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.

                                                                         *****

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Constant Companionship


 
 
 
z-lunan-07-10-2011-01-09-00          After twenty years or so
 
         of constant companionship
 
         he had said
 
         all he had to say to her
 
         but he still went on talking
 
         although years and years ago
 
         she had stopped listening.

LORD JIM, SCHETTINO and LEE JOON-SEOK


LORD JIM, SCHETTINO and LEE JOON-SEOK

In ‘Lord Jim’  by Joseph Conrad, Jim, a romantic who had always dreamed of fame and recognition, is an officer on board the PATNA, a ship taking Muslims to Mecca. Out of the blue, his chance to be a hero came…and went:
In the night the ship shuddered – as if  it had hit some submerged object – panic and chaos ensued.
Jim found himself at the rails looking down to see the captain and some of the other officers clambering into a lifeboat. They made signs for him to join them and before he knew what was happening he found himself in the water beside the boat.
He had jumped.
The rest of his life was an attempt to erase, atone for, put behind him this instinctive act of panic/cowardice, this jump from duty, this loss of honour.
In Conrad when a character ‘jumps’ – acts impulsively – it invariably leads to disaster.

It’s a book I’ve read and re-read and found it becoming all too real in the recent  news account of what happened to the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the tiny island of Giglio with characters who might have stepped straight out of Conrad’s pages: – Francesco Schettino, the showboating captain who sailed too close to the island, ran onto rocks then in the confusion that followed abandoned the stricken ship, breaking the moral code that naval officers live by; Gregorio De Falco, the Livorno coastguard, becomes the voice of outraged decency. When Schettino made a belated distress call from the safety of the lifeboat, De Falco showed his contempt for the captain’s betrayal of the moral code that naval officers live by:  “Get back on board for fuck sake! There are already bodies, Schettino. Go!”
And when Schettino said he couldn’t do anything because it was dark and “all the officers are on the rescue boat with me” De Falco asked
Why did you allow them to get off?”
” We abandoned ship, ” Schettino said.
With 100 people still on board you abandoned ship?”  De Falco yelled. “  Vada a bordo, cozzo!

A year later, 15 April, 2014, close to Jeju island, the SEWOL, a ferry boat carrying 476 passengers, mostly school children on a 4 day field-trip, capsized and sank with the 69 year old captain in his cabin leaving an inexperienced 25 year old 3rd mate at the helm. The ferryboat  inexplicably made a sudden sharp turn, the cargo shifted and the ship began to tilt. It took 2 hours to sink and for that period the passengers were urged to stay in their cabins. Only 2 0f the 40 lifeboats were deployed. The captain and his crew escaped safely from the sinking ship as did the teachers in charge of the children. Most of the children were not so fortunate.
Later, the captain, under arrest and hidden inside a hooded anorak,  mumbled that he accepted responsibility, that he told passengers to stay put in their cabins because there were no signs of rescue boats and the water was too cold and too full of strong currents for them to survive.
” The conduct of the captain was wholly unfathomable…. it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated,” said Ms Park, South Korea’s first woman president
The teacher who organised the trip and who escaped from the sinking ship commited suicide, hanging himself near the school and leaving a note that said  ‘Surviving alone is too painful….I will once again become a teacher in the afterlife for my students whose bodies have not been found.’

The old-fashioned notion was that those in command, in control of our lives and well-being, must be brave in an emergency, cool in a crisis and,  like Captain Smith of the Titanic, willing to sacrifice their own lives in the service of others.

Stein, one of Conrad’s characters in ‘Lord Jim‘ puts forward his (and probably Conrad’s) philosophy on ‘how to be‘:
A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns- nicht wahr?… No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up...”

__________

Naebdy bides der noo


 

haunted house Shetland crop

 

Na, nae noo

nae fiddly Aladdin lamps
tae magic awa da darkness;

Nae driftwiddy fire 
tae shoot oot o ilka lum
up intae da velvet-black, spairk-spangled sky
inna flickery, aurora shoor
da cauld
an da damp

an nae bible-black, knapdarlicht kye
tae wrap lang pink tongues
roon skooshy clumps
o sappy green gerss
tae pu an munch an pu an munch
an munch
an pu.

Nae bonny, bouncey bairns noo
tae skip barefitted,
skweelfree,
slaphappy as der day wis lang

ower endless barricap-dotted fields
doon tae and intae
da fish-flashin, selkie-skulkin, boat-bobbin sea.

Na, nae noo,
nae noo.

What’s it like to be dead?


 

                                   

ONE NIGHT  last week I sat up in  my hotel bed and  and saw  that what had awakened me was  the creaky bedroom door  being   opened to admit some crazy woman dressed in a green ballgown who kept banging into things and swearing not quite under her breath as she did so. She said she had been on her way to the Hunt Ball at Denholm Hall when she realised she had forgotten her spectacles, couldn’t see a thing without them, had turned back to get them, was sure she had left them on the table beside the bed, had run into a group of enemy troops, been taken prisoner and executed as a spy,  but because of the missing spectacles she was doomed to roam the earth looking for them and only when she had found them would she be released and had I seen them anywhere?

I asked her how she had been executed. She said she had been shot at dawn against the wall of  the church, blindfolded (which was sort of ironic) and that it had been extremely painful and she didn’t want to talk about it.

I asked her what it was like being dead and she said there wasn’t much to it, you got used to it after a while and was I sure I hadn’t seen her spectacles anywhere? All this while she was lifting things up and putting them down again, looking under chairs and tables and beds, even  lifting up my book from the bedside table and  giving it a good shake, losing my bookmark in the process.

I was feeling sleepy and disappointed in her impatient replies to my genuine questions, so I turned over and in spite of  her thumps and effing and blinding, quickly fell asleep again.

I woke up just as the sun was rising and was relieved to see that there were no overturned chairs or broken vases left to mark the stumbling passage of my myopic night visitor. At least she had had the decency to tidy up before she left for wherever these nocturnal peripatetics  go to during the day.

But my very expensive spectacles which I distinctly remember leaving  on the bedside table were gone.

I looked for them everywhere without success, on the duvet, under the pillow, getting on my hands and knees to look on the carpet  but beginning to come to a very unwelcome  conclusion. Yes, my night visitor  (I tend to blame other people when things  go wrong) !

However once again I searched the duvet, the pillows, on and under the chairs, the bedside table, then peering one last time under the bed, out they popped from  the breast pocket of my pyjama jacket where I now remembered I had put them for safe keeping before going to sleep. But my bookmark was between page 41 and 42 whereas I had read up to page 147 before carefully marking the place and switching off the bedside lamp.

When I went downstairs, I mentioned the woman to the receptionist who said yes there was a Denholm Hall which I must have passed on my way to the hotel but otherwise I don’t think he believed my story one little bit so I wrote a full account of my nocturnal encounter in the guest book and on flicking back to see if previous occupants of my room had experienced anything similar was relieved to read that on the night of June the 24th, a Mary Martin had been awakened by a group of soldiers looking for a woman who they claimed was a spy in the pay of the French. No mention was made of the green ballgown or the spectacles however.

GR2

Time Passes


Time passes.
 
Ab 9
 
 
an anxious woman in white
stands on the river bank waiting
don’t worry about me, she had said cheerily
as they rode off into the sunrise
enjoy yourselves
and they didn’t
and they did
 

Abb 2

Time passes.
The three horses 
one white
one brown
one chestnut
bring the the three daughters
safely back
to the rock in the river
where the woman in white
is no longer waiting.

 

Thoughtful Love


supercouple

My girl friend Amelia is that unusual combination, logical and sensitive. For a long time I thought she was the only woman for me. Then I saw her walking hand in hand out of the cinema with the young man who came to fix our television. I kept thinking about it all the time. My work was suffering because of it. I kept  meaning to ask her straight out if she was being unfaithful but didn’t want her to feel I was the heavily jealous type.
But today my boss came up to me and said if I didn’t snap out of it I could start looking for another job.  “Sha
pe  up or ship out ” was what he said. Then I saw them at lunch time having a cappuccino, holding hands over the table.
When I told Amelia that I was having all these problems at work and that I knew she was seeing someone else, she threw her arms around me, tears welling up in her eyes. ” Isn’t it wonderful how everything works out for the best? ” she said. ” I have been meaning for so long to tell you I had fallen out of love with you. I didn’t know how to,  didn’t want to hurt your feelings. But now that you know I’m someone else’s girlfriend, you don’t need to give  
me a second thought. “