Coogi, Pablo And The Woman Next Door


The lovely but impatient Griselda, my speech-impedimented next-door neighbour, seemingly finds me such good company that she spends more time in my house than in her own. Love thy neighbour (Jesus); but don’t get rid of hedges (Benjamin Franklin).
Last night after work, for example, over a glass of  cool green Chardonnay on my verandah , she even asked if she could have a spare key so that she could pop in before I came back from work and switch on the central heating, do a bit tidying up, even prepare a meal if I wanted, as a way of showing her gratitude for my friendship and company.  Otto, her head-hunted husband, had flown off to Bolivia’s Western Amazon forest to film the Callicebus Moloch (a titi monkey on the threatened species list), leaving Griselda in the care of Pablo, their large white Alsatian (an avant-garde dog, Otto told apprehensive visitors, thus the name, and yes, he was quite safe with children).

Unfortunately on her first visit to me after Otto’s departure, as soon as I opened the door Pablo had burst past  like a greyhound out of  the trap and with a single crunch and shake of his big head put an abrupt and savage end to Coogi, my constant companion, my lovable friend, the one-who-made-me-smile.
Alas, poor Coogi.
No point in blaming  Pablo, it was his  nature after all.  Griselda should have muzzled him.  Or had him on a lead at the very least.  Common sense.  However I could also see she was so distressed by it all that I couldn’t add to her misery by pointing this out to her.  As it was she went away in tears.
Poor Coogi.
I could hardly just  drop him casually into a hole in the garden. We had been together for seven years, ever since I moved here in fact. He deserved some sort of dignified funeral service. The thought of dirt landing directly on his body was emotionally upsetting. I picked up the limp, still warm body and wrapped it in a crisp, white pillow case. In the attic I unearthed a cardboard box still containing the walking boots I’d bought years ago but never used, replaced them with the shrouded body (he had ceased to be ‘Coogi’) and found a spot which he used to stare at with great concentration from the veranda.
The rectangular hole I dug there was about 3 feet deep – deep enough I hoped to prevent Pablo or one of his kind digging up the body. As I shovelled the earth over the box I had to stop and stayed that way for long enough, leaning on the spade, not thinking about Coogi in particular but about life in general. And death. I tried to think of something to say, a prayer, a final farewell…
Some sort of marker then? A  shrub? Tree? Flower?…..
I stood leaning on the spade till it started to rain, feeling the way I felt when I was small and Miss Sutherland asked the class a question to which nobody knew the answer and the silence went on and on until I put my hand up and said the first thing that came into my head.  Bicycles. Everyone except Miss Sutherland had laughed.

I had just sat down at my desk and begun reading my students’ essays on the relationship between mankind and nature in the poems of Edith Wales, when  Griselda came back – without Pablo – but with a bottle of Talisker and poured it and her heart out : about her parents sp litting up wh en she was eleven, panniculitis, a difficult time at sch ool  because of her sp eech p roblem, a teaching job wh ere the staffroom was m  ore un pleasant than the classr  oom…and…
She had changed into a green silk dress I’d never seen her wear before. ‘Whenas in silks my Julia goes, then, then methinks, how sweetly flows the liquefaction of her clothes!’  Great eyes to boot.  A very attractive woman no matter what she wore and her green dress was certainly eye-catching. Lucky Otto who was short and a bit on the tubby side.  Still. Good looks do not a person make, as Suckling so nearly put it. Nor nylon bras a cage, I thought as she sat slumped forward in her seat, eyes on the carpet, elbows on her knees, hands clasped round her glass, talking, endlessly talking.
Aided no doubt by her rapid consumption of undiluted Talisker,  her voice became less of a monotone,  she sat up,  looked at me as she talked, her face taking on various expressions, lighting up or dulling down as memories came flooding back to her……….an Italian boyfriend………..a trip to Elba……….an interview with…impossible man who…wild parties where….doldrums when….
I’m afraid from here on I nodded and looked serious but my mind was elsewhere until I realized she had asked me a question for the second time and was waiting impatiently for my answer..
I shook my head and mumbled something.
“I  m et  Otto, ” she said gleefully. “That’s what  h appened!  At one of his lectures.  I adored him from first sight and I thought he adored me l ike that too. I am his sh adow. I worship him h and and foot. He is so intelligent but he can be also very f unny when you do  not expect. Why do F rench people not h ave two-egg omelettes? Because they think one egg is an oeuf.  Everyone laughs his head off.  I adore  him. We are inseparable. We go to concerts, we go to cinemas, theatres, dinners, parties, balls, exhibitions, we go everywhere together. We go together on holidays. We go to L atvia, we go to  L anzarote,  Lichtenstein…..
While Griselda was telling me about her high life with Otto in places that began with L, I was trying to remember a joke he had once told me that made me laugh out loud….something about fish……
Funny things, jokes… Jokes and dreams…Where do they go to? And yet. I was stopped in the street the other day by a policeman who informed me he had been in my class a dozen or so years ago and had enjoyed my lectures very much. I didn’t recognize him – seven years and every cell is changed after all – but I was flattered and told him so. I asked him what he remembered from my lectures. Awkward pause. Then he grinned. ‘That  was a great joke you told us’, he said,  ‘about
“Then gu ess what happens?” Griselda was asking me, waiting impatiently for me to respond. I shrugged. She sighed.
” He goes away. On h is own this time. Work, he t ells me. I wouldn’t like it, h e tells me. No count ry for young women. First he goes to B otswana. For the wh ole summer. Then it was Brazil. And now  Bolivia.   And I am so un happy again. B ack in the d oldrums. So un happy. Can it be s omething I have done or something I have not done? I ask myself.  ‘Is it s omething to do with s ex?’ I asked  him  He made me sit down and explained it was his career, his raison d’etre,  it was what gave him w orth and what gave us this b ig house and this b ig garden in this n ice v illage and the big V  olvo to go to nice country p ubs in the evenings. But I do not b elieve him. All the time I think I don’t know where I am concerning this man. I tell him that. ‘Everything is a j oke to you,’  I say. ‘Everything except your w ork’.  That is the truth.  I do not am use him any m ore. I feel it. He is g lad to g et away. I kn ow it but he won’t say wh y. Too late I realize he is one of those m en who want only what they can’t have. I b rood. I am so angry. Hurt. I do not t alk to him. I do not t alk to anyone. And then guess wh at happens?”
She made encouraging gestures with her hands.
” I’ve no idea, ” I told her.
“You!” she said. ” You h appen!  You rescue me. You are so kind. So un derstanding. You are my knight in sh iny armour. You listen to wh at I say.  I am in the d oldrums and you c ome along and  r escue me.  It is like an earthqu ake when  s omeday  s omeone walks into your l ife and m akes you realize you have w asted so much time p retending  n othing was the matter. “
She poured herself another glass of Talisker. Quite a generous glass.
Not once did she refer to the brutal killing of  Coogi;  it was as if nothing at all had happened.
Alas, poor Coogi.
Not a hundred bottles of Talisker could make up for his loss.

Anyway, last night, when I refilled her glass with what was left of the Chardonnay and asked her about Otto, she said,   ” S ometime I th ink  he  prefer  his m onkey th an me. “
Leaning on the wooden railing of the veranda,  I could see in the failing light  the patch of disturbed earth, the unmarked grave, close  by the white fence that separated my lawn from  Griselda’s.  It was this veranda with its sweeping view across the river and into the trees that really made my mind up to buy this place seven years ago .  Seven years! Where did they all go to?
” Of course I w orry for him,”  Griselda was saying. ” Do you know there are p eoples in that j ungle that have s een n o-one and that n o-one has s een?  The inv isible peoples, they are called.  N aked men and women with b ows and arrows and b lowpipes who still make fires by rubbin g sticks together. You see n othing, you hear n othing then….Pffff…and you die. Do you kn ow there is a tribe there  that still practises h eadhunting? So I w orry.  Silly old me but I w orry for him.” She  sighed. ” It is so safe here. Why do you want to go to th ese dangerous p laces? I ask him. You know how he replies? ” I shook my head. ” Because th ey are th ere.  Th at’s wh at he says.  Very English.”
” But he’s German, ” I said.
” But he can be v ery English at times, ” she said. 
I asked her how they kept in touch, him being in the depths of  a  jungle half-a-world away.
” He ph ones”, she said. ” Otto is a very r egular m an.  Every W  ednesday he ph ones.  It is strange because his v oice sounds so different, because of the long distance perhaps, very h ushed,  as if louder would scare off some p recious animal and r uin his close-up. Like your Mr. Attenborough does. Anyway I tell him about the garden, what I have p lanted,  how the lawn is c oming along, how much f ruit his plum tree is carrying and I tell him about Mrs Robertson who works with me in the library and the conversations I have with p eople in the village. And the w eather, of course. I too have b ecome very English, you see….”
Griselda paused as I refilled our glasses.
” And Otto,” she continued when I sat down again. “What does he tell me? He tells me th ings like that that his m onkeys bond for life, are n ever more than a few  y ards apart, sit on a b ranch leaning against each other with their t ails intertwined. Sing to each other.  Him on the other side of the w orld and he tells me th ings like that!  He doesn’t worry, he doesn’t need to worry about me but I worry about him.  I really do.  He tells me about  one sp ecial disease,  B ilharzia, you get it from all the  rivers and lakes there. It is because of the climate.”  She fanned her face with her non-drinking hand as if I needed a sign, was deaf or something. ” It’s  so  h ot. It’s the Equator after all.  Like in an oven. So, what do you do?  You jump in the nearest river or lake and these….bl oody things….these slimy microscopic things ….. they enter you and lay eggs in your b lood with little h ooks that tear the v eins as they pass. ” She shuddered. ” And th end you die.  Wh en Otto tells me all this, and I tell him how he must be very very careful,  he just laughs. As if I am m aking a  song and dance about nothing. So wh at you think?”
“About  what?”  I asked, confused.
“The spare key”, she said impatiently. ” Is a good idea or no?”

Callicebus moloch

I gently explained to her that the central heating came on automatically and that although I wasn’t the tidiest person in the world there was a method in it,  I knew exactly where to lay my hands on what I wanted,  and that actually I enjoyed cooking, I found it quite relaxing, in fact if she was feeling peckish there was a Hungarian recipe for Kohlrabi soup  I’d love to try out on her, a bit spicy perhaps but full of  quite unexpected flavours.  And that afterwards there was nothing I’d like better than to watch again one of Otto’s excellent wild life videos, especially the one where his canoe was almost overturned on Lake Poopo by the giant enipoxea.
I offered to refill her glass. She raised her hand like a traffic policeman and got unsteadily to her feet.
” I have had enough, she said, ” more than enough in fact. And I’m sure you have students’ essays to mark and interesting stuff like that to do.”

And off she went.
After she had gone, I took a glass of whisky and a large flat white stone I had brought back from somewhere because of  the markings on one side which look as though they might mean something, and placed it carefully on Coogi’s grave. I raised the glass.
” Goodbye Coogi, ” I said and looked up at the night sky. ” Look how the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. There’s not the smallest orb which thou beholdest but in his motion like an angel sings. Such harmony is in immortal souls but while this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”

I could hear Pablo howling next door. If I shut my eyes it was like the jungle.

When I came back from college this afternoon,  I noticed a Landscape Gardening truck outside Griselda’s house and workmen busily replacing the fence with some sort of evergreen shrubs, cupressocyparis leylandii  I would say from the brief look I got of them as I parked the car.
No doubt she’ll be rushing over to tell me all about it before I’ve even got my coat off.

                                                                         *****

Al Fresco Love


 

When my girlfriend becomes aroused, she insists that we go outside and find somewhere very public and very dangerous to act out her crazy impulses.  

She especially enjoys  kissing and entwining her supple self round me in the main street with all the cars whizzing past, honking their horns,  flashing their lights.

Most of all she is stimulated by the lewd remarks shouted at us by shaven-headed thugs leaning from the windows of their flashy cars  with CD players turned up full volume and making obscene gestures with their fingers and forearms as they pass.

When we get back home, fired up after one of these outings, she likes nothing better than kicking off her shoes and lying on the sofa with a giant tub of popcorn on her chest, watching old Humphrey Bogart movies, flicking popcorn into her open mouth and shouting things like, Get ’em off, baby! and Just do it for Chrissake!

The African Queen is our favourite.

The-african-queen-1-.jpeg

THE AFRICAN QUEEN


When my girlfriend becomes aroused, she insists that we go outside and find somewhere very public and very dangerous to act out her impulses.  She especially enjoys  kissing and entwining her supple self round me in the main street with all the cars whizzing past, honking their horns,  flashing their lights. Most of all she is stimulated by the lewd remarks shouted at us by shaven-headed thugs leaning from the windows of their flashy cars  with CD players turned up full volume and making obscene gestures with their fingers and forearms as they pass.

When we get back home, fired up after one of these outings, she likes nothing better than kicking off her shoes and lying on the sofa with a giant tub of popcorn on her chest, watching old Humphrey Bogart movies, flicking popcorn into her open mouth and shouting things like, Get ’em off, baby! and Just do it for Crissake!

The African Queen is our favourite.

Schubert


FICTION PROBLEM

And Schubert. What shall I say of Schubert? That he taught me to turn a deaf ear to tittle-tattle? That he told  really funny jokes? That he must have done something wrong? Only that last one, I’m afraid, only that last one was true. But his jokes weren’t too bad either:
” When he was at the airport it occurred to Peter that  Gertrude, his usually reliable neighbour, hadn’t come round for the dog. He tried calling her on her mobile  every day but got no reply. And when he got back, a fortnight later,  what did he see waiting for him on the doorstep? “And of course you say, ‘the dog’,  and he says,   The 14 bottles of milk he had forgotten to cancel.”
That was one of his jokes. Not really funny? Perhaps it’s the way I write them. They were certainly funny the way he told them. Wry. Dry. He was fond of one-liners, he was good at themDid you hear about the dyslexic guy who walked into a bra?
He could rattle off a dozen or so in the time it took you to down your pint.

So I asked the man if I could join his aerobics team and he said it depends how flexible you are and I told him I couldn’t make Tuesdays.
We all had composers’ names: I was Mozart; my London contact was Bizet even though she was a woman. Blond. Big-boned. Wagner would have suited her better.
Where  did I meet Schubert for the last time?  Oddly enough at midday under that outlandishly huge astronomical clock in the main square with all the tourists waiting for the clockwork Jesus. Noon or midnight were the real treats when Jesus popped out followed by all his faithful, brown-robed disciples. People applauded as if they were real characters.
As usual Schubert was late, not that that worried him in the slightest. He never apologised however late he was, never explained what had kept him, just breezed in with some joke that made you smile.
When I left home, my mum said: “Don’t forget to write.” I  remember thinking: “That’s unlikely – it’s a basic skill, isn’t it?”
We were taken by Schubert  to the sleepy little town of  Strakovica  where we picked up Sibelius (and where Stevenson got the idea for Markheim, his short story about a murdered watch maker). We had a beer at Ticktalk’s, the pavement cafe which had formerly been the shop of the unfortunate watchmaker (whose murderer was never found). The sun was shining but it was cold enough for Schubert to put on his big black overcoat.
After that we went on to the very stylish glass and chrome building in the town centre where I was to give my lecture, a strangely transparent place for such secret shenanigans. At the ornate glass door, Schubert put an arm round my shoulders and said, ” If I don’t see you through the week, I’ll see you through the window,” his last and by no means his best joke.
I never saw him again.  

The Scotch Pie and Desperate Dan


Scots Cuisine

Not many Scots eat haggis   –  it’s a sort of joke to go along with the deep-fried Mars bar but it can taste pretty good when eaten along wi mashed neeps an tatties and washed doon wi a  golden single malt such as Talisker or Highland Park  or 12 year-old Glenfiddich on Burns night:

”  Fair fa yir honest sonsie face,
great chieftain o the pudden race,
abune them a ye tak yir place…”

However not the heralded haggis, not the disappointing Forfar bridie, not the ubiquitous sausage roll but the mutton pie is the most commonly scoffed item of Scottish cuisine. Most butcher shops have wee stickers in their windows proudly claiming that their Scotch Pie won the gold/silver/bronze award at the Scottish Pie championship held in Auchtermuchty, Methil, Tillietudlum.

The top award in The Scotch Pie World Championship 2012 held in Dunfermline was won by a butcher  from Dumfries and Galloway.

A sign in Glasgow’s Byres Road. An average Scotch pie contains 1ooo calories and when consumed at a football match washed down with a plastic cup of Bovril considerably more. The right size and shape for an al fresco snack, it has become a staple item for shoppers who like to gaze and graze on the hoof.

The legendary Desperate Dan who stepped out of Greek mythology (known there as Herakles or Hercules in the Roman version) into the Beano then onto the High Street of Dundee had as his only known sustenance, Cow pie,  which gave him the muscle and energy to perform such amazing feats of strength.

McDonald..mmmm – definitely a Scottish name – could it be that the Big Mac, the ubiquitous hamburger,  is really an Edinburger?

.

Titles and opening sentences


 Ghost writers in the sky

I’m starting on an updated historical novel about Joseph and Mary with the working title:  “We need  to talk about Jesus“. In Aramaic.

I’ve just finished a short story about witchcraft set in a 17th century Scottish village at carnival time with the title:  “Fowlis Fair” ( Fowlis is a wee village outside Dundee)

My last novel – a complicated narrative about a feckless young teacher who was marooned on Ibiza with a plane-load of mostly upper-class schoolchildren and who let the school (and himself) down but came out quite well in the end – was called:  “Lucky Lord Jim of the Flies“.

And so on.

But you can spend ages trying to find a title for your writing, whatever it is.  Or for your painting. I don’t like it when a photograph of  a sunset over the sea has as its title “SUNSET OVER THE SEA.”  On the other hand, if Picasso hadn’t called his painting “Guernica” what would critics have made of it? And someone pointed out that ‘untitled’ is a title. Is “Catcher in the Rye” a good title? ” Moby Dick”?  “Pride and Prejudice”? How about one-word titles like “Departures”, “Distances”? The book I’m reading now is called ” A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In”. I think good titles tend to be a touch ironic, or metaphorical, or even poetic in some way. I’m not even sure they are all that important but you can spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to think up a ‘good’ one.
I’d be interested in your views on titles ( or opening sentences for that matter  – there’s another time-waster. Or is it? I get the distinct feeling after having read the opening sentence(s) whether I’m going to enjoy this (or not).
“It is a truth universally acknowledged….” Jane Austen can hit the right note from the very beginning; and

” If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
The same applies to the opening shot(s) of a film….C’est le premier pas qui coûte.) After the first few seconds I know whether I’m going to be riveted or bored by the next hour or so.

THE FOX AND THE CAMEL GIRL


I liked the feel of them. Early 1900s. Brass with leather covering. Centre focus. And French. I ’ve always had a penchant for things French, as you’ve no doubt guessed already. Lumière de Paris. Just the sound of the maker’s name was enough to make me close my eyes, to make me yearn for something I hadn’t got. Lumière de Paris
All the way home I was like a kid with a new toy, zooming in on anything and everything that caught my eye – a couple kissing (she kept her nice blue eyes open throughout the kiss); a roof-repairer (wearing an out-of-date Arsenal shirt with HENRY printed on the back – I could only see the HEN bit because he was half-hidden by the chimney stack but I could guess the rest – I probably could have deciphered that much without the binoculars); the front page of The Times (being read by an elderly gent at a bus stop across the street – I was surprised to note it had gone up to £150 but that was perhaps only for the Saturday edition).
After a week of irregular use, however, the binocular novelty began to fade, diminish, dwindle, ease off as it were.
My first misgivings came when I spotted a fox on the garden wall, an exciting enough event  to watch, drink in and remember later. A precious moment stolen from time. Emotion recollected in tranquillity and all that. If I had been a Verlaine I would have penned an immortal poem about it some lazy Sunday afternoon months afterwards but instead, me being just me, I reached for the binoculars, a bit like a Japanese tourist reaching for his Nikon as soon as the Taj Mahal comes into sight.
The fox stood there,  posing so it seemed, big tail, thinnish body, long face, bright fearless eyes, quite relaxed, quite blasé, something of autumn in its red-brown coat, looking over its left shoulder for me as if it had been waiting for ages, as if I was late for our appointment, but as soon as I made that fatal move to fish the binoculars out of my pocket – Whoosh! -and it was gone, dematerialised, vanishing into the thin air from whence it came, leaving me disappointed. Disenchanted. Disrespected.
My next faux-pas was when I saw Helga, my 40 year-old next-door neighbour, naked, well after midnight, chasing round her kitchen with a yellow plastic fly-swatter held aloft, poised and ready to strike. (I used to use a rolled up copy of The Scotsman for the same purpose, usually waiting till the bluebottle  landed on a window pane before I struck, but all that was well before I entered my Buddhist period….now it’s ‘Live and let live’.)  Anyway Helga’s bluebottle wasn’t one of those end-of-season types, (“torpid” is the word I’m groping for) but a bit of a mover, a frenetic zigzagger, never settling for long enough to be a sitting target. It was such an uneven contest. I became more interested in whether she caught the fly than in catching a glimpse of anything in the breast or pubic regions – she was after all a middle-aged lady and a nice woman to boot, a bit of a gourmet, well-travelled, interesting, kept herself to herself but with neighbours like me who could blame her?
The binoculars were excellent. No complaint there. Nothing wrong with the instrument though perhaps the same could not be said for the user. In fact I was able to locate the bluebottle long before she did, and felt like throwing open my kitchen window and shouting at her, “It’s behind you!” or ”Above you! Just above your head! ” or ” Look, look up, you silly woman! Up there! On the effan lampshade!”
I had switched off my kitchen light and assumed I had thus rendered myself invisible but I think she must have spotted me spotting her, some glint from the binocular lenses perhaps,  because she suddenly switched off the light (“and in an instant, all was dark“) and when she switched it back on several minutes later she was fully dressed, as if she was setting off for some secret midnight ball that the rest of us hadn’t been invited to. (..to which the rest of us hadn’t  been invited…Better? Too Henry James perhaps?)

A vintage pair of metal and leather binoculars

She peered out of her window in my direction (my light was still switched off) then drew the curtains, not first the left then the right one as most people do but both together, a very clear-cut act of closure, a very definite zzipp!
So. curtain-time then, my night’s entertainment over, sad to say. And when I bumped into her at the Deli counter in the Supermarket next day she wasn’t her usual cheery self. Far from it. Decidedly chilly, if you really want to know.
“Have you tried that Camembert de Pichaud ?” I asked pointing out the little round balsa-wood box  with the white horse picture on the lid but she just shook her head, pointedly avoiding eye-contact, and pointedly hurrying off elsewhere with her trolley. I felt like shouting after her, ” Did you finally get that effan bluebottle then?”
Later that afternoon when I found myself watching in thrilling close-up a thrush with a white star marking on its breast bobbobbing about the lawn, stabstabbing with its yellow beak at some insect or worm or whatever for twenty minutes or so, I said to myself, ” Tiens, tiens, mon brave! Sure as hell this is no way for a fully grown adult to be passing his limited spell on earth!”
I decided without further ado to take the effan things back to whence they came. Then I was due to meet up with a man. A man  to whom I was owing a considerable sum of money. A considerable amount of money which I didn’t have and which he wouldn‘t accept that I didn‘t have. A man called Quint. An unpleasant man called Quint with a thick Belfast accent which no-one dared to comment on (…on which etc…)
So, with time to spare  I got the 44 down to the charity shop and there, in the window, propped up against the empty binocular case, was a square of cardboard which said in a big, black felt-pen scrawl:
TO THE DIRTY ROTTEN THEIF WHO STOLE THESE BINOCULARS I’D LIKE TO SAY WHAT GO’S AROUND COME’S AROUND
Now if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s seeing the poor old defenceless apostrophe misunderstood, misused, misplaced, mistreated, so instead of just quietly replacing the binoculars, I purloined a copy of “The Camelgirl” by Emma Waugh which I’d wanted to read for ages. Then I headed reluctantly for my favourite pub, slowing down to listen to the ancient but still talented accordionist who plays (and sings!) French love songs of the twenties and early thirties at the corner of Albany Street and Seven Sisters Road, outside The Izaak Walton where I had arranged (or rather, I had been summoned) to meet Sean Quint, aka ‘The Hulk’, ex-hurling player of distinction (thus the missing front teeth), sometime house painter and decorator,  reliable but expensive, and, at present, coercer and  arm-breaker extraordinaire.
The accordionist ( I had listened to him often enough, I should have known his name) didn’t seem to be doing well. People passed, slowed down but didn’t stop or if they did it was just for long enough to drop a coin into his hat because of his age rather than his performance. Pity. He still had the voice. Still sweet in spite of too many Gauloises. And still the nimble fingers. I’m told street performers can make more than £100 on an average  day.
He was seated on a folding chair, knees akimbo,  accordion resting on his right thigh, green hat upturned at his feet.  65? 70?  Must have been quite a looker when he was young. Still lean as a whippet. 65.
Pity about the accordion though. German. A Hohner Ventura. Wheezy.
I let my handful of silver trickle into his green hat ( a match with his green corduroy jacket). Although I know they usually make sure the hat or whatever is kept emptyish for obvious reasons, all I could see in his hat, apart from my own contribution,  was a dozen or so copper coins. And it was Saturday, a prime time, a prime spot.
Used to have a spot on TV back in the good old black and white days, or so I’m told. Ah well. “Sic transit gloria mundi” .
Big sigh.
If you wanted him to sing any particular song you had to write down its name for him.  Perhaps he was deaf or something. Anyhow, partly to put off the evil hour, partly because it was my sort of music, I tore a blank page from the back of “The Camelgirl” and  printed on it with my short blue bookie’s pen the first line of my favourite favourite song, ”On n’a pas tous les jours vingt ans” which he can perform well enough in his own particular way although I must admit I prefer it as played by Léon Raiter and sung by the incomparable Berthe Sylva.When he had finished “Coeur de Voyou” I handed him the page which he read then handed it back to me, nodding, and immediately began to play  my song as if it was his favourite too:

“On  n’a  pas  tous  les  jours  vingt  ans,
 Ça  nous arrive une  fois  seulement ”                                                                                                                                                                                         

He now had an audience of half-a dozen or so. And you could add to that the three smokers in the doorway of the Walton who had turned to face the music. He didn’t look at anyone as he sang, just occasionally glancing down at his right hand as if unsure that it knew all the notes while his left hand was left entirely to its own devices.
I’d forgotten just how long the song was. On and on and on it went, fine for me but not so for non-aficionados. His audience drifted away one by one till there was only me and the smokers in the Walton doorway left. (..were only I…?)
After a bit, I realised I liked the song as much as ever but not the words, not the message, certainly not the message, “You’re not twenty for ever, that comes to us once only …”. In fact I had never really listened to the words before, just nodded along with the music and the mood. “You’re only young once.“  What about  “You’re only middle-aged once”? Or “You’re only old once”? Didn’t  that make just as much sense? Or just as little? In fact all that made sense was
As soon as he hit the last note, he clipped the bellows shut,  got to his feet and leaning slightly forward,  unstrapped  himself from his Hohner a bit like a woman getting out of  her  bra. Curtain-time again.
He fitted the accordion back  into its big black box, a bit like a giant club foot, straightened up, stretched, lit himself a cigarette. Sad to play to an audience of one; sad to sing your heart out and nobody notices, nobody applauds; sad to be old and unappreciated.
I had clapped but of course he hadn’t heard. Did he hear the songs that he sang? Did he
Nobody watching, I dropped the binoculars into his green hat and  felt  suddenly –  well, perhaps not so much ‘uplifted’ as…..‘reprieved‘… ‘released’…or even ‘relieved’…
Certainly ‘relieved’ of the binoculars.
I waited till he picked up his hat then turned away. By the time he has lifted the binoculars out of his hat, looked at them, smiled, then used them to zoom in on  a passing seagull or whatever, I‘ll be out of sight, out of mind.
What go’s around come’s around,  things work out for the best,  gather ye rosebuds while ye may……
You might as well believe in the effan fairies as in all that guff. I could cope. In my own way  by myself  not needing your helping hand thank you very much I could cope with whatever the fickle fan of destiny might throw back in my face. In my own way, in my own way. Whatever that was. I would find out as I went along. Frank Sinatra did.
Bypassing the Walton (where at this very second Mr. Quint would no doubt be glancing with narrowed eyes at his Rolex ), still trying to work out in my head what made sense and what didn‘t, I went on my  way, head high, big strides, back straight, not exactly rejoicing  but in the zone, as they say, prepared for whatever came to pass, and,  just to be on the safe side, taking more care than usual not to tread on the cracks in the pavement..
And it was a nice enough evening. Almost not raining.

                        

SSSPLLLAAASHSHSH


 ‘Ping-pong’ sounds even better the other way round      –     gnip-gnop gnip gnop  gni….oops…pick it off the floor…there it is…there, under the chair…

Likewise  the word – SPLASH – is an  ideogram of the event it signifies:

1) The  initial  sibilant  –  S – replicates the hiss of the stone cutting through the air (SSS);  

2) then  comes the plosive – P –  as the stone breaks  the surface of the water (SSS – P);

3) the labial –  L –  pictures  the stone gliding under the sutface  (SSS-P-LLL);

4) The concluding – ASH – is the plume of spray sent up by the stone as it disappears into the water (SSS – P – LLL- AAASHSHSH).

Likewise    ‘glides’   has the sounds to suggest after an initial thrust, effortless motion in/on/through water  –     G….. LLL….IDE….SSSSS

and it sounds even better in French:

Le cygne chasse l’onde avec ses larges palmes

et glisse………………

And what would be  the exact ideogram for Icarus falling out of a clear blue sky into the clear blue waters…..?