ELDERFLOWER AND BAGMOUSE- from Worzel

On this, my 5th summer visit to Wales , I put off meeting with Alice, Godfrey’s older sister until last. Beatrice, fearing a ruse by Alice ,would not leave Sonsie Farm, fearing the prankster may double back, to tease her goats, or goad elderly tenants Adelaide and Benny into painting her puce cottage yellow. 

Alice would only meet me at a “Little Chef” roadside diner, she had been barred from every other cafe for miles. Alice and Godfrey’s doughty Ma filled one side of a booth, hands oddly lean and strong, knitting me a cardigan. Alice’s partner, “Nudge”, and stepfather Arthur crowded a table, counting a hat full of money, they had been down the market, singing war songs, Nudge keeping time on a length of rubber hose.  

Alice, as had Godfrey, considered no meal complete without peas, and was devouring a trencher full. A cranky, harried waitress slobbed a stained mug of tepid tea, the bag a wodge at the bottom, before me, and Alice the drinking straw she requested. Alice used the straw to fire peas at an innocent toddler two booths over….

Ma still refused to talk about Godfrey- even when I showed her our thick manuscript, even when I told her how he thwarted a robbery. “We heard screaming outside a pet shop, saw a youth running from the parking lot clutching a carry bag, the thief actually tripped over Godfrey’s big manly feet, headlong into a pole. Godfrey knelt and talked to the bandit about apples, until the cops arrived. The stolen goods were recovered, a bag of Gecko Food, he declined the local news interview…”Twer the beets turned him odd..is all I got from Ma.  

   I turned my attention to the packet of writing Alice brought along, delighted it seemed less “Alice” than usual.. from his old teacher, Mrs Kromplak, something of a “Tippler”.  

ELDERFLOWER AND BAGMOUSE- From Mrs Kromplak.

Godfrey never knew it, when very young I called him “Bagmouse” like the kangaroo, noble marsupial, he hopped about in baggy knitted horse sweater, with a pouch, long mane and tail behind to. His friend Beatrice was my “Wild Welsh Elderflower”, shyly sliding in late, wet and cold, the pair oft brought apples pinched from the market, or a stripy June-bug beetle for me to hold.

I had seen elder flowers bloom from cracks in old stone, tiny yet determined to endure against all odds and grow….and recall the mob of gray kangaroos, I met on main street of a dusty, distant town in my girlhood long ago.

In my desk I kept a flask, for all who asked why “Medicinal Whiskey” for my nerves not the same since the war, Elderflower and Bagmouse, to my dismay once sneaked a swig, perhaps more, found the two gagging halfway to the outside toilet door. “Your medicine burns like Oobleck, Godfrey, the only child I knew who could at the same time, speak in rhyme, laugh cry and spew…Now I am old as, “The Old Ladies’ Home “snores about me- I trust Alice will give to you this packet, remnant of Bagmouse’s story….

EIGHT PIRATES- From Godfrey-  aged ten- eight nasty pirates, in their dirty socks, out late drinking grog, falling from the docks. Seven  nasty pirates now, eating pickled herring, six fell ill, one pirates past caring.

Six nasty pirates, all with peg legs, made them late for mug-up, five got the dregs. five nasty pirates, swabbed the slippery plank, one fell overboard, into the deep he sank. Four nasty pirates, on a night so dark, when at dawn the storm eased, was one lost to a shark.

Three nasty pirates, all in one bed, slip of the cutlass, bad dream, Raoul lost his head. Two nasty pirates left, eyes on the horizon, missed the rogue wave from the aft, now there’s only one. One nasty pirate relaxing in the sun, conked by a coconut oer the head, no more pirates, all dead…From Godfrey.

SIR FRANCIS DRAKE- From Godfrey- At Grandma’s house when I happen to wee, I look up at her painting above the loo, “The Golden Hind” ship of sail, out on the oil paint blue. Sailors hang on the lines so bold, the cook peers out on deck grizzaled and old, the better the light of dawn to see, bugs in the mutton, and gruel so cruel and weevily.  Magesticley see the Galleon ride, see the back end of Ralph heaving over the side. And the fins of sharks above the wake, and no sign what so ever of Sir Francis Drake.

WALNUT DOWN- My  sister and I stayed up awake, when Ma prepared the Christmas cake, with fruit and nuts she kept hidden all year, and expensive sugar.We crowded her elbow to make a wish and stir, I recall Alice’s cry of Walnut Down! , if nut or raisin should jump from the basin.  We dove in unison for the treat, her great thick head bashed  my noggin, “Godfrey hit me in the head with his skull!, cried Alice, as under the sink I crawled, it may be cracked!. Alice bonked me on the head with hers, Ma, I bawled. We learned to stay well clear of Ma, at eve when she chose to bake, for our Ma had reflexes quick as a snake, snatched up the walnut as we rowed, threw it back in the cake with the cry- Walnut Down!.

CHOCOLATE COVERED SALT- From Godfrey-  Twas Alice in creative mood, oft tried to ruin my day with food. Knowing full well I abhor all beets, yet can not turn away from pastries or sweets. Melted chocolate did Alice, with tender care on the stove. Filled them with fondant, tied with a ribbon, “Happy Birthday dear Brother with Love”. I ought to have known, the first two sweets had a cherry inside, the third a cherry pit, the 4th sweet was a cube of salt, sent me racing outside for to gag and to spit. When I am bigger, and get up the daring, shall make Alice Bon- Bons filled with herring..

RUNNING- From Godfrey- Running, I ran across the far meadow.  Was chased by the bull, all snot nose and bellow. I cleared the stone wall with room to spare, chased by the bull on Alice’s dare.

Ran, I ran quick home from the shops, biscuits and cream sent to get. The biscuits were reduced to crumb, the cream by my jogging churned to a clot, Ma wacked me across the bum, and boxed my wee head a swat.

Ran, I ran from bullying louts, armed with beets and frozen sprouts, were times I truly wished that I, could summon a dragon from the sky. Flames green and gold, scales of brass in the sun. Tenbrooks Smythe The Third, his cohorts “Heavy” and “Whet”, would drop their beets in defeat and run…

He was an odd young man who disliked beets, he was my friend for 28 years..and  childhood defined his well developed love of the absurd.

Advertisements

ALICE’S SONG- From Worzel

Beatrice waited, worried when I returned home late to the farm from Skibbereen…she made her famous “Clergy Tea”, a blend of soothing herbs, laced with plenty of aged brandy.   I’d spent the day with Alice, Godfrey’s sister, and was not yet ready to tell her story.

In the easy camaraderie of women our age, we sat feet up by the fire with tea and scone. It was summer and come donkey’s bray, Beatrice set out to feed and tend to her pets at dawn.

In spare boots and Godfrey’s old, worn fleece I tagged along.   “Well, we did not get carried out of the “Little Chef”, I reported to Beatrice as we watched the sunrise from her barn gate.  “We arrived at the same moment, Alice griping I was late”.

“I only knew Alice from a tatty old photo or two” “She brought the sandwich tray she snitched from Godfrey’s wake, told me to say thank you” “She said, I dislike wobbly tables, cannot abide tables that wobble, so we sat at the only  one that did not wobble, (and where the floor was not a vulgar color) “Yes said I, Godfrey disliked wobbly tables to, said they gave him “Grue”, set his poetry askew.

At his name she tapped her chest, said “clear a path if I should wheeze, as my brother was I to am allergic to daisies.     Like Godfrey, Alice dressed eclectically, in a kilt with a lacy hem, sewn ineptly on, sensible shoes, wooly knee socks, and a name tag belonging to “Mrs Cox, Bank clerk.

”  I never trusted Alice with my goats, Beatrice shook her head, mixing tubs of sweet feed and oats”.  She teased our old Billy, got butted in the backside, she teased Mulgrew’s bull, had to run for her life, leap the fence into the pig-pen”   “She teased Godfrey with beets, but it was he saved her from the goat and bull back then, she must have long forgotten.

“I hope you never have to laugh, in cool of early morn, after all night up drinking “Clergy Tea’.   I barely made it down the overgrown path, wet with dew, to Beatrice’s long drop loo, there I sat….crying until I laughed, laughed for Alice, cried for Godfrey, for when we parted Alice said, “take this book, it is my poetry”.

“COLOR ME UNREPENTANT”- BY  ALICE.   Was the title.  I stood, gob-bound in the parking lot, Alice scrutinizing me, said, “I dislike wobbly tables, precarious piano stools, herring, gelatin, most laws and all rules, but I don’t mind you”   Then changing her mind about the sandwich tray, with a shrug tossed it into the back seat of her black London Cab and sped away.. I am delighted to share some of Alice’s poetry-

STREETS OF HOME- Our wee town was called “Simpler’s Joy”, I chased across wet, cobbled streets. I chased my younger brother with beets, I rubbed his face with a moth. Always laughing, we two ran, to fetch our alcoholic Gran, out of the pub, out of the pub and home for tea, down to the pub we ran, home we sang with our Gran.- By Alice.

WHAT UTTER CRAP, MY DEAR- Due to behavior that harmed no one, I was sent away at 15 to live as a nun.   Sister Mary Santa Gertrudis hit me with a wooden spoon as she drew near, called my efforts at art work, “What utter crap my dear”.

Old Sister Agnes Paul heard me singing in the hall, “If I had a Hammer”, strident and clear. Got another nun to pin me as she only had one arm, crying “that is inappropriate, utter crap my dear.

Mother Superior The Bent, as we called the boss nun, towered in her clacky shoes over everyone, called me a vessel of holy pride, until I refused to go to Mass, was caught passing naughty pictures in maths class. “She lectured, Alice, you cannot remain here” “How delighted I was put on the train for home, thinking what utter crap my dear- By Alice.

VERN- Greasy Vern doth broke my heart, oh I fell for Vern’s charm, I landed hard. He combed his hair with Pole-Cat Lard, he’s long gone to Australia.   Oh weep no more now Alice bold, grieve no more and learn, make your own way in this world, you need not follow greasy Vern. – By Alice.

  STATUE IN TOWN SQUARE- A statue there is in my hometown square, of a greedy man- Tenbrooks Smythe the Second. I dressed him in a frock, a frilly blouse, and a smock, wore panty-hose when he was alive, I reckon..

THE WOBBLY TABLE- Color me an old bat, for I dislike wobbly tables. I would rather sit on a sliverey herring crate. Color me unrepentant, no one will ever know lest I share this verse, that I without question, Alice given a choice over hate, chose love ,chose mirth..By Alice.

I REMEMBER TAPIOCA- In Verse and Vignette- By Worzel

I read last night, before a moderate coffee house crowd, read “You Remind Me Of Haggis and other Stories.

” It was snowing, wet, clotty, west coast fashion. The slurping, grinding, chair-dragging, cold draft from the hallway to the toilet, name dropping,(Margaret Attwood and I had lunch) rabble of open mike poetry night. 

  The very large Shakespeare guy was there, the sad woman read from her book, “My Office Cubicle”. Dave read, he was always funny. You needed to be good to be heard, there was phone checking, the rude rustling of papers, a chap who had just ducked in out of the weather, another who had removed her teeth and set them by her plate to enjoy a sausage roll.

More name dropping,(my agent is talking to Random House).    I read “You Remind Me Of Haggis”- Godfrey’s youthful paen to his lifelong friend Beatrice. Read to smirks, raised eyebrows, laughter from Dave, who always laughed, a brief pause in chatter from the Pashmina draped name droppers table. I finished my read, drained my cold, congealed mocha, and prepared to escape via the loo hall, and through the all night pharmacy it adjoined , A young man stopped me by the loo door, “I really dug your story”, he told me, your Godfrey is a cool guy”   Thank you , yes, he was I told him, thank you for restoring my faith in the inherent wisdom of all things silly, for all who read his message, many thanks…we wait for Random House to call..

Oh look!, a box of tapioca, I heard him cry, holding the red and white package for me to see. I could do a complete shop as he browsed the baked goods aisle, such was my friend, the vagabond Godfrey.

“I grew up eating school dinners”, as you know said he, I ate Beatrice’s tapioca, she ate beets in return for me. “We did get caught, a lot, dragged by the ear was I to sit alone with laden tray, of beets remainder of the day”. My sister Alice hid beets bottom of the tapioca, but because I loved it, I could fish the bits and chunks out straight away.

Tapioca Cream Fluff- I recall learning to cook under the eagle eyed look of my stepmother, Mrs Gibberflat, Sunday afternoons back home. At the smell of scorched sheep’s milk my siblings fled, as across the stove top my tapioca spread, in a sea of lumpy foam.  Only our dad would never complain, about my tapioca, ate it without looking, glued as always to the hockey game.

Home economics class, a sensitive thirteen, I recall the kitchenettes painted clinical green.  Mrs Heikila with her apron on on meant tapioca bubbling on the menu. Finally something, however inept I felt I could do.

As always, boiled at will the pot, watched in horror my tapioca spew, what I scraped off the side of the stove never really set, Tina House made perfect tapioca…a “C” in tapioca was the best mark I would get. I remember tapioca, in verse and vignette.

Visiting Beatrice, in Wales, we encountered tapioca, at a “Little Chef” east of Tharn, off the motorway, there sat tapioca on the end of the buffet.  “Godfrey ate his weight in this”, Beatrice reminisced, over the chipped and age scuffed parfait dish, handing one to me.

“He called it Anti Gravity Frog Spawn, you won the game if you could lift it by the spoon, hop without dropping it the width of the lunch room”   We were very young then, and very silly.   I remember tapioca, it lives vivid in my memory, long live tapioca, celebrate it in vignette and poetry.