Saturday, 28 November 2009

Recollections of a warped mind No. 3 - Game

Over fifty years ago when we were first married we both worked together for the same firm. It was a big national brewery with branches all over England, but that is another story in itself. We had both been brought up in families that found our amusements at home, before the insidious TV ruled the world. So we were used to board and card games and these were always a constant pastime with both relatives and friends.

Our Saturday evenings out were rarely to a commercial establishment but a quiet game of cards or such at another couple's home or they visited us. There was however a social club at work that on Tuesday evenings ran a progressive Whist drive. This old game of cards, a forerunner of Bridge, was a great game for socialising as winning pairs had to split up and either go up or down the tables whilst the losers similarly sat at the same table but with a separate partner.

We were quite adept at the game and often were in the prize money. We got used to the partners that played well and groaned inwardly when the ones that didn't have a clue sat down opposite. Just before Christmas a special event was held and even more couples were encouraged to take part because of the special prizes that had been donated.

As luck would have it, I managed to get the highest score that night. My card was checked and rechecked and I was duly pronounced the winner and invited to go and collect my prize. I could see Maureen beaming all over her face in anticipation. There at the prize table I was duly presented with a brace of Pheasants! When the applause died down I looked back at Maureen and she at me, both with horror on our faces.

As the other minor prizes were awarded we sat together contemplating our luck to have a pair of sad, undressed, feathery birds to take home. As we discussed the possibilities of their disposal to any likely relative or at the worst an early burial for the unfortunate creatures, we were joined by well wishers, saying how lucky we were. As we expressed our doubt of being able to cope with the hanging, plucking, dressing, and other preparation of the prize, let alone the thought of eating them, an interested player with no luck at cards offered to buy them from us.

Never had we ever felt so relieved to hear his words. With scarcely a nod to each other the deal was struck, the birds and money exchanged, and there were happy customers all round.

So it was that in those long gone days we were not game to eat game!

Picture - Brace of Pheasants, Oil painting by Jessica Brown

Sunday, 22 November 2009


"Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies" John Donne 1572 - 1631

I've always enjoyed traveling to work on the bus. A short brisk walk to the bus stop, a nod to the other regulars as I board, then an easy journey into town that deposits me just outside my office building. This was the only way for many years. That has changed now though, since I met Jim Harrison.

He got on a few stops before me and rarely occupied the same seat from one day to the next. I never noticed at first, certainly not until we sat together, that always just in front of him was the prettiest girl on the bus.

It wasn't long before I was sitting by his side on a regular basis. This put a bit of pressure on me as I liked to drift off into dreamland as I rode the bus. Not so with Jim! As soon as we were seated, out would pour his inane talk, on what was for me, the most boring subjects. I had to endure the winning goal at football, his opinion on women drivers, and some wisecrack about the government. Despite all this he had a charm about him that made it difficult for me to look for another seat. Whenever he winked and beckoned me as I got on the bus, I automatically sat by his side.

After a few journeys with him I noticed that apart from his mouth, his hands were busy too. While I was occupied watching the passengers board and alight from the bus, he was attending to the lass sitting in front of us. I stared in amazement the first time I saw him do it. He actually stroked her hair as he prattled on about scoring three strikes in a row at bowling. As my jaw dropped in disbelief, he added, "It's a wonderful feeling." I wasn't sure whether he meant the strikes or the girl's auburn hair. I was speechless.

On another trip, as we were settling down, he took a bolder step and just lifted a different girl's tresses, just to feel them in his hands. Do you know? She hardly noticed, probably thinking that he was merely brushing by her to get to his seat. I remonstrated with him when we were alone.
"Jim, you'll get your fingers burnt one day, get caught, and then you will be up on a charge for harassment." Jim showed no remorse. "Womens hair fascinates me. It's their loveliest feature. I just can't resist touching it."

He was very skilled at the game. The casual touch; lifting it slightly as though it were in his way; bending down to breathe in it's scent. I watched in awe at a master at work. All the time he talked incessantly; this was such a good cover. Who would believe the two men talking volubly about sport or politics would be up to such tricks. If ever she did notice and turn around, there I would be, a dupe to his activities, making any contact seem quite innocent.

He had no preference for colors. Blonds, brunettes and redheads all got the same treatment. Their hair had to be long though. The longer the better in fact. He confided in me once that he fantasised dating a girl with hair down to her waist.

Whenever he went overboard and made it obvious what he was doing, the fates once again were on his side. This was the case when a striking Eurasian girl sat in front of us. She had long, jet black hair, that spilled right over the back of the seat. She was a stunner. What a temptation for Jim! He couldn't wait to get his hands on her. Unfortunately he did so in such a way that she noticed right away and turned around almost at once. Jim was talking away as usual, this time, about a three car pile up on the freeway. She scowled not a Jim, but at me! I was so embarrassed, that I colored up immediately. Like a fool, I mumbled an apology stuttering, " Sorry, it was an accident," virtually admitting my guilt. Jim, meanwhile was doubled up with laughter in his seat.

As we got off the bus, I said, "I'm a married man , Jim. How could you do that to me? You really are going too far, getting me involved." He grinned cheekily. "Don't take it all so seriously. Couldn't you see she was flattered really, but she had to put you in your place."
"Put ME in my place." I almost shouted, while other commuters hurrying on their way to work, turned to see what all the fuss was about.
"You touched her, not me."
"But you got caught," he said with a smirk to finalise the conversation.

I was posted away from the city for a few months and when we returned I resumed the bus journeys into town. I didn't see Jim the first couple of days but finally caught up with him on the Wednesday. I noticed at once he behaved differently. For a start there was no girl sitting in front of him, and he was reading a Sue Grafton detective novel that I had recommended to him. His hands were fully occupied with holding the book and turning the pages. He was pleased to see me and asked about the trip. He told me of his own promotion and that he was now sharing his flat. I was surprised me as he was always so independent. I was itching to ask him where the latest pretty girl with long hair was, but the two passengers in front were not talking and would hear anything we said.

On the walk to the office he announced he was engaged. I raised my eyebrows in disbelief, but managed to quickly cover my surprise. "Hey! Well done." I said. Then quickly added, "I bet her hair reaches right down to her ankles." He shook his head. "I was a fool chasing after that dream. Do you know, every girl I dated with long hair was a pain in the butt."

I couldn't believe my ears, but he went on. "Hair can put a real dampener on romance. If it wasn't the shampooing , the drying or the brushing, it was some other damned thing. I never realised how much money they spend on that part of them. Every girl I went out with had the sort of hair that demanded attention, whatever we did."
"But you were obsessed with it." I said. "Didn't you say to me, that in the look. the touch, the scent of a woman's hair was true perfection."
Jim shook his head, as though it wasn't him who had said those words, but explained. "Of course I could expect some inconveniences, but what capped it all was not the time spent preparing the hair before going out or not being able to go swimming because of her hair had to be protected. It was something more personal." I looked at him sideways as we walked to work.
"Yes, you know. When you are close together, and getting romantically inclined. Naturally I'd be stroking her hair and before long she would be saying, 'Careful, Jim, that you don't get it tangled.' He continued, "I'd be bent over her kissing her nose or something, and she would come out with, 'Watch it, Jim, you're leaning on my hair'". Luckily, I managed not to laugh. So Jim carried on.

"I realised what an impossible fantasy I had, when one evening I had this real beauty with me. We were sitting down, you know, just touching and talking, when she reached back, undid her hair and let it fall all around her. This I thought was paradise. It flowed over her shoulders, down her back, followed the line of her breasts, I really was in seventh heaven. But then when we came close to each other, her movement caused her unrestrained hair to form a tent with her inside, and me on the outside. I couldn't see her face. I could hardly see the rest of her. I was like making love to a yeti."
This time I couldn't resist laughing out loud. Jim laughed too. "So, you see I've changed," he said.

He then showed me a photo of his Maria. She was a delight. She was small and had dark eyes, with an impish face and smile. And her hair? Well it was even shorter than that of Jim's. It was styled in a severe urchin cut. I looked at Jim. He grinned back at me."Well, that's life," he said. "She's a beauty, the best there is."

I believed him.

Illustration from postcard of Juliet by Angelo Asti c 1900

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Olive's Son

My mother was a fortune teller, clairvoyant, reader of palms, cards and might even have had a few chicken bones hidden away somewhere. She had been plying her trade for many years around all the local markets and fairs telling gullible people their future!

The first thing that I remember is being in this tent contraption stuck at the back with her all dressed in a gypsy costume in black with beads and a headscarf, sitting at a table talking to people. I might have been in a stroller or a crib, it doesn't matter now. Later on I can definitely remember playing with my toy cars, brmm, brmming quietly while she mumbled some nonsense out of sight.

The tent which was tiny had just two chairs and a card table covered with a velvet throw on which her tools of trade; the regulation glass ball, tarot and playing cards together with other paraphernalia. On the outside of the tent mystic symbols of the planets and other weird signs were sewn and at the entrance was a painted blackboard and easel stating "Olive the Oracle."

Later on as I grew older and wandered around I took more notice of her clientele. What a bunch of hopeful suckers they were. Of course some came just for fun, giggling teenagers hoping for a hint of impossible romances or careers. Others though, seriously needed help, a young married mother hoping for clue to her future offspring, people looking for happier times and yet others who came for reassurance. Then there were those who had a secret fear of illness either for themselves or loved ones. They didn't say as much they just assumed my mother would know what was troubling them and offer a solution.

She in her turn would prattle along, voicing generalities and quite often miss the point, miss their grief, miss their anxiety and be unable to read their minds. But I could!

Sometimes as I sat there just out of sight I could sense when one of the customers really had a problem. Men rarely came to the tent, but once one did sit down and asked her to read his fortune. He must have noticed me at that point, playing with Lego or some other toy and just for a moment our eyes met and I read immediately that he was in trouble over money and was getting in difficulties. Mum however was ranting on, smiling at him, reading the cards and telling him what he wanted to hear about being bold and adventurous. Meanwhile I was screaming inwardly, "Sell now, before it gets worse." How did I know that? I saw it in his eyes.

Another time a sad looking woman came in and asked about her future family and how many babies she would have. This time mum held her hand and traced her finger over the lines on her palm and told her something positive every time, but couldn't see if they were going to be girls or boys, perhaps one of each! At that point the woman noticed me playing and smiled a weak smile at me. I wish she hadn't. Her eyes said it all, her husband beat her and she suspected he was having an affair. She just wanted children as an insurance. Why couldn't my mother see all that too it was as plain as plain to me.

The only time I felt she did right when a mother brought her little daughter in with her. "What was her little girl going to be? " she asked. Luckily my Mum reached over to the little girl and touched her cheek, then held her hand and told her that she thought she would be a ballet dancer. The little girl was delighted, clapped her hands then she spied me playing with a Transformer toy. Our eyes met and I knew at once she was dying so I looked away again quickly.

Those days have long gone now, with the tent and the fairs and the customers and their vain dreams. As I grew up I was given the name "shifty" as I would never look people directly in their eyes. I once thought of being a customs official but that was only a foolish whim. But there is one person whose eyes I can look in quite closely and they are yours. When I look into them I am overwhelmed, I see the love you have for me, your need for me and that undying trust. I know without a word between us when you want me to touch you, I know when to laugh with you and when to weep. I have learned that it hurts to look too deeply in others eyes, except yours.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009



Today's the day I have my interview
Which is not my favorite thing to do
I got up late
was in a state
and knew I'd barely make it there by ten.

Skipped my breakfast just grabbed a juice
I didn't even listen to the news
out with a cuss
ran to the bus
and knew I wasn't well prepared.

Now I fronted at the imposing desk
reported in to start my hopeful quest
wait for a bit
still could not sit
and thought of many happier things to do.

Called in at last to the interview room
won't be long before my fate or doom
chat went quite well
plainly not hell
May be it's true that they like my style.

Waiting at home for a call or letter
Perhaps they think that I'm a go getter
phone's ringing now
just have to go
I'll come round later to tell you how it went.