the Neighbours Think still ahead closely followed by King Harold, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, Push-Up Bra, Not in my back yard and For Gawd’s Sake still in the rear. As they take Tea-Shop Corner where no-one seems the least bit tempted by the strong tea and sticky buns the brave old biddies hurtle towards the next hurdle which in the past has had many fatalities – Pensioners’ Peril!
And at the jump it’s What will the Neighbours Think followed by Mephistopheles, King Harold and neck and neck are Push-Up Bra and Not enough Sex with For Gawd’s Sake just ahead of Not in my back yard.’ And on the next straight run which is known as the Devil’s Ride we have the charming Mrs O’Hara seated in a very comfortable chair beckoning to the riders to come and sit with her as she has some very interesting gossip to relate concerning the Vicar Mr Sampson Trimble and Martin Splicer the baker’s boy and not to mention who’s doing this with that and what to who and why and when and how but none of the riders are in the slightest bit interested in town gossip today, at least not at the moment for they have a greater concern as they approach the fearful and the murderous next hurdle – nan’s nemesis itself: the Widdow-maker!
‘Yes folks the Widdow-maker, one-hundred per-cent solid knitted wool; three-feet wide by six-feet high! And the horses strain towards the deadly mountain of wool and the first one over is King Harold closely followed by Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex and oh there goes Mrs Geraldine Chive who slips in the stirrups and for a moment seems to fall backwards but regains herself and close behind is Push-Up Bra and What will the Neighbours Think, For Gawd’s Sake and Not in my back yard in seventh place.’ Runners and riders now have to tackle the rattle of machine guns as they approach Machine Gun Alley, where three machine guns firing papier-mâché bullets at the riders incessantly try to deter these sweet old ladies from proceeding any further or failing that to knock them to the ground – ‘the bullets do not enter the skin I am told but do leave a nasty bruise on these old dears and several successive shots can cause irrevocable damage! Once again it’s King Harold in the lead with Not enough Sex in second place, Mephistopheles in third, Push-Up Bra in fourth, What will the Neighbours think in fifth and oh, Mrs Olive Banner there almost coming off from a volley of well-aimed shots to the head there, well done Mrs Banner! And in sixth place is For Gawd’s Sake with Not in my back yard still in the rear!’
Suddenly there was a blur as Mr Samuel Bedford, long-standing resident of the parish rushed from the cosy confines of the Old Hobbledehoy Public House and into the street and made his way to the race; minutes later he was seen dashing from the side of the Widdow-maker and along Machine Gun Alley towards Death’s Door wearing nothing but his wrinkled skin and inebriated shame. Mr Bedford was competing in a very long traditional rite of passage known as the ‘horseless jockey’ whereby a streaker (for some reason always male) makes the perilous run between the two fences across Machine Gun Alley, pelted by paper bullets. ‘And there goes our “horseless jockey” who this year seems to be Samuel Bedford, much frequenter of the Hobbledehoy and known for his cheery outlook and good humour! Cheer him on ladies and gentlemen and give him a big hand. Those of you with small children may wish to look away!’
Jenny gazed at Samuel Bedford’s genitals and could not tear her eyes from his pendulous gonads with his half-aroused member casually swinging like a pendulum to and fro as if marking time, second by second in an uncased grandfather clock or one of those Swiss clocks, his white wispy hair lying like snow upon his head, she half expected a cuckoo to appear from his mouth! As she stood watching the drunken old fool with his manhood swaying like the sword of Damocles wielded by a bleary-eyed old man before her she could not help thinking what an ugly thing is the conduit from which all human life springs! She said to herself that she would never let such a thing near her! The resemblance to Joseph Stalin was quite remarkable and made it all the more comical! ‘Surely he’s breaking some sort of indecency law?’ Janet said aloud not really expecting an answer and a voice behind her said – ‘no, the police turn a blind eye and get free drinks in the Old Hobbledehboy!’ It was Samantha Wandell who stood behind her like a magnificent vision of summer loveliness drinking a bottle of cold lemonade through a straw! Jenny’s heart beat faster in her small bosom as she looked shyly at her and as her mother said ‘oh hi Samantha is your mother well?’ ‘Yes thank you!’ Samantha answered, looking intensely into Jenny’s eyes as she spoke. Jenny felt bold and gazed back into Samantha’s sparkling eyes and smiled so beautifully. There were cheers of victory for the old gent parading his genitals to the crowd, his red nose matching his red spotty bottom which disappeared into a hedgerow to regain his sense of dignity and inebriated composure once more and he would celebrate his win with a night of endless beers and congratulations at the Old Hobbledehoy! Jenny’s heart throbbed uncontrollably, so much she thought it would burst from her breast!
‘And as the riders approach the next hurdle several can be seen crossing themselves as traditionally this hurdle, like the Widow-maker, has taken many a frail old body to its final resting place, it is of course – Death’s Door! Previous riders have told me that the approach to Death’s Door is like approaching a huge wall of black lace that draws you on and smothers you; well let’s see if it smothers any of our riders today! And the first over is King Harold, closely followed by Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex and Push-Up Bra, with What will the Neighbours Think, For Gawd’s Sake in sixth and oh, Mrs Sylvia Hoskins on Not in my back yard takes a tumble after crashing into For Gawd’s Sake and she is on the ground and she is not moving ladies and gentlemen, she is not moving and it seems we have our first casualty’ and swiftly on the scene are the paramedics followed by Mr Joseph Skinks the Undertaker who on this occasion may have been cheated out of his corpse! ‘Let’s give a big round of applause to Mrs Hoskins and let’s hope she pulls through! And as the horses round Incontinence Corner to face the next hazard in a stream of hazards one after the other six riders and horses now dare to approach the next hurdle – the Grim Reaper!
And all the riders make it successfully over the Reaper and the line-up is King Harold ahead by a nose, Push-Up Bra now taking second place followed by Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex and What will the Neighbours Think and For Gawd’s Sake neck and neck as they ride into Sudden Death Corner.’
They now gallop towards the only water jump on the course – The Styx, which to make things interesting has been filled with animal waste kindly donated by Mr Barrows at Shacklewood Farm. ‘Let’s encourage them on ladies and gentlemen and cheer loudly! And so at the Styx first over is King Harold followed by Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think who falters a little at the jump and For Gawd’s Sake who clears it and Lady Tremaigne hangs on well, not bad for a seventy-two year old with pots of money in the bank and on the lookout for a younger man I am told!
And as the runners and riders approach the half-way stage and attempt their second lap of the course it’s King Harold still in the lead by two lengths with Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake. And we’ve just been informed ladies and gentlemen that Mrs Sylvia Hoskins who fell at Death’s Door on Not in my back yard has broken her neck in several places and will spend the remainder of her life unable to move so let’s have a big hand for Mrs Hoskins! And as they go round again they approach for the second time the Triple-Bypass! There goes King Harold, Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think a length ahead of For Gawd’s Sake successfully through all three hurdles of the Bypass!
And they’re really giving that little lad a good poking with that sharp stick as the screams and tears fail to move the most resolute of riders to any sense of motherly duty! And as they round Coffin Corner once more looming into view is the Scythe!
Over the Scythe one by one they go: King Harold, Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex, What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake in the rear!
And swiftly past Tea -Shop Corner to meet the awful prospect of the Pensioners’ Peril! And over they go, King Harold, Push-Up Bra, Mephistopheles, Not enough Sex wobbling a little there, they’re surely tiring now! And behind Not enough Sex is What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake still unshakeable in the rear!’
And it seems Mrs O’Hara has had a miserable day today for not one of the riders were interested in her local gossip but I’m sure all shall be revealed in the Bournebottom Green Herald with such headlines a “Scandal shocks village” and “Vicar defrocked as sex rumours persist!” ‘And with the gap between What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake closing fast on the Devil’s Ride they are approaching the dreaded Widdow-maker!
And at nan’s nightmare the Widdow-maker it’s King Harold who makes it look easy followed by Push-Up Bra and Mephistopheles and Not enough Sex, then What will the Neighbours think and For Gawd’s Sake and oh there goes Mrs Olive Banner on What will the Neighbours think, taking a really nasty tumble there as she drops to the ground and For Gawd’s Sake rushes into her!’ and the crowed gives a gasp and is hushed into silence and shock for Mrs Banner! Jenny stood there open-mouthed and she could hear Samantha’s deep intake of breath behind her and felt her hand instantly find her own and grasp it! Jenny squeezed it and trembled at the thought of her sudden intimacy and almost subconsciously thanked Mrs Banner for the sacrifice of her part in the race for her own tender satisfaction and almost regained faith in an Almighty being, but not altogether, she was quite content to have the hand of Miss Samantha Wandell in hers, at least it restored her faith in love and romance!
Joseph Skinks the undertaker, appearing on the scene like Dr Praetorius from the classic film The Bride of Frankenstein, his large nostrils scenting the distinctive and familiar odour of death, runs onto the race track like a grisly black spider after its web has been pulled, before the Paramedics and pronounces life extinct. He then struggles with the body and the coffin in a grim dance macabre that left little to the imagination as he pulled and pushed the late Mrs Banner into the box and dragged it off the course; like a dreadful black dung beetle scuttling away with his prize he hurried the bloody remains of Mrs Banner to a place of safe-keeping. ‘And so we have our first fatality! Seventy-nine years old ladies and gentlemen and didn’t she put up a brave fight!’ Jenny’s mother looked with sad eyes at Jenny and stroked her hair with her soft hand and pulled her close towards her. Samantha pulled her hand free from Jenny’s and stroked her arm as she looked round she could see tears in Samantha’s eyes, Samantha sniffed and said ‘she only just lost her husband, poor old Olive!’ and Jenny felt a tear come to her eye too. Jenny’s mother who also had tears in her eyes comforted the two girls as they huddled together a little – but the race continued!
‘And so they are into Machine Gun Alley once more and the guns are relentless as ever!
And Mrs Josephine Harper on King Harold is pelted with a hail of bullets which knocks her from the saddle but through sheer courage and determination she hangs on but has fallen back into second place as Push-Up Bra now takes the lead position, and wait, Mrs Whittaker is off, she’s been knocked from her horse Mephistopheles by a tirade of bullets that really tore into this sturdy dame and has sadly ended the race for Mephistopheles! She’s waving so she seems to be fine! I’m sure we shall see her again next year ladies and gentlemen as long as she is not snatched from life by that old grim spectre Death! And behind King Harold is Not enough Sex and For Gawd’s Sake.
At Death’s Door, you’ll remember Mrs Sylvia Hoskins had her mobility taken away so cruelly by this great black silken thread of a fence that seems to suck all the life from the riders and shall we see again life being thrown away so carelessly! At the approach it’s Push-Up Bra followed by King Harold with Not enough Sex and For Gawd’s Sake neck and neck in third place!’
Jenny looked round behind her but Samantha had gone and a sudden sense of sadness descended upon her. Her mother pulled her close, sensing some strangeness in her behaviour but not really knowing why Jenny felt such love and loss so instantaneously and so intensely.
‘And as they round Incontinence Corner they approach the disturbing sight of the Grim Reaper who has come to cut them down as Mrs Banner was so cruelly cut down just a few moments ago ladies and gentlemen. Well as ever the Annual Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase never fails to delight and so far it’s been a spectacular race with one death and at least one casualty!
And the Grim Reaper fails to collect another death today as horse and rider brush him aside saying “not today mister death!” and they fly over in succession – Push-Up Bra, King Harold, Not enough Sex and For Gawd’s Sake. And so they round Sudden Death Corner on the approach to the Styx water jump which is the last obstacle in the race before they pound it out to the end and at the Styx it’s Push-Up Bra, followed by King Harold and Not enough Sex and then For Gawd’s Sake who you will remember took the early lead and now sits disappointed in last place! All safely over the Styx they hurtle towards the finishing line and on the inside is Push-Up Bra a length ahead of King Harold and pulling in front of Not enough Sex is For Gawd’s Sake given a last minute reprieve we wonder as she strides ahead of Not enough Sex to take third place and at the finishing post it’s Push-Up Bra closely followed in second place by King Harold and For Gawd’s Sake in third and Not enough Sex in fourth place! A big hand ladies and gentlemen for Mrs Amanda Collins on Push-Up Bra, she was seventy-eight just a week ago so belated birthday wishes and I’m sure she’ll be having a glass or two tonight!’ The crowd roared and the crowd cheered and the spectacle of the Annual Ladies’ Septuagenarian Steeplechase had come to an end, just as the life of poor old Mrs Banner had come to an end!
And so another Bournebottom Green Summer Fete draws to its close and for Jenny who would treasure the rose given to her by the beautiful Samantha who would haunt her dreams for a long time to come, many opportunities, revelations and romantic fancies were opened, disclosed and sown and over the coming weeks and months who knows what delicious seeds will grow from the fertile mind of Miss Jenny Pole!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

SOME GARDENS IN NORTHAMPTONSHIRE

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE GARDENS


A FEW GARDENS AT FLORE
 
from the 55th Flower and Garden Festival
Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th June 2017

 
The Old Bakery
 
 
 
 

 
 










 
 
 
A FEW GARDENS AT GUILSBOROUGH
 
Sunday 7th May 2017
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Guilsborough House
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dripwell House and Garden
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



 

 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Chaunderlay Faunus


THE CHAUNDERLAY FAUNUS
BY
BARRY VAN-ASTEN

 

Charles Chaunderlay and his friend Robert Beauleigh who is staying as a guest and arrived late last night are having breakfast in the dining room at Chaunderlay Hall in Oxfordshire.
‘How’s your devilled kidneys?’ enquired Charles.
‘They’re really not so bad once one gets past the satanic connotations’ replied Robert, adding that ‘perhaps they are a little over-cooked, don’t you think?’
‘Yes, very much so but it would break dear Mrs Snipe’s heart to tell her or to even suggest the merest hint of criticism towards her culinary expertise; she’s a temperamental old thing you know and gets into the most awful hysterics and besides, cooks are very much in demand at the moment and have the upper-hand over their employers in that they can command an enormous salary! Best to keep quiet about it old chap!’ And so the two gentlemen continued with their breakfast in silence, until Robert said: ‘You know Charles, you never did tell me about that awful affair concerning that minor scandal at Rugby you were involved in!’
‘No, it broke dear mother’s heart!’ replied Charles, after sipping his tea. ‘The thing is, I rather made a bit of a fool of myself with a boy named Carmichael, most compromising but all perfectly innocent. We exchanged certain letters which could have been viewed in an extremely bad light and frowned upon if you get my meaning? He was an angelic creature, the sort of boy who could exit church appearing more pure and holy than the clerics, and my heart fell for him and I simply kissed him that is all. Of course all hell broke loose and I was hauled before the Head and father, to whom I was a disgrace and a disappointment had to quell the storm saying it was all a terrible mistake and it was put down to the natural exuberance of youth and that I was confused after suffering an illness etc. but the truth of the matter was that I was in love with Carmichael and refused to let him go and we would clandestinely see each other whenever possible.’
‘What happened?’ said Robert, drawing nearer.
‘I was treated in the most God awful manner possible and no one spoke to me for a whole term, I was to all intents and purposes persona non grata, sent to Coventry so to speak. Well my health really did break down under such barbaric abuse and I had to come home to recuperate. Father, damn his cold heart was furious…’
A shocked expression crossed Robert’s face, ‘you don’t mean that Charles!’
‘Oh but I most certainly do! The best thing he ever did for me was to have the consideration and good fortune to go hunting that day and be thrown from his horse! I hated him so much Robert! He really put me through hell!’ Robert put his hand against Charles’ arm and Charles continued, ‘mother was most considerate of the situation. On my return I was sent to the Headmaster, a vulgar swine by the way who wanted a sworn statement as to my unwholesome behaviour saying that I had corrupted poor Carmichael; he was hoping for an expulsion! He really did make something which was very beautiful seem like something depraved and sordid! I could have thrust a knife into his callous heart!’
‘Were you obliging, with the statement I mean?’ Robert asked.
‘Certainly not! Rugby as you well know is a hot-bed of forbidden repression particularly among the Masters but there were a select few who tormented the boys with their affectations so to speak; I knew that several Masters were far more corrupting than I was imagined to be and I did what any self-respecting young gentleman would do – I kept my mouth shut! Do you know he even had the audacity to strike me six times across each hand and call me a filthy debauched blackguard! The next day Carmichael slighted me and passed me coming out of his dorm and never spoke to me again – the bloods had a field day ragging me in the ruins of my romance! I won’t take much away from my prep school Robert except that perfect vision of love that I was privileged to be given at an important time of my life and a special gift which was the most exquisite gift any young boy can own – I am of course talking of masturbation, for it is the beginning of a life-long, beautiful friendship!’
‘You are a hopeless romantic after all Charles! Did you ever see him again, this Carmichael lad?’
‘No’ said Charles, brushing his blonde hair from his eyes, ‘he was killed at the Somme I believe! He was my eggs and bacon…’
‘Sorry to hear that! Really, you are strange Charles!’ said Robert, once again tackling the remains of his devilled kidney that refused to yield so easily. ‘When I was a young boy’ Robert continued, ‘I fell in love with father’s stable boy, a perfect Narcissus he was but it was nothing serious of course, except that to me, in my head, I sanctified his very being and found constant infernal excuses to visit the stables!’
‘Many are the sweet blushes that adorn the innocent in their frantic search for love and passionate encounters which flourish and terminate at the stable door dear boy! When I was a small boy’ Charles continued, ‘I didn’t associate with other boys, in fact I found them rather drab little fellows with absolutely nothing in common with me whatsoever. I was forever in the company of little girls who interested me immensely. Now that I have grown into my skin and am able to appreciate my own sex for what they are, I seldom if ever associate with the fairer sex, in fact, I can’t abide them. Now what does that say about me, eh?’ Charles looked fervently into Robert’s eyes as if searching for an answer, but all that Robert uttered was ‘most perplexing!’
‘You know I’m a firm believer in the Ancient Greek system of education when an older man or “erastes”, the adorer or the lover, takes a young adolescent, the “eromenos” or the beloved under his wing and introduces him to the ways of the world and his wife; gives him a sense of moral perfection and well-being; puts steel into the flesh and generally draws the boy into adulthood with a thirst for knowledge! Have you read Plato’s Symposium? You should you know, all about the freeing of the mind from the natural distractions of the mortal body through Eros, a non-physical love which mirrors…’
‘I forgot to mention’ interrupted Robert, yawning, ‘I distinctly heard footsteps outside my room last night which went on until the early hours – is Chaunderlay Hall haunted?’
‘No, that will be my brother Cedric, he’s not slept since Passchendaele and easily mistaken for a ghost if you should ever see him, which of course you won’t as he keeps to his room on the pretence of writing his memoirs and only comes out after lights out! The war took a terrible toll on him and he came home awfully disfigured, you know!’
‘Poor devil!’ remarked Robert, ‘it must be awfully infuriating for you having a war hero in the family?’
‘Not really’ said Charles, ‘he despises me and we haven’t spoken in many days after he called me an “effeminate coward”!’
‘That’s too bad! I’m very sorry to hear that. I hope I do make his acquaintance all the same and have the opportunity of thanking him for his hospitality, after all he is your brother and he is Lord Chaunderlay!’
‘Lord Chaunderlay be damned! I have had to take on his duties since he is incapable of rising to the occasion following father’s death last year and mother’s passing recently which was a great blow to us all here at the Hall! You’re here as my guest and I must ask you not to disturb him for he won’t thank you for it!’
 ‘As you wish Charles!’
‘You heard all about the engagement being called off I suppose? She dropped him like a hot potato when what was left of him returned from the Front! You know he spent twenty-eight years worshipping women as Goddesses and since Evelyn called it off he’s been tearing down that foolish illusion and smashing the pedestal he built for her; twenty-eight years to realise that women, beneath the surface are just as cruel and deceptive as men – that they too expel liquids, solids and gases – that was a real shock to him I can tell you! I learnt a long time ago that all women are like the Mona Lisa, if you scrape away the beautiful paint on top all you are left with is a dirty canvas!’
‘You don’t have a very high opinion of women do you Charles?’
‘I find them insufferable! They repulse me!’ he said, and looked away.
After a short silence, Robert broke it with ‘you know it strikes me as rather odd that you never served King and country yourself; I have an excuse as I was not old enough at the time but you were of age!’
‘Bees don’t keep themselves you know!’ replied Charles haughtily.
‘No seriously, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask.’
‘It is indeed and if you must know I objected to the war on religious grounds and I was told not to apply to the Officer’s Training Corps for reasons to which my “affliction” was the prime cause yet it was never mentioned per se; they just didn’t want my sort I’m afraid.’
‘I wasn’t aware that you were a religious person Charles for you seem always to be blaspheming Christ and the Church!’ Robert said with a puzzled expression.
‘True Christians should question everything and not accept things blindly; in the end I came to the sorrowful conclusion that there is no God! So a career in the Church was out of the question! I did have thoughts of following in father’s footsteps and joining the army when I was younger but concluded that it would be no good for my feet!’
‘Your feet Charles! I thought an army marches on its stomach?’ Robert jested.
‘Only gastropods march on their stomachs dear boy, and I am told with absolute conviction and sincerity that so does the German army who have a distinct resemblance to the fore-mentioned slimy devils! The Kaiser keeps one under his nose don’t you know!’ Robert laughed and said tenderly ‘were you terribly hurt by that boy Carmichael?’ Charles said nothing but his eyes were almost tearful and answered for him; ‘am I your eggs and bacon now?’ Robert whispered, to which Charles put his hand on Robert’s hand and said softly and passionately, ‘indubitably!’
Robert stood up and walked over to the window as the morning sun poured its glorious rays upon the expanse of garden before him.
‘I must say when you spoke about the gardens at Chaunderlay being so lovely I thought perhaps you were exaggerating, but you didn’t, not a word of it!’ Robert said, turning and looking into Robert’s eyes with complete faith in him and everything about him.
‘Come into the garden Maud!’ Charles sang in his best comical operatic voice.
And so following breakfast the two gentlemen went through the doors onto the terrace for a stroll, arm in arm in the garden.
‘The garden is beautiful isn’t it Robert, I just love the haunting sound of the peacocks, like food to a starving man!’
‘I’ve noticed that about you Charles, you seem to associate all things of beauty with food, in fact, hardly a conversation goes by without some mention or reference to things edible!’
‘Perhaps it’s a metaphor for sex! God knows what Freud would make of it! But really, I can’t help my epicurean foibles you know!’
‘That sounds like a Greek dish!’
‘It probably is!’ laughed Charles. ‘Tell me, how do you like Oxford?’ Robert shielded his eyes from the sun and said, ‘for the first time I feel almost complete, as if my life until now was only play-acting; academia suits my temperament very well and I have fallen in with a good crowd – I laughed the other day when my friend Forbes asked Stilby-Jones what one has if one takes three away from two, after much deliberation Stilby-Jones says “you’re straying into the realms of the invisible!” He tried to illustrate the case by using the salt and pepper pots, saying “there’s you’re two objects, now how can I take three away when there is only two for there must be a third in hiding somewhere!” and he pretended to look for it under the table! He’s a real chump but a good hearted chump! And Forbes is an absolute menace when it comes to debauched behaviour and that sort of thing; he enjoys every opportunity of college obscenity and is constantly to be found among the “Oxford Lilies”!’
‘Ah, I remember those lilies well! Those adorable little college hyacinths… strange, I always found myself in the cauliflower and cabbage patch striving for love, beauty and perfection amongst the penny brassicas! This chap Forbes, is he studying divinity?’
‘No, ancient languages!’
‘Pity, I hear the Church is crying out for decent young men like Forbes nowadays, especially after the terrible consequences in Europe! You know, it is wise to cultivate the freak and those of a weird disposition which I believe Oxford is famous for and has in abundance for it gives them an enormous sense of achievement to be in the orbit of gifted undergraduates and it gives the intellectual a heightened sense of superiority and self-importance which prepares them for the outside world! I’m glad you’re enjoying it up at Oxford; make the most of it for it goes so quickly and before you know it you’re turned out like cattle into the cruel world with the terrible prospect of finding a job and earning a living!’ said Charles wincing.
‘Is that why you love me Charles, because of my disposition?’ Robert said putting both his hands on Charles’s shoulders.
‘On the contrary dear Robert, I love you for your perfect innocence, an innocence I hasten to add I abandoned a very long time ago!’ Robert smiled and they continued walking.
‘Do you believe in an after life Charles?’ Robert suddenly said.
‘I’m not altogether sure I believe in a present life!’ Charles retorted, presenting his silver cigarette case to Robert for him to take one of his exquisite Mediterranean cigarettes which he has imported specially.
‘I only ask because mother has taken to spiritualism to father’s deep consternation; she regularly attends séances given by the mysterious Madame Fiori!’
‘I should say the only mysterious thing about this so-called “Madame Fiori” is that she encourages the fool-hardy and gullible into parting with large sums of money and tilting the table a little and swearing blind that she is in direct communication with Great Aunt Mabel who wants to know what happened to her porcelain tea service and the fact that she is not in prison for it is beyond belief – that’s the mystery!’
‘Mother gets some sense of relief from it; you remember I told you about cousin George who took the King’s shilling and decided to scatter his body over the battlefield at Ypres, well she says he’s come through and wants to know how his best gelding is doing, not a word about poor Aunt Mary!’
‘Bloody typical! He has the perfect opportunity, to whit the majestic and somewhat celebrated ear of the renowned and I might add distinguished Madame Fiori and all he can think to say is “’ow’s me ‘orse?” not a word about God and “oh by the way what they are telling you in Church is absolute tosh and don’t believe a word of it and if I were you I’d put five guineas on ”Stumbling Joe” in the two-forty-five at Epsom on Friday!” He sounds an absolute bore!’
‘He was, tremendously!’
‘I think it was Keats who said “the way of life is uncertain, and the soul is in a ferment!”’
‘Dear Keats! Only he could say such a thing! I must lend you my Percy Osborn, quite delightful! By the way, thanks for your book of poems Charles – it’s not a bit like Swinburne, perhaps a little Baudelaire in places!’
‘Hmmm’, Charles sighed.
They stood for a while in silence beside the rose garden, seeming a little awkward.
‘I must congratulate Stevens; the roses are looking first rate!’ Charles said to break the silence, and then followed with ‘you do know I’m rather fond of you Robert, don’t you?’
‘Of course Charles!’ answered Robert, ‘passion really isn’t your forte is it? You can kiss me you know; we are quite alone and out of sight of the house!’ and Robert leaned closer towards Charles.
‘We have to be circumspect in these things – I’ll come to you later!’ Charles said somewhat mournfully, before kissing Robert tenderly and saying ‘my love for you is phantasmagorical!’ and he departed back to the Hall to tend to his correspondence, letters addressed to the ‘Lord Chaunderlay’, a task which had fallen upon the younger Chaunderlay. Meanwhile Robert returned back to the terrace where he wasted numerous hours losing himself in some romantic novel by a chap named Bloxam, sipping countless cups of coffee and smoking endless cigarettes.

That evening after dinner Charles took Robert into the drawing room.
‘And here is the famous Chaunderlay Faunus!’ Charles declared pouring himself and Robert a glass of port.
‘It looks rather ugly to me Charles!’ Robert said scrunching his face and accepting his glass.
‘I should expect nothing less from a Brasenose man like yourself studying history! It was discovered in the garden you know, behind the stables during the archaeological excavation my father instigated and took part in along with many fragments of pottery and some coins which he presented to the Ashmolean!’
‘Strange, Oxford isn’t considered a major Roman site, in fact, it’s rather dull from historical perspectives!’ said Robert.
‘Indeed, but there were many villas throughout the region and we believe we have the foundations of a Temple of Minerva, according to the remains of the floor mosaic which was discovered; it was filled in again to protect it but I like to think it was to protect the maiden virgins of Oxfordshire who might glimpse the shameless acts of depravity depicted in the tiling!’
‘Are there any maiden virgins left in Oxfordshire?’
‘One lives in hope, Robert, one lives in hope!’
Robert stepped closer to the Faunus ‘I must say it is very curious, the Faunus I mean, almost devilish don’t you think?’ he said examining the work of art.
‘Probably a stylised sculpture of Pan – now there was a deity to believe in! You know there is nothing finer than stripping modern man of all his false veneers and convictions and reducing him to his base pagan emotions; running naked through ancient woodland to the sound of the pan pipe! To dance naked in the moonlight like a wild animal and swim without shame in the river as the water ripples across the naked beauty of man!’
‘I am sensing a theme with this discourse Charles!’ Robert quipped, smiling.
‘You must excuse me Robert for I am an inveterate enthusiast of the male nude and its aesthetic lineaments send me into raptures of exquisite joy!’
‘I quite understand there’s something spiritually uplifting about the naked male form! One can almost see the image of Christ in every glorious muscular curve! But really Charles you do astound me at times: only a true poet could condemn the whole of the modern world as you do Charles!’
‘Why thank you Robert! I say don’t you think the Faunus would look better in the Hallway, it would make a terrific centrepiece?’
‘But this is the grandest room in the house Charles,’ said Robert rather puzzled by the suggestion, ‘and it seems only fitting amongst the family portraits!’
Charles gazed at Robert intensely and said ‘it’s an absolutely dreadful room, dull and imposing; I rarely come into this room, I’m damned if I’ll have twelve generations of Chaunderlays looking down on me! It’s bad enough having the so-called Lord of the Manor breathing down my neck without several centuries of disgust and disapproval!’
‘I must say they’re an austere bunch!’ said Robert looking round the room at the ancestral portraits which adorned the walls.
‘Tyrants, misfits and heretics, the lot of them! Take this unfortunate looking brute…’ and Charles began to give a blood-thirsty account of several of his more notorious ancestors.
The night drifted on towards its own conclusion and before long Robert retired to bed. Not long afterwards Charles knocked and entered the room, disrobed and got into bed with Robert where they spent the long hours in each others arms, their warm naked bodies locked in passionate waves of wild abandoned love as they listened to the sound of footsteps walking up and down the corridor outside the door and dreamed that a time would come in the not too distant future when they would no longer have to hide their love for each other in shadows!

 
‘And this, Ladies and Gentlemen’ said the tour guide, ‘is the Blue Room, reputedly haunted by the ghost of Captain Sir Cedric Chaunderlay who is also said to walk the corridor outside the room; having been wounded at Passchendaele, he suffered great mental distress and sadly took his own life in this very room on 19th November 1919, placing his service revolver against his head – bang!’ The small crowd of visitors gave a discernable shudder as the guide chuckled to himself; he’d given the same speech a hundred times and startled many a nervous onlooker and never failed to find death amusing. One of the inquisitive members of the group suddenly grunted ‘have you ever seen a ghost and do you think it’s really haunted?’ to which the tour guide answered ‘well, I’ve not personally seen anything ghostly so to speak but put it this way, I’d rather go home of an evening to my dear wife rather than spend a night alone here and if you’ve ever met my wife you would understand that one is only slightly more terrifying than the other!’ There was a gentle ripple of titters amongst the small crowd who sniffed and coughed and looked up from their phones; like a shepherd herding sheep he led the group back into the hallway saying ‘may I draw your attention to this elegant Georgian staircase – it was at the bottom of this beautiful stair one fateful day in 1922 that the then Lord Charles Chaunderlay discovered the twisted dead body of his friend and lover Robert Beauleigh. His Lordship was devastated and after a brief sojourn in the United States he travelled to Europe and lived extensively abroad until he returned to Chaunderlay Hall in 1931. Just five years later he was found dead in suspicious circumstances in a London park and there was talk of blackmail and scandal! Was he murdered? We do not know for sure but if you will now accompany me into the drawing room I will show you where his ghost has been seen by staff and guests alike on more than one occasion!’ The sheep bleated and shuffled towards the drawing room eager to see an apparition, clicking their camera phones in the general direction of anything and everything as the guide blew his nose, adding ‘those of you who are interested in the life of Charles Chaunderlay will find his two-volume autobiography “Can’t run, can hide!” and “The Last of the Chaunderlays”  available in the shop on your way out along with his two published volumes of poetry “A Factor of Strangeness” from 1918 and “Sonnets to my Milk-White Spartan” from 1923 dedicated to his good friend Robert Beauleigh!’ and the assembled spectators pushed and nosed their way into the drawing room.
‘We are standing in close proximity to one of the greatest treasures here at Chaunderlay – the Chaunderlay Faunus! This little statue was found in the grounds of Chaunderlay Hall during excavations in 1915; in fact, many Roman artefacts were discovered such as coins and shards of pottery and they can be viewed in the Ashmolean Museum. Some say that all the misfortune that occurred following its discovery essentially points towards it being cursed! I must mention the first tragedy which occurred two years after its discovery; it was in the winter of 1917 when Major Sir Montague Chaunderlay died in a terrible hunting accident. His wife Lady Violet Chaunderlay passed away the following year of natural causes we believe, leaving the two boys Cedric and Charles. And now the Chaunderlays reside in the family vault in the parish church! Is it cursed? Knowing the fate of the Chaunderlays, very probably but you must decide for yourselves!’

Monday, 29 May 2017

BROTHER BEATALI'S GARDEN






BROTHER BEATALI’S GARDEN
by
BARRY VAN-ASTEN

 

                  What I know of the divine sciences and Holy Scriptures, I learned
                        in woods and fields. I have no other master than the beeches and
                        the oaks.

(Saint Bernard of Clairvaux)

 

 

There was no stain upon the old man; there was neither bitter envy nor petty jealousy to corrupt the natural wrinkles of his aged flesh; each deep line upon his jovial face told a tale of many years spent out of doors toiling beneath the heat of the sun and the cold of the winter months, battered by all the elements. He was a pious man without sin who tended devotedly and lovingly the garden of the Benedictine monastery as he had done for sixty-two summers. Each morning Brother Beatali inspected the lush gardens of the Monastero di Santo Benedetto which nestled in a sun-soaked valley beneath steep vineyards in a province of Southern Italy, to see which new buds had opened and which of his cherished children needed special attention. He would pick the soft ripe fruit for his fellow brothers to enjoy with their meal and take an armful of cut flowers from the rose garden into the monastery to bring God’s ‘wonderful glory indoors to saviour and to reflect upon nature’s beauty and bounty!’ Brother Beatali was a simple man of faith with simple needs, as all the brothers were and he delighted in his day’s work and never felt it was a hindrance to his spiritual progress for he fully believed that the work aided him and that a day in the garden was more spiritually uplifting and rewarding than a month of devotional prayers! Although he was old and quite frail physically Brother Beatali had the sharp mind still of a young man on the cusp of great learning and a life spent beneath the warm rays of the sun had hardened not only his skin which was tanned like some ancient exotic fruit but his acceptance that true evil inhabits the world of man which is reflected in nature; it also strengthened his natural capacity to love all God’s wonderful creatures! Rarely was he disturbed in his gardening duties unless he called for assistance from a fellow brother to help with some heavy or tiresome work which his withered muscles could not accomplish any more. Amongst the flowers and the shrubs, he was utterly selfless and each kind act towards the tender plants rewarded him with sore limbs and aching muscles for his devotion and he praised God for it! He would go on until his last breath summoned his soul away from his precious garden to God where he would tend the celestial gardens!
 
One day, after he had been harvesting vegetables in the garden with Brother Excelsis with whom he had been talking of ‘Il Martirio di San Sebastian’ and who carried the heavy load to the kitchens, the old man sat down upon the bench in the garden, as he often did when he felt a little tired and watched the bees busy themselves amongst the loveliest of fragrant blooms and saw how the birds hopped between the newly dug soil, picking at the supply of worms and other things that crept and crawled and wriggled and slithered and squirmed upon the earth; he looked along a narrow avenue of the garden and could see the glorious marigold borders and the peonies and the lupines in the shade of the garden; beneath a statue of Saint Benedict was a stone basin overflowing with cool water which was during the warmest part of the day inhabited by small birds cleansing their feathers from the dust; further still beyond the herb beds and medicinal plants were the orchards and the bee hives filled with thick golden honey for the Brothers to gather and spread upon warm cut loaves; his eye was directed down a short vista which led to the gnarled and knotted trunk of the walnut tree and drawn to a small wooden carving of Christ on the cross of suffering – he  looked upon all this as a gift from God and sighed knowing that one day he must leave the garden but while he rested and remained on earth he felt complete contentment as the songbirds trilled before him.
He supposed that he must have fallen asleep on the bench beneath the cherry blossom tree for he felt as if time had no passage and there was a feeling of great apprehension in the air which seemed to ring with the strange sound of a bell being struck which note seemed to stretch out into the distance, rising in tone before falling away. Suddenly he heard a voice from behind him call his name and he looked round to see a figure of a man come to greet him –
‘Brother Beatali, be assured that I am not here to direct you from your labours, for I am here to instruct you upon your sinful ways!’
Brother Beatali was shocked at what the stranger said and demanded to know with whom he was speaking and how he came by the garden which was strictly for use by the brotherhood.
‘I am to you an Angel of the Good Lord Almighty God, as you know me and I am everywhere for there are no boundaries; I would expect a more intelligent and higher evolved being to bow down before such a messenger of God, but I have no expectations of you Brother Beatali!’
‘Why should I believe who you are and what you say? You may be an evil spirit sent by the Devil to torment and tempt me from my faith in the Lord!’ said the old man. Then, the Good Angel of God came close to the old man and whispered in his ear – ‘Now do you understand?’ said the Angel.
The old man sat open-mouthed for what had been said was never disclosed to any living soul and the fact that the Angel knew such personal details proved undoubtedly to the Brother that indeed he was an Angel of the Good Lord!
Then the Angel continued: ‘There is no devil! Mankind’s ignorance in such matters proves that they are of a primitive mind and not worthy to worship God Almighty!’
‘My life has been one of devotion and prayer yet you call me a sinner!’ the old man said with a look of surprise and helplessness.
‘Yes, for you have sinned greatly and mankind for thousands of years has been guilty of such sins which must be cleansed!’
‘I do not understand!’ said the old man who had now fallen to his knees in supplication.
‘Do you really believe that humanity is the singular most intelligent species upon the earth? How absurd! Humanity was created to serve the major species and to assist it to flourish but mankind has persistently desecrated the higher life forms of this world!’
‘To what are you referring as the “higher life form”, for we are unaware of any greater intelligence than ourselves on this world or any other for that fact!’ 
‘You have devoted your whole life to the nurturing and destruction of that life form; your hands have wrung life from God’s children on earth and you say you don’t know! It is the plant kingdom of course, the kingdom that you have systematically and ruthlessly plundered and murdered!’
Brother Beatali was mortified and stammered: ‘But the plants are incapable of movement and speech, how can they be more intelligent than mankind?’ the old man asked.
‘Speech is the solidified excreta of thought, it is base and primal and not intellectual for those of a higher intelligence communicate by thought without the need for words of sound and it is common throughout the universe and all the universes that movement hinders intelligence and is unnecessary for the sedate body grows in a more refined emotional and intellectual capacity. So you must see that you humans are merely there to aid and serve the master species, the master species that you remove from the earth, that you twist and contort into shapes of obscene fancy in the name of “horticultural”, and interfere with in the name of “Botany”; life forms that you cut down and torture by putting them into glass vessels and watching them slowly die!’
‘My love has been a perfect blessing of love for the flowers and all the things that grow in the wild and you say that all this time I have been torturing and murdering my children!’ The old man said with tears in his eyes.
‘Since the time of Eden of which parable was given to you as a warning to end your wickedness when the great and splendorous garden of the world was created specifically for the plant kingdom to enjoy and flourish it was decided that they would need a species to care for them and to serve them dutifully and so was created the lesser-brained and physically unrefined inferior body of man! There have been many Adams through the millennia and all have accumulated to the desecration of the garden from the first taste of the forbidden fruit to the wearing of the vine leaves upon the obscene genitals, humiliating the king of all the climbing plants! Man has become a loathsome egotistical parasite upon the earth cutting down the forests and exploiting the earth’s resources and in my world we refer to you as savages! It is true you have accumulated certain basic knowledge but you have not the capacity to use it wisely for wisdom is a very rare thing upon the earth!’ and with that the Angel left the old man to his thoughts and feelings of utter bewilderment and despair!
The old man looked decidedly miserable when Brother Excelsis returned to him in the garden but Beatali said nothing to him and remained silent; there was an indescribable rage of hatred and anger rising in the good Brother which had never risen in him before and he spoke to no-one all evening and all night.

The brothers rose early the next day as they always did expecting their basket of fruit from the garden but when none was forthcoming they decided to look for Brother Beatali. And so Brothers Sylvanus, Excelsis and Abbot Peter Magdaveda, left the monastery in search of their loyal and devoted brother Beatali! Upon entering the walled garden the despondent scene of disruption and malevolent disarray of the beautiful garden struck them speechless. As they stood there looking round they could see smoke rising from a bonfire which had the remains of the shrubs and the cherry trees upon it; further they could see the stumps of the apple trees that had been savagely hacked down and heaps of cut roses and other flowers pulled out by the roots thrown unceremoniously onto a hill of dying and dead blooms, in fact, nothing was living in the garden whatsoever, everything had been destroyed. The brothers could only assume that Brother Beatali had gone completely mad to inflict such injury upon his beloved garden and was undoubtedly influenced by some evil spirit which had possessed him and during the night he tore down the whole garden in some sort of insane rage. After further investigation Brother Beatali was found lying amidst a heap of lilies and dahlias, cold and undeniably dead! It seemed his heart had given out following the utter destruction of the garden and so the brothers went away to pray and ask God’s forgiveness for what their brother had done before the task of clearing the garden and re-growing the fruits and the vegetables and the lovely roses began in earnest once more!