MIRANDA THE DUCK CUSTOMER- From Beatrice

It was an ancient T.V. set, in a corner of my sitting room. I was not even sure the thing worked, until coming in one day to find it, polished up and resurrected by my “Tenants in Crime”, Adelaide and Benny. The old pair had been two years now on Sonsie Farm, and I had long ago given up ever having my old life of solitude restored. They were always entertaining, never quarreled, and shared a Jackdaw like ability to drag home whatever they could scrounge, in donkey cart or old wagon. They had stood on their old steamer trunk, with some hocus-pocus, several twisted coat hangers, a horse shoe, and a ten foot garland of tinsel, had fashioned  an antenna, happily they sat before the T.V., watching The Queen’s Speech, munching on apples. Fzzwt, went a well aimed, gnawed core into the fireplace, slur-eech, of dubious teeth into another speckled Gravenstein. Times like this, I oft thought of Godfrey, the childhood we shared…how I wish he was here.  

We watched The Queen’s speech every year, had to listen on the radio when her Majesty had a chat. When a wee bit older, gathered round Godfrey’s Uncle Lou’s  telly we all sat. His family, all the cousins and mine, round the flickering telly we all sat.

I recall, on a bridge stood The Queen, with her purse and furry hat, a pebble she held, royal clean white gloves she had on. She tossed a stone, then another, into the water, Godfrey’s sister Alice called The River Avon. “That’s the bridge Romeo drowned Dickens , from, claimed Alice”.

“I knew of this nice lady, smiling demurely from school room wall and biscuit tin, but we did not comprehend why she stood tossing stones or the words she was speaking. Godfrey and I wrote the Queen a letter, casually inquiring of her castles and horses, ending our letter with the question of the wisdom we were seeking. “Why did you drop the pebbles in the water? Rather than kneel on the grass and scoop them out?.

We wrote a penny postcard to The Queen. Godfrey and I waited, for we were very young and believed we deserved a reply. And the Queen  wrote, despite the smeared seal, school girl typing, and Alice face down laughing on the setee, all excited Godfrey read the letter to me.

“To the naughty two children who dislike beets, and dare ask I, oh noble Queen,  why on such a cold day over bridge deck have me lean.” I, fine lady would not dare the stream bank, smell of trolls and eels that lurk, and risk like Juliet, be gulped and ate, to dredge a mere pebble from the murk”. Eat your beets, and Slibber Sauce, when heaped on your dinner plate- Love, The Queen.

It was addressed, “High Street, Pall Mall”, innocent, steadfast Godfrey hung The Queen’s letter on his wall. Twas Miranda the duck customer, as my Ma called her, gave us the answer, made it into sense for me. She sold duck eggs door to door, sometimes a fat mallard we plucked, roasted and ate. Miranda the duck customer, oft left her basket at the farm gate, rested by the pond on warm days with me and Godfrey.

She was wise, and kind to us, lived alone in her cottage hung with herbs, north of the farm, edge of the woods. She always had a tall, silver Lurcher dog, that never left her side, or seemed to age. Nor did Miss Miranda, for she wore a dark cape, strode when she walked, and the kids who teased and pelted us with beets feared her.

Wealthy Tenbrooks Smythe The Third claimed” cabbage nicked from her garden gave him warts”. “A most unpleasant child”, softly spoke Miranda, the duck customer. Tenbrooks heaved a turnip through the fish and chip shop window, “A most unpleasant child”, was stated by the fry cook in a newspaper quote. Miranda chose as I would, the company of her ducks, tame badger and goat.

“What did The Queen mean? Godfrey finally got to ask of Miranda. On such a winters day, dropping those pebbles in the water?. Said the wise duck customer- “The Queen dropped the stones for to show, how one wee pebble from that ripple she did disperse, never ceases to grow, affects in it’s tiny way the entire earth”.

Finally we had our answer, twas years later my Ma told me, duck customer  Miranda had been blind since birth. Godfrey and I , took note of the wonder of all things, like warm beach sand in summer, sugar crystals on sweet biscuits, sunlight that sparkled as ducks drifted, deep in simple contemplation.  “Be The Pebble, You And Godfrey” This is what Miranda the duck customer taught me. …

Plap, I awoke with a jolt, an apple tossed on my lap, Queen departing in a car, all pomp and glory. Adelaide and Benny in guffaw over my snoring, Beatrice dear, they begged, tell us a story….

ADALAIDE’S HIRAETH- from Beatrice

Again I had to gently remind Worzel – our mutual project was the telling of Godfrey’s story, not his incorrigible older sister, Alice.  Alice has spent most of her life singing on stage, she now works in a shoe shop, and plans silly pranks with aid of her friend, Nudge Giggleswick, the two have compiled “The Alice Compendium Of Popular Song”…Alice needs no encouragement.  

She sings at Nudge’s market stall, where he hawks mushrooms”. My erstwhile “Tenants”, Adelaide and Benny, trundled home from town today, wagon laden with discount mushrooms. Two innocent, elderly faces grinned up at me. No, they had not pinched them, Adelaide and Benny had finally met Alice, were aglow with telling me of the wonderful singer they had enjoyed. With Nudge keeping time on a tautly stretched rubber tube, Alice’s voice rang clear out, over the din of market day. A song of her own- “I’d Rather Be in Bognar- From Alice-

“Oh to be in Bognar in the deep gloam of December, the frost high on the slag heap calls to me. With festive songs of sharing, distant sounds of fishwives swearing, take me home again to Bognar, far inland from the sea”

Oh to be in pretty  Bognar, put a coin in the gas meter, heat a tin of beans in my cozy Bed-Sit flat. Slurp with my only spoon, hear the chap from the next room, go a lurking down the hallway to commit a lewd act”

“And I’d rather be in Bognar, sporting on the green in summer. In a skirt I flirt, like young coquette, with Verne the pensioner.”When the grass is dry and brown, when the temperature doth fall, I’d still rather be in Bognar, than in no place at all”.

Adelaide, former chambermaid to The Queen, has borrowed a large preserving kettle, and is using her hoard of jars , over a fire in the yard, she and Benny are pickling the mushrooms. Adelaide is singing, smoky as a Magpie, shaped like a boiled pudding in a bag, singing “Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow”. Her voice is remarkably Badger like, when they squabble over food.

Later, she sits with fond partner Benny, on their old plaid steamer trunk, quiet now by the fire, looking off down the valley. She is not done with song, this I know, for the “Hiraeth”born in this world wanderer is strong.” Hiraeth” as Godfrey had.

Content in their own world, the two rarely beckoned me to join them and “just sit”. Benny makes space on the trunk, the un-dented end of it. Over cooling jars of mushrooms, quiet together, the odd old pair of rogues, ask if they can stay here, on Sonsie Farm, forever.

Godfrey enjoyed the writing of Canadian icon, long past “Nellie Mclung”. He told me a story of hers I will paraphrase- “Apples are the children of sunlight. they should be furnished free of charge to all pilgrims, on every dusty highway”. Apples are home, beauty, comfort, refreshment, they sing my Hiraeth- my longing for contentment”. Some who have all the apples they want, may lose sight of that sweetness, of longing, of memory”.

“Adelaide  and Benny, till end of days yes, you are welcome here on Sonsie..Again, it was Worzel had to give a prod, remind me, we all, Alice included, all made up part of Godfrey’s story.

THE HAGGIS IS GONE- And Beatrice’s Song- From Worzel

They teased him about his dread of beets, they teased him about his lack of teeth, they teased him about his ragged clothes, they teased him about the dented car his grouchy mother drove…Beatrice spoken softly of the childhood she and Godfrey shared as we explored the Welsh countryside in her equally decrepit vehicle. I was a prairie girl, knew the cold, but never the cold of the piercing, damp wind off the mountains, that cleared the fog and coal smoke, the blowing snow just long enough to reveal the magic of a castle, then veil it again, this modest and mystic treasure of a land. It was not until my third visit to Sonsie Farm, and the old puce house, that Beatrice shared more of herself. Propped against the canoe in her sitting room, and two dead plants was Godfrey’s old “Chupa Street Guitar”, dusted, with shiny new strings. Beatrice explained, “Sugar Mulgrew has taught me three chords, “I have always sung while shoveling manure, and have written a bit down, would you care to hear it? “indeed , yes, I told her, indeed.

  THE HAGGIS IS GONE- The haggis is gone, for there is no more, only beets and sardines, in the country store. And the store is far, far miles away, no haggis left, now many a day. The haggis is gone. Oh the track it climbs, round roots and stone, over ridges it winds, my boots are worn, the nights are cold, and though I dislike towns, it’s where haggis is sold.    Now down to the meadow, in the shady lea, where the cows have been, comes sweet memory..on the summer green, rest your bonnie head, as I spread cold haggis, over fresh rye-bread.       But the haggis is gone!, still I recall your face, the poems, the stories, and your old suitcase, and our childhood shared, love was all we knew, we could not be broken, me and you. But the haggis is gone, and the trail ends to, and I’m at a crossroads, it is winter dawn, with this dented guitar, for the haggis is gone, for the haggis is gone….

( The cows like this one, Beatrice smiled)  BEATRICE’S SONG- When was it you last saw Godfrey, was he up the high country when summertime came?  Asleep in the sun or did you pass on a switch-back?, or a cold morning campsite heading out bound again…Was it in autumn you last walked beside him?, down to the orchard the crisp, fallen leaves. Sit on his strong shoulders to reach those last apples, frost melts on the branches, runs cold up your sleeves.             Was it deep winter you last laughed together? Late nights over coffee by wood fires glow, let the snowdrifts fill in our tracks to the highway, talk of places he’d been and new places to go. Mt Thimbleweed, Smell Fox, Yampa Valley, Dragon’s Bay, all the way to the wild Otago.  What of the mornings I still hear his singing? And as hot afternoons fade dusty to eve, trout rise lazy in the cool of the stream bed, their ripples his laughter, I have to believe.    When was it you last saw Godfrey? was he up the high country when summertime came?  Turnberry Canyon, Holyoak Clearing, the rough scramble down to the wild Tasman Sea.    (I to, enjoyed it Beatrice, I to).    From Worzel.

ARGUS’ LAST RIDE- By Beatrice and Godfrey

Godfrey wrote a thank-you letter, sent it off addressed – To Argus C/O Buller Transport Westland. (Driver of an old red truck, wiry , cheerful man)     Two years later a reply came- To Vagabond Godfrey- somewhere in Wales- (Sonsie Farm).  I kept post for him, in a box behind the old defunct T.V.   I generally did not read it, but the look of this scrawled post card intrigued me.

A card of transport trucks in a muddy work yard, lined up neatly parked, It read, “Argus got your letter- no the river did not get him, Argus had a heart attack last year, the blighter carked”       It was many years later still,Godfrey told me the whole story, of Argus’ own wisdom , acceptance of life and it’s true simplicity.

He recalled, “There is no river anywhere wilder, faster than what flows the mighty Buller. Many times I have followed her from Murchison on down. “In  crystal streams I’ve panned for gold, stood shivering deep in her canyons o fbeech wood, steel and stone”. “I have trod her hills, camped in the spooky ghost town of Lyell alone”.    “For every sand-fly that bit me, every rain squall that hit me, every day spent where I did not wish to be”, I would give all to ride again, down the unforgiving Buller to the roily Tasman Sea.

“I was just a hitch-hiker, knew him briefly, but that ride up the Buller Gorge still stays with me”.   “High in the red trucks cab, road awash with rain, mist hides the tops, drifts in shreds amid the ferns”. the way is narrow, far below, the river rolls and churns.  “I chatted with the trucker as he drove bold, but cautiously, said, “this is my last ride , tomorrow I will wake a retiree” Thirty years of driving, Nelson down to Grey, you are my last hitch-hiker, it’s my last ride today”     “Never vulgar of words, not crude this chap, he wore a wool singlet and a faded cobber hat”. He spoke in brief, laconic statements, and I learned some truckers wisdom, said Argus of most every thing- “Well, you get that”.

Argus said, ” I will tramp the Heaphy track, The Milford too, fish all I please and work my gold claim now the drivings through” “Maybe even some traveling, have a look about like you”.      As they shared stories of adventure on the road, came a hard jolt, a thud and snap of chains from the large tractor that was Argus’ load.  In sparks and dust the load slowly tilted, falling into the abyss over side…he was just a young hitch-hiker on Argus’ last ride…

A car stopped to help, was the district Veterinary, (who oddly one year later would help sew up Godfrey’s knee)    None of the three considered prayer, deep in own thoughts for a moment they just sat, spoke Argus, peering over the cliff side-  “Well, you get that”..

..Godfrey produced apples for all to enjoy from his suitcase, “We ate apples, glad to be alive, in the middle of the Buller Gorge beneath a rock- face”.

“We parted when help came, with firm handshakes the three of us,” “I journeyed on with the Vet, all I know of the brave trucker is that his name was Argus”…..So is told the story of Argus’ last ride, yet legend has it there is a transport truck down on the Buller Gorge, words of wisdom, “Well, you get that” painted in small lettering on the side. “It’s how I came to love the Buller River, in all her might and moods, for I was the young hitch-hiker, on Argus’ last ride.

THE NEIGHBORS ARE NUDISTS- And Other Songs- From Godfrey- His 49th wisdom

Worzel writes, He was an odd young man who disliked beets, but my how did Godfrey love to pick apples. An apple picking job to him was a joy, never a chore. He sang as he picked, pop tunes and his own works, he “sounded like a kettle boiling dry”, it was reported. His singing, and chatty ways oft had Godfrey working alone in remote parts of the orchard. He was once cruelly pelted with boysenberries. Here are a few of the songs he would sing.

  Fear of Figs- The fear of figs is a dreadful thing.  I picked a plump fig fruit, it buzzed to my shock!  I yelped when the dirty old wasp I disturbed in it stung my tender buttock. I leaped from my ladder, snagged kilt on the fig tree, it waved in the breeze high above me.  High above!, it hung high above!,          Would you be so kind?  and climb up there?  Be kind, fetch it down as my stinging’ poor behind is bare.   Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus he cried! It were beets within it, the fair maiden lied.  They grow in great swaths of land, beets grow deep and wide. What cruelty, fair maiden to the innocent gypsy? serve him hot haggis, with beets baked inside.   Oh, Eucalyptus mouthwash he cried.

The Sad Song Of Barbara and Nicholas-  A lamb was born on a cool spring dawn, out on the high meadow, the moon looking on, her twin brother Nicholas born soon to, they stuck close by their Ma, a Corridale ewe.   Oh to live in the foothills of the Seaward Kaikoura, a rumpled green carpet, sweet clean, flowing water, verdant sheep country  for Nicholas and Barbara . This song is not sad, for they lived as lambs do, ate and played as they grew to bold ram and fine ewe.” Who named these two pets? creatures normally shy? “It was I , sang the vagabond- Godfrey….In the foothills of the seaward Kaikouras so high, “I helped them when born, caught the pair gently, when first they were first shorn”….The sad song of Barbara  and Nicholas is mine to tell…when at the end of my years labor with sheep, I bid them farewell”   Oh the narrow roads winding, from Grassmere to Cheviot, the words I sing lost to the headwind, I pedal into the Southerly’s chill It’s a long way by bike, but ride I must, keep a song in my heart, for get there I will

.Pumpkin Harvest on Wilderland-       It is not an easy thing, to run behind the wagon, to pickup pumpkins while you sing….or sing as you pick pumpkins. Run behind the wagon, gently place them in.    Shoulders strong in ragged shirt, feet bare in sun warmed dirt.  twist and lift and place and stack, ride the wagon’s tailgate when loaded, heading back.   rest in the shade, pass a sweet, warm melon hand to hand, lunch break at pumpkin harvest, down on Wilderland..

The Neighbors Are Nudists- A Nudist camp sits at the head of a big bay, it borders an orchard of apple trees tall, a fine fence surrounds it for privacy, but on his ladder picking apples, Godfrey this fine summer day, could not help but see.   He sang- oh I pick the Jazz, pick the Pippins bold, pick the Ambrosia, the Jonagold, and the neighbors are nudists, so I was told.     Godfrey sang as he worked, oer the fence he saw, cheerful folks a camp in the raw. “They smile up and wave to me, I toss them spare apples down from my tree, if there’s no boss about to shout or get angry”     “Toss apples, not stones, long live freedom to be”.    “I am personally modest, only alone I cavort in my pelt” But understand the feelings, that the nudists feel and felt.  “Warm breeze on sweaty skin so cool, no clammy swimsuit on, when lying by the pool…..Tea break at the apple packing shed, co-workers talk. “It’s a Nudist Camp down beyond the pie-apple block”.     Laughter from the nudist Bar-B-Que, hear the odd extended guffaw, chatting just like me and you. Volleyball and Croquet, played out on the lawn with nothing on.   And singing, voices round the fire late at night, raised in song….”I too was raised in song, wrote Godfrey. Always music, echoed. echoed, around my Welsh  valley home.  It lives in the wisdom I seek from within, when alone…The 49th Wisdom of Godfrey States- It is better if need raise your voice- raise it in song. It is better to toss apples, than toss bricks or stone..toss apples before hard words, bricks or stone…