NAME THAT HERB-A memoir from Dhilys Pugh

Beatrice here, Yes, it lives. My contributions to “The Saga” have indeed been skint of late. Worzel and I are back in concord, regarding Alice’s dreadful stories, she was Godfrey’s only sibling, and like her or not, adds a ridiculous verisimilitude to his story. 

Godfrey was my lifelong friend, and one of his favorite adventures was two weeks spent stranded among travelers, in a remote alpine hostel, road and railway cut off by flooding. Worzel has reported many persons writing, claiming they were there, that January, 1983. All recall the Chili Pot, the sheer intensity of the foul weather, and the odd young man who so disliked beets.  

This letter came from Wrexham, not far from here. Dhilys Pugh was there, in Arthur’s Pass so long ago…her daughter writes.” When our mother retired, she went daft, and decided to hitchhike alone about “The Far Antipodes”. Off before we could place her in a home, off with a backpack she went”. 

Mum lived her dream, returning fit and full of stories. “It were serious trampers, turned up in Arthur’s Pass, driven down by the rain from peaks and tracks. A Swiss couple, a Bongo Van full of Aussie girls, two dour Swedes, two Americans, Sally and Jim on bikes. Brian, the Canadian lad, always chopping wood. Barry, the “Whinging Pom”, with his own tea towels..and Godfrey- an odd looking character with a sign- “No Pasaran Beets”, which he propped by the kitchen sink.  

It merely rained the first day we spent stranded in high Arthur’s Pass. By mid morn the third day, safe to say it poured. On the fourth the wind blew 7 bells of crapaud, we began the chili, and played “Name that Herb”, from ancient packets and jars in the kitchen cupboard.

On the 5th day we had a contest- How many time was the “Mike Oldfield ” record played as it rained on the second? Godfrey won, the last banana- 8 and one half times he reckoned.

By day nine stranded in Arthur’s Pass, we completed a damp jigsaw puzzle- “David” missing the naughty bit. The chili was served again that night, a tin a creamed corn thrown in it. The Swedes baked bread, Godfrey loaned me his copy of “Naked Came I”, on the tenth day I curled up, close to the fire and read.

We played “Name that Herb”, from the odd smelling baggy, Sally from Texas found under her bunk. Godfrey’s deft scrounging produced ginger snaps, with cream for the coffee to dunk.

Should you ever be stranded in Arthur’s Pass, waterfalls appear like magic when mist clears over the tussocks and snowgrass. There is perfume of coal smoke and wood fire overall ,peaks loom, faded mural hangs on the hostel common room wall.

With Godfrey I walked to the roadside chapel, to pray that the rain may stop, we had a guffaw over diapers and pet food, all that was left in the only shop. In fun, we played Scrabble in Welsh just to baffle the Scrabble Champ, Brian, very earnest Canadian.

The Australian  girls were good humored, yet kept to them self. Dour Swedes and Swiss longed for to ski, Brian chopped wood, he had read all the moldy books on the dusty shelf. We all tried to add what we had to the chili, vegemite, an apple, half a bag of stale muesli. “No Pasaran Beets” Godfrey’s sign read,  seriously being the elder, guarding the pot and washing up fell to me..

We stumbled over tussock grass, down to the river, every morning for to stretch out and walk. Humbled by walls of stone, thick Rata clad in full crimson flower. We sought the green jade, washed from the flood water. I found a fine, small piece, Godfrey made a wee bag from one of his socks. (Knitting a skill he learned from his own Mother) I wear it round my neck, on a ribbon  he gleaned from another.

Godfrey said- “It will ease arthritic ache and pain”, cement friendship. “A gift from the gorge will carry you a journey, and home to Arthurs’ Pass one day again”.

Naked came I, from the shower stall on the 14th day of rain. There was hullabaloo outside the loo, with word that an east bound train had gotten through. Only Godfrey   remained last of the rain, his socks not quite dry hung by the fire, in silence I sat,  prodding an ember…trying to put thanks into words, that I would write fondly of Arthurs’ Pass, and would always remember..

For he’d trod from mud and knee deep clouds, down from the hut on Mt Ghoul, tramped alone. He was wringing his wet socks into a plant, whistling “Sweet Molly Malone”

In the tiny Hostel office, hear the warden complain, midnight in your bunk, waken to the drumming rain. Plan in your mind, the building of a raft if need be, remember being stranded, playing “Name that Herb ” and that dreadful pot of chili.

“I did not return to Arthurs’ Pass, many years later, back home walking one evening by “The Irish Times” pub, someone was singing “Sweet Molly Malone”. Round my neck, I felt for that green stone, recalled the large salad  I befriended, when back down in the city after two weeks of dubious chili. …

Here, Mum’s story ended. Restless back home, we built her a Donkey Cart, and with “Arthur”, a gentle beast, enjoyed her dotage hosteling, and prodding about in waterfalls. Mum remained adament, that feet must be kept warm and dry.

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CREATING A NUISANCE- From Alice

From “Alice; A life In Praise Of myself”-  

Godfrey’s eccentric sister Alice, had been hard at work with her dreadful writing judging by the thick packet she presented to me upon leaving Wales. Home now to my turquoise chair, after tea and good look out the window, I was ready for Alice. Alice writes, “here enjoy to your delight the completed introduction to my book”. Between selling shoes and writing, I have had little time to prank, town folk look at me oddly as I hurry by, suspicious lot…I hope no one suspects that I have matured.”Indeed, Alice had not.  

Creating a Nuisance- Ma and I never worried about losing Godfrey when he was small, and we went to the shops. He was easily found drooling on the bakeshop window, and I could collect my brother before someone shooed him away with a mop. I told him raisins were bug-guts, told him the coconut cakes he loved were made of lamb daggs. Thus I had a pile of raisins picked from his scone- and lovely cakes to, here is a favorite bedtime story- I was studying Australia in school, and was rapt by their colorful idioms.

Rattle Your Daggs To Lamington Fair- Your tail still long, legs stubby but strong, said old ewe to lamb when they met at the billabong. Run, run wee lambkin, run  and hide, before the black wagon comes and you are thrown inside! trust not the sheep dog, in the grass she will crouch, then it’s off to the market at Clapper De Pouch.

Not Clapper De Pouch!   the lamb did shake, where innocent sheep folk are promised cake, lemonade, and Cracker Jack, where good sheep go and never come back. There are rumors of woolies for chilly feet, and greasy chops for the posh to eat, and innards cleaned then set aside with onions for the Haggis fried. “I don’t want to be a Haggis”, the poor lamb cried.

Said ewe to lamb, now now, be calm, escape to the east beyond the farm, over   distant Tor through the Blue Woods rare, will lead you safely to Lamington Fair. Where the water troughs are not slimy or green, and free sheep gamboll on the common clean, no human ever be cruel or unkind, and when sheep dance they rattle their daggs behind, all free sheep dance, rattling daggs behind.

I oft threatened Godfrey with the dreaded “Clapper De Pouch”

The Prankster In Autumn-    There is something in October puts the prankster in a mood. ..Beyond my garden over grown and wild, enjoy the cacophony  of someone screaming at her child. Curmudgeon sanctuary, enter at thy doom, trap door for the unwary, welcome to my room.

Stacked tins of lonely soup, placed in precise rings, set before a desk top fan, dry my dainty under things. I enjoy the golden days of fall, collection of sharpened sticks hang along one wall. No art work or living plant for me, no tatty knick- knacks on the shelf, just my window over the moat, framed photos of myself.

The prankster in October- purloined from the bank a money bag, strolled to the park with glee, with simple system of fishing lines tied it to a tree. I sat on a bench so innocent, threw bag into the duck pond, sat and watched the greedy, wade in duck mess to retrieve it.

The money bag it stayed afloat, as the silly thrashed about, without webbed feet or boat. Pursuing a sack filled with rubbish, not money, with ice-cream and stick, I found it l terribly funny. And before my causing an angry mob, along came the town cop-“doing his job”. Portly Brian, crisp uniform wearing, knew well that nothing in the world upsets me..but herring.

Now, who ever heard of police bearing herring? Brian needed not threat or weaponry, stood holding up that dreaded fish, as I untied the bank bag from it’s golden tree. There is something in October puts the prankster in a mood- stay up late, nap by day- curmudgeon attitude.

Creating A Nuisance- “I was conceived neath a rowboat, in Wales have achieved status of legend, and as an incorigable nuisance am oft mentioned”.  The quality prank is an art form, cleverly cultivated, “Harm no one in Prank well Created”. I allow myself to be swung cross dance floors, knowing my oversize drawers will go flying free, to land in the lap or dinner plate, of one who looks askance at the likes of me’.

A curmudgeon is oft judged in church, or corridors of polite society, I have no need for cute stories of tots, cats do not interest me, only my own company”. My brother was son of a son of a silvery fish, bright as sun on calm sea, he disliked beets, was born that way, and Godfrey believed every sisterly thing I would say. The only time we ever whined is when herring and beets were combined.

I used Godfrey for a door stop, when sweeping out our cottage with a broom, I stuffed him nappy end down, in the piano that filled our sitting room. When I told him the Vicar hid God’s treasures in the chimney, up he climbed. Godfrey slid down head first, before I could grab him, wound up near the front pew of the church.

Trailing soot and ash, he took off at a dash, bawling for home via the cemetery, upsetting our first funeral  of many- elders set down the box of old Lloyd Brown to chase after my brother Godfrey.

“Created A Nuisance”- we read printed bold in The Newsletter of the Parish- from Sunday school, to my joy they dismissed us, I received a lecture, and Godfrey only beets in our hamper for the needy that Christmas.

Allergic To Work-  Willing companion “Nudge”, forged for me a note of fudge. “Please excuse Alice from work today at the shoe shop”. “Alice awoke, alive but sneezing and we cannot get the wheezing to stop”.

Truth was, yes, I did wake up alive, lost track of the sneezes when they numbered past five, my seventh sneeze so loud and strong, set off a alarm bells two doors along. Figurines shattered, we heard the outside toilet door shake, my step-father Arthur fled to the street, ancient memories of battle and earthquake.

No one else seemed worried of it. “The racket is only that prank happy Alice, doing her “bit”. Truly I sneezed, sneezed till I had to set teeth aside, sneezed myself to tears, sneezed till Grandma Turner heard it, and Grandma Turner had not heard for years. I sneezed every day this year in fall, sneezed with worry over bladder control, when the sneezing ended, and I did not die, we set out creating nuisance, Nudge Giggleswick and I.

From Alice.   I am beginning to agree with Beatrice- this is dreadful- From Worzel.

WHERE WIND AND TIDE…Adelaide’s 4th Story- From Worzel

My late summer visit to Sonsie Farm, in Wales. Even with Beatrice annoyed with me, were busy times for all on the farm, and working late into the nights together on our book, “The Collected wisdom Of Godfrey”. The late vagabond had been Beatrice’s childhood friend, and she felt I was straying too far from Godfrey’s saga, by including Tugboats, Toilets, “Itinerant Nere Do Wells”, Horses, and his eccentric sister Alice’s dreadful writing.  

When I wove in Adelaide and Benny, who had settled uninvited on Sonsie, Beatrice almost raised her voice. She was not getting the connection..

The only day it rained, that last summer Godfrey spent with us in Canada, and though he feared antiques, my friend helped me drag home a battered, old plaid steamer trunk from outside a junk shop. When he quit muttering, and “Feh-Ing “over what may be inside, he peered in and gravely informed me- “Not empty Worzel dear, it is full of stories.

The trunk sat in our luggage shop window several years, until Adelaide and  Benny showed up, the odd old couple claiming it as their own. I happily sent them off with the trunk, aledgedly  bound for Wales, no one expected them to get there, much less move in with Beatrice, to her  dismay. It was berry picking time, Alice’s old car had been reported seen near Sonsie Farm, so it was I went out picking, Beatrice fearful to leave home with the prankster nearby..  

Adelaide and I set out at dawn, for the hills of Barafundle Bay, she former Chambermaid to The Queen,  parked her donkey cart in the shade, and I with a pat did the same, for I rode good Rowan, the brackety gray. Plunk went ripe fruit, into the old woman’s pail, before I had even begun, she hitched up her drawers, waded deep in the bushes, straw hat tied firmly against dust and the sun.

“I’ll go where wind and tide take me”, said Adelaide when asked how long they may stay at Sonsie. “We  have sought yellow houses since I left my employer The Queen”. The bantie sized rogue had a brittle dignity, indeed for the struggles and places she and her plaid trunk had been.

“We maids were not allowed ashore to cavort, when the Royal Yacht Britannia was tied up in port”. “One morning I chanced look out, out from the bed chamber door- in a narrow pass we were passing a fine, grand yellow house on the far shore”. “Had a wide verandah, finials atop, yellow paint fresh and bright, Betty the boss lady barked, as the ship turned sharp up a fiord out of sight”. “Someone waved, I waved back as the yellow house hove out of sight”..

Plunk went the berries into Adelaide’s pail, I waited knowing she could not be hurried in telling her tale. “There was a kerfuffell, a stramash, a paddy bordering on a  melee’, plunk, plunk…It were a bad day, maggoty butter was served at high tea. “The Queen did not butter her own scone, was a Lady in Waiting stood and looked on”. Royal decorum was lost at first bite, the hand maid swooned, the Prince did curse, Our Noble Queen was ill in her purse…..

“Oh bloody hell, the butler cried”, all butter on board was heaved over the side, floating off in a maggoty wake, we threw out a case of beets and some dubious fruitcake”.

Plunk, went Adelaide, far out picking me, though I judged her age roughly at least 83. “Why was it deemed your fault? I asked as we took a break neath a tree, intriqued by this version of her life story. “Twer height of summer, nasty flies a swarm, was my Marvin the butler’s lad, left the butter pats out in the warm”.

“He promised for a keek up my smock, he’d be a gentleman, he promised me a life of ease, when our time in service was done, he promised that he, Marvin, would be faithful evermore, he promised me a yellow house, in a field of Marram grass on the seashore”.

“But the butler’s lad lied, I and my trunk, cast with scorn and aspersions , dismissed  over the ships side.”. “My  trunk and I , set forlorn in a lonely gutter, blamed for maggoty butter”.  “in Flinder’s Street, urchins pelted me with ripe pear, seeking employment I strayed from the docks, told my sad story to kind wanderer Benny, who sought out Marvin, kicked him firm in the buttocks”.

“Benny promised no life of ease, no posh ring, Benny promised only one simple thing”. “That our lives be shared till the end, side by each- and we seek that yellow house of our own, yellow house on a remote beach”..

Lest I ramble, I left Adelaide to pail and bramble, the day quieted to, and portions of her story I know will be familiar to you. Not just the old tale of innocence lost, or betrayal by silver tongued voluptuary, not man enough to own up to maggoty butter, but even this vile young lout, is part of the odd way we, were happenstance brought together”.

Godfrey wrote this of beets- “I wish no ill of beets, or those who love them”. Had it not been for beets, I may never have left Wales, and still be selling manure by the roadside. Dislike of beets helped me make friends, from empty room, to so many lovely places…until our circle is complete- all hale kindness! all hale the beet!.

I hope when Beatrice reads this, she will understand the connections to…

 

I WAS A TATTERDEMALION- Ma Yelled- from Godfrey

Godfrey rarely spoke of his mother, laughed when he did. He wrote her often, Ma never replied. Godfrey’s sister Alice sent a card every three years on her birthday, scrawled in a corner sometimes we could read-“From Ma”.  

On my yearly visits to Wales, researching this book, I was never invited into the cottage, complete  with a moat, Alice shared with Ma and ancient stepfather, Arthur. We always met at the “Little Chef”, a dreadful roadside diner Alice had never been ejected from.

Godfrey’s Ma, I expected a raging harridan- Roly-Poly Ma was shy, and able to knit, read, demolish a large breakfast, and complain about everything in a soft, Scottish burr. Alice slid, rather than entered the lady’s room as I was checking my teeth for food. Filling her knitted poke with toilet rolls and hand soap, Alice explained that “Ma yelled herself out long ago”. “Created her own echo, did Ma, said Alice- “Ma Yelled”…   

In our small village was one corner shop, run by Mr and Mrs Mange, They lived behind a grimy drape in the rear. He wore a string vest with food stains cross his belly, Mr  Mange did not bathe or change, we could hear Mrs Mange in back, oft cursing cricket on their telly.

Ma forbid Alice and I, from entering the filthy old place, which only encouraged my bolder, older sister. I ‘d hide and burrow neath dry dog food sacks, and cases of corned beef tinned, Alice pinched sweets as I cried aloud, I was under the dog food and pinned. Mr Mange fell for it, dug me out a time or more, till the day no one came… and peeking out I was collared by an irate Ma, Alice fleeing out the shop door. Ma yelled.

Some mothers baked, our sewed pinafores and knitting to sell, our Ma chose to yell. Ma yelled, as had her Ma before her and her grannies Ma had to, a very large family who yelled at each other was all that Ma knew.

Ma yelled- when we were driven home backseat of a cop car, Ma yelled. Fished from a deep, muddy stream, stepped in a cow-pat drifting in day dream, Ma yelled. Some Mothers took to drink- ours really could scream.

Alice told me scary stories such as “Now You Are Wet”. Read tales of beets and a mean, haunted doll, I was very young then, and on stormy nights I would bawl. Along came Ma, cigarette a glow in the dark, scent of stale perfume if she had been out, sat with a sigh on the end of my bed- “Shut Up Godfrey,” she’d bark.  Alice laughed through the wall, Ma yelled, I told Ma that I disliked beets, and was it true that beets were how trolls smelled? Ma yelled.

The more sister Alice rebelled, Ma yelled. Alice’s voice rang above all others, singing in church, I laughed so hard that tears welled. Alice stuffed me under the pew, held the hem of my kilt down with her shoe, was clouted on the head by the handbag of high, mighty Miss Ingeldew…Ma would yell, after church, this I knew.

Ma yelled, when I brought home a sodden, wadded letter from school. “Mrs Llwtzst, your son is a Tatterdemalion”. Ma yelled, I could tell she was not happy, proud or thrilled, by how loud.

When Ma yelled, it oft echoed at low tide, down the harbor, past pubs and tearooms to the great Smythe Estate on the hill. All Smythes thought themselves better than each other, yet not even pompous Tenbrooks Smythe The First, could out shout my mother.

When I , Godfrey grew older, I was smitten by Clementine, a Peruvian fish monger’s daughter. Ma yelled at me, for hanging about the fish shop, and strolling home reeking of cod water. Ma yelled at poor Clementine, end of the pier when she caught her.

Ma yelled at Alice for fixing a big pot of soup  she called “Hearty Bogey”. I ate it, as it did not contain beets, Alice promised me.

I stayed out all night with Clementine, she told me of the stars, and the mountains of Peru, and a wee bit of what she desired to do, in her gumboots and large white pants, we danced. She talked as I baked, (though I’ll leave out some personal parts), and in cool of summer morning we had coffee and warm apple tarts.

Along came Ma in her dented Morris Minor, just as Clementine slung me over her large, firm shoulder, yelled at again was my innocent fish lady’s daughter….

The last time I heard Ma yell…I left her the key to my manure stand, with extra sacks, stacked for to sell, then I said goodbye, dared kiss Ma on the cheek, set out vagabonding, wisdom to seek. I glanced back as a customer stopped, Ma set down the sack of manure she held, too far away now for me to hear why…yet I knew that last moment, was Ma yelled. yes, Ma yelled.

 

BROWN MUDDY BOOTS- From Godfrey

Worzel here, in old age, happy today looking back. A fond memory to share?. Well, one day at our luggage shop, a cake, sandwich and vegetable tray intended for a funeral  was dropped off by mistake. My husband Garnet, and Godfrey reckoning it was a surprise treat for their brave hunting down of a mouse that morning, ate it.  

When I got home, they were desecrating the carrot cake, oblivious of the purple writing- “Rest In Peace Muriel”…they had saved me the icing roses and soggy walnuts Godfrey had picked out. 

I had long promised never to torment my friend with beets, (he heartily disliked them). . I rang the Funeral Home before sending them off to apologise, explaining that just punishment would be to corner Godfrey on the subject of beets, and not let him leave. Garnet crept home late, without Godfrey, the vagabond reappearing three days later, claiming he had been lured into a corn maze.  

Our apartment building is old, the floors warped and splintery. To this day, one of Godfrey’s old boots wedges the toilet door closed, in lieu of a latch. To say the least, his memory is everywhere. 

Was a very young poet- “Do not hitchhike”warned my Ma- “you will be left with no shoes on the roadside”. Shrill rang her words as a beet grower pulled to the side. A high, shiny ute with a beet painted on the red door, I accepted the lift, despite worry over beets, it was raining and well after four.

As I settled inside the chap spoke of beets, across the ranges divide, beets on filled roll, beets in slibber sauce, beets in fine silver bowls, roasted on fire coals, beets stuffed in beets stuffed inside a fat goose, for dessert double beet, beet chocolate mousse.

With rare pause in telling how his crop covered many a hectare, he’d a house on a hill with gold plumbing in the loos, and every day wore a new pair of shoes. “Everyday because I can”. I do not suit the common, brown muddy boot”. He was a peculiar man.

When asked, I’d say in my pre-poet days, my background was in sales. “I ran a manure stand back home in Wales”. By pail, gunny sack, or shovel it yourself from the heap around back. And I tried to save every penny, dreaming of places my brown muddy boots would take me.

Oft in summer, early mornings when I stayed at Worzel’s home in the city. Young trampers were a plenty trail bound from bus and ferry. This is an island that calls to the bold and the ruggedy. With shiny new boots, flash gear in clean pack, I saw many set out, but none looked the same heading back. Sandy and hungry, sun, wind burned, wet and ruddy, you can bet those boots were now soft, scuffed and muddy.

Stories told round hostel table- tell of bear prints in sand, deep salal and bracken fern, Cape Scott, Mystic Susiat Falls, back home be it Hamburg or Melbourne, tell of the brown muddy boots they would earn.

On such a trek, Godfrey caught from the rocks with lucky cast a fat salmon for us three. We gave thanks, and stuffed it with thimble berries, cracker crumbs, dried onion, an apple, our last precious butter. We roasted the fish over clean alder fire. No royals or rich folk ever feasted finer, than we with murmur of out going tide, and slept deep neath the stars as our brown muddy boots dried.

Found a cow path came I, a vagabond strolling, from over the borders southwest, happy to be free of town living, I sat back neath a pear tree to rest. Kicked off my boots, (A tad muddy and damp), hung month old socks from a branch to air dry. Remember the feel of bare feet in soft grass? If not, I suggest you seek out a fresh patch and try…From Godfrey.

EQUILIBRISTAT- From Godfrey and Worzel

Worzel here- recently reminded of life’s fragility…

I was recently reminded, while out rambling in the city. Saw a young delivery driver, under the gun, in a big hurry. Juggling paper work and boxes, sacks of rice in heavy load, a moments inattention, a jar of liquid honey fell, and shattered in the road.

In an instant the labor of uncounted bees, was lost to glass and dust. It caused folks to glance over, a carriage horse to snort and shy. the #50 bus drove through the mess, do not trod in it, Worzel dear spoke Godfrey, as arm in arm we two strolled by.

I knew that he knew that I knew what he was feeling as we carried on a silent walk, was later that summer, out star gazing, he recalled that fallen honey in his own odd way, as we sat midnight at the lakeside on the dock.

Said Godfrey- “Back home in Wales, our Grandad was  a fisher.” “Took us out with him often, sister Alice and me”. “This time we hit a rock, or wreck, I do not know which, the boat began to fill, Alice to heave ill, “Grandad turned to me, “Go and make a pot of tea, Alice, shut up and hold fast, make the tea hot and strong lad, it may be our last”.

I did as told, he patched the hole, it was not in my destiny, or Alice’s to drown, we drank tea  and ate ginger biscuits as we puttered back to town. I was only eight, my first big awareness that life is precariously balanced on a dewdrop, a dewdrop on a dock leaf rooted in the earth, as autumn is meant to set adrift, eventually, as Grandad did , a fisher on the North Sea.

Equilibristat- Larry the Free Advice Wino told us once, in his years as a young rover, Said Larry,” I worked the Equilibristat, it measured the angle of the tracks curve, so trains could travel safe, not tip and fall over.”

Something so simple, bend or crack from frost, delicate balance upset, a mighty train would be lost.

I recall that long past summer, and the dropped jar of honey. Regret I never got to meet Free Advice Wino Larry. With ranting Meglomaniacs poised over the key, fear mongers shall not still my pen, my world is not ruled by weaponry.

Hold fast to our homes Equilibristat- no question I’d rather trust it to Free Advice Wino Larry.

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.