Tree of Joy and Badger’s Nuts

30th December 2021.

Christmas week trots drearily towards new year. In my earbuds Jethro Tull: ‘Solstice Bells’. Segue to Sting: ‘Hounds of Winter’. Apart from the inexorable stairs leading up to the missus and my St Peter Port flat the only flights are those of fancy. Ironic when the sky’s hatched by plane trails headed every other blooming which way.

Hatched sky

As if choreographed, and wearing matching pale grey dressing gowns, the ladies of the first three houses in the terrace below us slouch at their back doors and drag meditatively on fags.

Across the Channel’s briny filled chasm are daft, family games of Ibble-Dibble whose end necessitates a wet sponge to wipe away blackened bottle cork smudges on forehead, cheek and chin, and multiple shot glasses meeting the dishwasher. But that’s there.

Here, the manure heaps have been dumped. Awaiting their spread over next year’s corn cob field. Cuttlefish shells, pretty ellipticals and white as snow, decorate the foreshore. The winds blow hoolies. And it goes without saying the drizzle urges a grasp of the bumbershoot. I mean, brolly.

Cuttlefish shell

I’d also found nuts. Of a sort.

“I’m really quite harmless,” I said, slip-sliding aside. The moss-on-rock banked path passing by the holey turtle head stone, narrow and muddy. Dampening my bum on rain-cups of penny wort, I allowed clear passage for the Barbour coated duo restraining a growling, grizzled-muzzled, fat lab.

“So’s he,” the leash tugger riposted. Sniffily.

Turtle head stone

Perhaps it was the pistachios shoved in my pocket getting up the mutt’s nose. ‘Cos damned if I could find the hazelnuts in the kitchen cupboard. Or had it sussed the badger I’d deftly popped in my bag? Yep, a badger.

Albert Der Dachs Bagger (‘the badger digger’ in German), Albert for short, is my Somerset thriving grandson’s joker from afar. Albert had been ‘a-gnawing’. On a rotten log. Me doing revolting munching noises. Loudly off camera. Awkward when the Barbours must’ve witnessed the ad lib.

A-gnawing badger

How, I pray, without stumbling over multiples of ‘um’ or ‘er’ could I explain away, to complete strangers, a soft-furred hand-puppet, on a pretend diet like its master, enjoying roughage? My acting nonchalant was a fail. I became, instead, a clarty creature worthy of suspicion. 

But hey, the longest, darkest night is behind us. Has been for a week now. Means an accruing two minutes extra daily daylight. A trend set to continue till spring. Already, out in the boonies, thistles flower purple at La Grande Lande. Where a defunct, unfinished, German wartime tunnel hewn in despair by Polish and Russian slaves – that Albert shamefully claims as his mansion-sett – lies beneath St Saviour’s church. All of which is vaguely fab.

La Grande Lande
German tunnel

Lesser fab: consistency of an Ashes nature out in Oz. Namely the steady trudge of England’s bamboozled pavilion bound batmen – Zum’s Jack Leach, morose behind his specs, et al – at the raise of a finger. Dispatched mercilessly as if pheasants or mallard. Be it Brisbane, Adelaide or Melbourne, the ‘baggy green’ capped slips hoovered up the snicked, keen as gun dogs. Over a mere twelve days of Christmassy cricket never was there a partridge in sight.

However, this island’s ducks, pro tem, hassle young and all for breadcrumbs that escaped the traditional chestnut stuffing. And can prove quite a headache. Although not nearly as harsh a one dismissively put down, by some, to over imbibing on the island’s Bluebottle gin.

Worryingly, and with a spike straighter than a super hedgehog’s, there’re more cases of the Omicron variant on this sea rock than the Poms have collective runs.

Appearing hollowed, the weight of our little world the heavier for it on his back, our Chief Minister has his stoic pooch tow him gently up Le Vauquiedor’s hill, which abuts the hectic hospital, for the benefit of his constitution.

But believe me there are antidotes to the mubble-fubbles. Leek and potato soup with a slop of cream and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley, a dram of Macallan as nestling reassurance, is a cuddle for the tum. 

Plus, one can now see the extra light. At its harbour-side St Peter Port dazzles. Rooted bullseye in the big roundabout, the iconic 100-foot erection if you will, based on an eighteenth century mizzenmast, has morphed into our Tree of Joy. Sparkies bearing screwdrivers and fuses have busied themselves. The thirty-odd strings of lights that form the arboreal shape – reduced to nowt but sketchy guy wires thanks to pesky Storms Arwen and Barra – wowza-wow anew. So hurrah-harroo!

‘Tree of Joy’

However, skittish leaves simply cannot stop their street-dance. Across the way, the inflated snowman, despite sand heavy in its shoes, tugs at its moorings, itching to do the full Raymond Briggs. To Oulu. Which is in Lapland. As good a guess as any for a possible destination.

For the me and the missus both, almost into our third year marooned by fate, we’d happily achieve a lesser goal: to draw deep breaths of Somerset air. And report in person to a young child why, in a non-exotic Guernsey winter wood, Albert had pistachios at his scrote. Better that than the finer points of Ibble-Dibble. 

Fingers and toes crossed maybe, just maybe, 2022 will be kind. Until then Albert Der Dachs Bagger will undoubtedly assume an attitude. 

Anyway, the errant packet of hazel nuts finally found behind two tins of sardines in chilli sauce, the missus concludes: “We’re leading a weird life.”

Sláinte to that. Whilst best avoiding any grizzle-muzzled hound.

Illustration & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Dogged Reports And Festive Wind

6th December 2021.

A-quiver in the Bluebell Woods

December. Early month there’s a bright star in St Peter Port’s heavens. And the local pharmacist has wished me my year’s first “Merry Christmas!” knowing the ‘Variable Germ’ is sketchily afflicting one in seventy Guerns.

Reason enough for the missus and me to advance-open the candied peach, pear and apple, light as air, panettone. And, in order to clear a fuggle head, brave the winds that turn a tweed cap into a fly away impracticality.

Down under, England’s cricketers’ Ashes warm up entails pavilion thumb-twiddling in Queensland deluge. My Wiltshire-snug daughter meanwhile has hung her “amazeballs” decoration on the festive tree. “Who doesn’t need a skiing, Santa hat wearing, orange T-Rex?” she WhatsApped. I mean, hoots to normality.

Here upon this sea rock that boasts Yuletide tales of a spectral black dog I can add a bang up to date news snippet: this Advent’s already witnessed another vanishing mutt.

Yep, average Bailiwick canine decorum risks slippage. Milo the stately Vizsla has departed. In a helicopter. With him were his masked-up, doting providers: the retiring Lieutenant-Governor Vice Admiral Sir Ian Corder and his wife, Lady Kathryn. They who gave Milo his moral compass. And us islanders as well. To sort of sum up Sir Ian’s parting shot: we’re a great bunch but too complacent and too comfortable. “Heaven’s sake wake up and smell the coffee,” his actual words.

Milo departs

As a gesture of thanks the cannons of Fort Cornet fired a fifteen gun farewell salvo. From which the whirlybird and its occupants were happily unscathed but sent a pigeon mob in flaps around St Peter Port’s Old Church and had Sacha the French bulldog – who scraps with nature’s fight backs lamely at the best of times – a-quiver in the skeletal Bluebell Woods.

And all this a precursor to the blasts that have followed: Storm Arwen’s cold, force 11 puffery. Which I attest to.

On the bleak Pleinmont headland where rabbits merrily scrape and poop is Europe’s last of a kind: Batterie Dollman with its jumbo 10-tonne long-barrelled French gun pointing silently seawards at gulls and ravens. To the gun’s right I blew away the cobwebs good and proper. But with purpose.

Bleak Pleinmont Point
Batterie Dollman

Leaning at forty-five degrees into the gusts I sympathised with a pair out ‘walking’ their pain of a bunnying pooch and tapped a couple of snaps. Of an innocuous lichened ruin: one of Guernsey’s prudent clifftop Napoleonic era watch houses. This particular example wartime Germans had bashed down to a waist-high good-for-nothing. No longer could it be an at-sea enemy’s lodestar. Mere yards away they then went and built a humungous OTT observation tower instead. A pair of eyes – the result of an irreverent Guern spray can – at what’s now known as ‘MP4 L’Angle’, take the proverbials.

Watch house ruin
Tower MP4 L’Angle

The watch house itself, when replete with boasted four sturdy granite walls, two storeys and a slate roof, had the novelist Victor Hugo imagine it the den of smugglers. Whose naughty dark winter night doings led terrified gawpers to believe that ghosts and demons moiled there.

My reverie of Christmas spirits past was broken by a slithering grit crunch. A small red car, come a standstill in the rough car park, expelled a sextet: a jelly-moulded, giggling teenage sisterhood. Coiffure all shoulder length gleaming cuts. Arwen created Hesperus wrecks for the selfies. 

“Hello ladies. Can I share a bit of Hugo with you?” I hailed ambling toward the gaggle.

Hogo?” responded Pack Leader. Her smile, like each of the happy band, pearly white.

 “Why? We love being out. This wind’s so fun.” Wasn’t what I asked.

“Victor Hugo. H-U-G-O,” I emphasised. “The writer? You have heard of him?” I may have sounded a mite patronising.

“Yeah.” Collective titters.

I persevered. “Those stony remains over my shoulder are Hugo’s ‘Haunted House’.”

Victor Hugo

Pack Leader frowned. “Thought his house is in town.”

“It was. That’s to say both were. First he lived at 20 Hauteville then he moved up the hill to number 38, his bigger and more famous pad. The ruin’s however’s his spooky one. The one he wrote about in his novel ‘The Toilers of the Sea’.

I showed around a phone library sepia: a Victorian chap, his titfer smart, riding a pony and trap posed beside the old affair. “The photo’s rare and ancient.” Necks craned. “To quote Hugo: ’You might fancy it a tomb, with two open windows, to permit its ghostly tenants to gaze out upon the world.’ Well, that house, la fameuse maison hantée,” I concluded, “is today’s sad pile.”

Hugo’s ‘fameuse maison hantée’

“I didn’t know that,” said Pack Leader.

“That’s why I’m educating you. Go on, have a Christmassy ghoul story Google.”

A phone appeared fast from a jean pocket. And an exclamation gushed. “Woah, he’s right! Wait till we tell Miss. Whoo!”

“Whoooooo!” agreed the others. 

For my part I had a serious question for Pack Leader: “What d’ya mean by ‘hogo’?”

“Hassle of going out. Everybody thinks it. ‘Cept us.” More giggles. Whoop and howl, I thought, wondering at the lingo of our lamentable world and whether bringer-uppers and teachers knew the bit about six in a car.

Arwen, nevertheless, persists as the bringer-downer. Sooty Sid’s Bramley apples are losing their twig-cling. Whitecaps chase here from Sark. Scaffolding whistles. Shrubs limbo dance. And aged trees topple. Small mercy me and the missus haven’t been blown from our eyrie. 

Obviously the blooming white snapdragon beautifying Les Petites Fontaines is exceedingly twitchy. As was yesterday’s black whippet. Drawing my eye, framed by an eccentric cobbling of architectural whimsy, it definitely wasn’t spectral. But had hardly enough flesh on to keep it grounded.

The snapdragon

Beneath the Chateau Du Village twin-turreted, and these days ivy-heavy, archway two well-wrapped-up ladies chatted. One wore a bobble hat and had a longevous husky and a fat lab in tow. The black whippet belonged to Bobble Hat’s friend. Who was hatless. And suffered the hair-havoc of the Pleinmont teens. Clearly enough became enough. Passing the whippet’s lead to Bobble Hat she took off across the road, nipping into a cosy home. She soon returned. Now sporting a bobble hat too. Total time of absence: less than a minute.

Chateau Du Village

The whippet went doolally. ‘You’re back! You’re back! I was worried! Oh, so, so worried!’ translated into doggy slobber licks and ecstatic tail wags. Stood on its hind legs the dear mutt was embosomed. Had me musing on Ricky Gervais’ touching quote: “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” That was before the husky sniffed the whippet’s ‘parfum des gonades’. The fat lab retaining its dignity is something Milo would have approved.

After such dogged reports the missus and I are snuggled on the sofa. Almost having polished off the panettone. Helped down with frothy coffees. A gallus festive glug of single malt in each. To Milo’s master, this hogo convert says: guilty as charged.

Arwen just exhausted, tomorrow hails the next in line: Storm Barra. The festive wind will unlikely convince me on the virtues of a bobble hat. My tweed cap’s staying safe on its hallway peg as I uneasily await the Ashes. 

Illustrations and text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Cabbagey Knees And Eggy Treat

11th November 2021.

Wowza plodder

A Guernsey November. And Armistice Day. At precisely eleven o’clock of this the eleventh day of the eleventh month an air raid day siren woo-waahed and the Castle Cornet cannon whoomped. Call the palpitations part of tradition.

Alack, leaves accelerate their tumble whilst pestilence cases fight Heaven. St Peter Port’s trick or treaters in witches hats, bedsheet cowls and rubber pig heads blowing in on homes where pumpkins grinned have had a chilling in the sog. The clocks’ hour retreat have let the dimpsey arvos advance. And given a piddly squib might cause a delicate pooch to poop its pram, Bonfire Night’s muted whumps belied the stoic Guern.

St Peter Port
Trick or treaters
Pooch pram

Hmm, that word ‘stoic’ . The missus and I quietly debated its meaning after I’d encountered a wowza plodder and a bonza pedaller. I mean, really, distilled to its essence, stubbornness is a Guernsey trait. Best I recap last Monday’s cabbage day…

The ladybird stared imploringly through the flat window. Snubbing the bug I put down ‘Carpathia’ – Irina Georgescu’s novice-friendly Romanian cookbook – and, supper recipe in head, braved our alarming small world: inferno sky and Sooty Sid’s woofing chocolate lab setting off many another town mutt.

Within a couple of hours I felt broken. Why? The answer lay in physical jerks. A couple and a half miles of there and back side-tracked puffery. Along the southern coast path atop the precipitous cliffs.  A stretch of briny vistas, brittle-brown bracken and last pink campion peeping out of tree tanglements; from the sour fig glut of Les Tielles to the dour German observation tower at La Prevoté, the realm of goats and chickens.

I confess havering where ravens cronk like vintage car horns. The up swags of steps circumnavigating Le Creux Mahie (a humungous headland chomp-away) each a knee-raise and burdensome heave. 

Le Creux Mahie steps
Last pink campion
La Prevoté

To attempt these steps once is brave, a second time daft. Not meeting a solitary soul hint at their lack of Guern adoration. With good reason. What with those chalky scrawls: ‘SHOOTERS AHEAD KNOW TO LOOK OUT FOR YOU!’  

I so deserved a Forest Stores Scotch egg. Of which I have an unresolved weakness.

Supper’s primary ingredient, a cabbage, already popped in shop basket, I wobbled in front the deli counter. My fatigued legs trembled. My joints pained. I reckoned, an onset of super patella bursitis – carpenter’s knee in other words. Odd given woodwork is something I’m not in the habit of practising.

“Ooh. One of them beauties, please.” I said pointing lustfully. Yeah, yeah, the missus had prodded me over the recent YouGov poll placing the meh value of the Scotch egg somewhere between a haggis and a Cornish pasty. However, the Guerns pooh-pooh such nonsense. On this sea rock sans southern fried chook and burger chains a Scotch egg ranks as an Epicurean treat. And in size is more feast than snack.

“Are you truly deserving?” asked Sue, face-masked and wearing a white hygiene hat, food tongs poised. Off-duty she’s stoicism’s epitome. Shrugging off being neither driver nor rider she prefers a daily routine that made my exertions worthy of little other than a closed ear.

Deli Sue

Come 4.30 every pre-dawn, except Sundays, and in whatever the island weather callously inflicts, Sue heads out her St Peter Port terrace door and steeply uphill for a jaw-drop peregrination across three parishes. First, she trudges to St Martin. Where the rooster peacefully sleeps through her “doing the horse”: mucking out, curry combing and feeding her mum’s doddery pony. A pony that likely believes every human is as naturally nocturnal as a flitting bat.

Then it’s a long pavement mosey westwards to Forest parish for the day’s toil. At shop close Sue does the whole footslog routine in reverse. Because, she says, after being on her feet all day she likes “to stretch her legs”. 

Not counting the to-and-fro from counter to cold meat slicer, or trips ‘out back’ for a new ham or cheese, a quick calculation amounts to over seven and three-quarter miles. Or nigh over 16,300 steps. Per deli day. And all now in the dark.

“Honestly I am deserving,” I pleaded. “It’s late breakfast.”

“I dunno what a late breakfast is,” said Sue sniffily.

“Surely you can have a late brekkie on your birthday?” I encouraged.

“Why would I want to do that?” Behind her spectacles her eyes looked bemused. “I’m only sixty this month.

And therefore a damned sight younger than the stoic extraordinaire, Hubert. Pronounced ‘Hugh Bear’. The bent-backed, bandy-legged, ninety-four year old gentleman, blessed with a shock of white hair, is a fan of trews-bottom-throttling bicycle clips. My first encounter? In a tailing ‘patience’ of vehicles that followed the back wheel of his crinkum-crankum bike along Le Bourg main road, my route home. Multiple rotations keeping pace with snails hurrying between cottage garden asters.

Hubert

Now Hubert manoeuvred a shopping trolley. Slowly. Items within? Just a baguette. And a gurt savoy.

“Snap,” I said, giving my brassica a pat. 

“Hello, big ‘un,” greeted Hubert.

Hubert asserts he began ‘cabbaging’ in 1978, the year Amoco Cadiz crude washed up on Petit Port beach. However, a baguette’s Hubert’s fuel elect. The savoy, purely for slapping on his knees. To ease his “arthy-rye-tiz”. Ah, how lovely the anti-inflammatory anthocyanins and glutamine in all those cabbagey leaves. Sensible Hubert. Bread and cabbage combined keep him pedalling. Forest Stores his once weekly port of call.

“So,” said Sue tugging at my attention, “is it to be a normal one? Or…” 

A normal one? A NORMAL ONE? What tosh, when the egg’s boiled to perfection, duveted in cut-above-the-rest pork sausage meat and top daubed with golden, finest breadcrumbs. Flipping artisan and no hum and haw. It’s bro, an egg cuddled in moist black pudding, is maybe an iron-heavy extravagance too far. The hot-on-tongue relative, the Thai exotic, is off the scale. 

Forest Stores Scotch eggs

Why the heck call any of them Scotch, anyway? I digress. They’re nowt to do with Alba. More a bastardisation, some opine, of ‘scorch’ egg. ‘Scorching’ being an old culinary term for simply mincing meat. 

Indeed, the humble meat coated egg has origins in both the continent and subcontinent. 

Medieval Flemish papists get blamed for the former. Eggs, forbidden during Lent, were boiled green to make them last the 40-day fast. Jacketing them in highly spiced meat spiked with cloves – an attempt to sweeten the common putrefaction – before deep-frying in lard was a way of using them up. The concoction evolved. Becoming called gehaktbal kiekeboe, ‘peekaboo meatballs’. 

The latter origin is said to have its germ, like kedgeree, in the Raj. Brits in India had Muglai battles at the mouth with the fried, egg-centred, spiced minced mutton staple named after a particular flower’s white-and-yellow petals: ‘narcissus kofta’. Around about 1830, the then national cookery treasure, no nonsense Meg Dods, only had good things to say about the wonderment in one of her recipe collections.

Meg Dods

Thirty years on and eurgh. The ‘scotty’ arrived. This swaddling of an egg in macerated fish was the joy of Victorian Yorkshire. Being the best seller of Whitby café ‘William J. Scott & Sons’, dodgy historians point to WJS as being the Scotch egg originator. And many ‘up north’ still prefer to believe it. Seriously.

“Yes, yes, the normal,” said I, hurriedly, dancing stiffly on the spot. There were still a few things mentally unticked on my shopping list.

Sue tonged my desire into a paper bag and methodically sealed the bag just so. I snatched it with a mix of joy and resignation. Hubert was through the till.

The prying ladybird, I’m pleased to add, bogged off before teatime’s sundown. By which time the missus asked when what bubbled in the mega oven pot would actually be ready. Honestly! Slow cooking layers of cabbage leaf rolls can’t be rushed. Me saving leaves for knees could wait for another time.

“Așa! Thank you ‘Carpathia’!” I declared, finally lifting the lid. Garlicky pork mince and rice Sarmale umami charred, with hints of tomato, smoky bacon and juniper was something to trumpet about. Especially with a dollop of sour cream.

Sarmale and cream

One further thought tickled: “Be pretty reasonable renaming a Forest Scotch egg a ‘Full Guern’. As much sense as anything else in our uncertain age.” 

“Whatever,” replied the missus. “But why not create your own? You whinging on about your steps-knackered knees has turned me full stoic anyway.”…

As I said, it was just a quiet debate.

Illustrations & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Angling Badger And Blackberry Drags

12th October 2021.

Angling badger

October. Leaves, the colour of old tobacco, wahey. The kestrel stoops fast and privately once more upon the mulot. Gulls enjoy a ‘wail’ of a time. And, unfortunately, despite an age of jibby-jabby, ambulances still do likewise.

Other than that island life slows beneath meteorological eccentricity. And there’s no cricket.

Wailers

6.50 a.m. A orange sky dawn. Glorious. And on this the biggest sea rock in our itty-bitty archipelago I was awake and foraging Guernsey’s westerly buttock: Pleinmont’s grassy, cliff top space. Almost before the worm.

Behind my sought after parasol mushrooms: a German Occupation relic. The five-storey naval observation tower appeared as a shady thumb’s up. But nah. Dammit, first come first serve was only polite. I left the breakfasting wrigglers to the rich umami flavours. But what alternative to fortify my soul?

October dawn
Pleinmont tower
Parasol mushrooms

And talking of fortification, it was eighty-years ago this month that Adolf Hitler fist-thumped that, along with five hundred or more bunkers, many a towering cliff-loomer should sprout. 

Tower sprouting, 1942
The sprouted

So brutishly impressive do they remain that the Occupation Museum’s founder, Richard Heaume, now 77-years young – whose family’s lived at Les Houards since 1560 – impelled himself, in 1991, to buy Pleinmont’s whopper. By a long chalk the lovingly restored tower’s the geegaw in his self-confessed, obsessive collecting crown. But sparse visitor numbers, Sunday entry only at three quid a pop, perhaps Richard, at ease in his threadbare corduroy trews, actually thrives on the wild grub.

Richard and his tickets
Lovingly restored

Myself plucking a blackberry plump, shooing away a loose, bounce-about, black lab pup, I remembered my grandson’s third birthday. Albert Badger must scramble.

Bless the missus’ impulsiveness. She’d liberated Albert, a fluffy hand-puppet, pre Brexit, from an Aachen artisan educational supplies shop window. “Es ist ein Haustier für meinen Mann. Er ist allergisch gegen hunde,” she’d announced to the bemused shopkeeper. 

Honestly, a surrogate pet’s a sweet notion. Thing is, North Rhine-Westphalia learning bona fide four-legged friends made me itch and sniffle bore heavily. Although I can’t help but whisper Albert’s foodie antics have become my ‘preoccupation’.

Albert

9.00 a.m.. Beside the ajar window of our St Peter Port eyrie my thoughts turned from Albert and the birthday to the Guardian on-line to rubbish putting-out. That’s to say the recycling and bin collection in the coming night.

Observing the fridge chilling little but the withered and sour, the missus had me answer two direct questions: “Love, weren’t you promising wild mushrooms? And why haven’t you bunged that wilted lettuce and turkey sliver in the food waste?” 

I doubly replied: “Personal sensibilities. The lettuce and turkey, I’ve got plans for. After visiting Waitrose.” Adding: “Have you seen the hippo news?”

“That it’s eaten all the cheese? Yep.”

Busted. But the cheese wasn’t what I meant. 

In the elsewhereness the million-year old tooth of a three-ton Hippopotamus antiquus had been pulled from a Somerset cave. The gurt trundle-yawner died too soon, I mused. Making play abandoned for reason of ‘other’ purely fanciful. Instead, batter number 11, Jack Brooks’ waft-snick to a jubilant Warwickshire Bear had Somerset’s cricket season end on a fourth straight defeat. So ignominious.

Reflective, mug of frothy coffee in one hand, fluffy duster in the other, I was proving a deterrent. To a spider hopeful of the pane-bumping daddy-long-legs becoming netted in its damp-glistening web. Through which I observed happenings out in now heavy drizzle.

The spider

Below, the Weatherman’s hair-immaculate new girlfriend wearing a thin, figure-hugging, idyllic autumn print dress and elegant heels, had made a dash for her car. When, poomph! A stiletto cloudburst. The squeal was alacritous. The teeter-flailer-in-haste the sudden embodiment of a drowned Wompoo fruit-dove. 

Seconds later the sun shone bright on the tortoiseshell cat yowling at its own bedragglement.

The tortoiseshell cat

Further the along the street, neighbourly Fayette was on a clearly mission. She exited her back door not to give the cat sympathy but stomp to her hubby’s work shed. A peep inside left her exasperated. She huffed at Sooty Sid over the garden wall. “I swear that man will live forever! Not even Death could ever find him!” 

I observed Fayette hadn’t looked behind the shed. Puce-faced, hand on mouth, her other half thin as a rake stifled his hacking. Before another downpour had him wheeze-scuttle to his chores. One word described his smoking habit: furtive. Which sort of connects him to the past.

During the bleak Occupation years, tobacco decreed verboten – the nicotine-rich only grown clandestinely by a stubbornly brave few – pukka fags were purely black market. For the most part, smoking staving off their hunger, tummy rumbling islanders dragged off the improvised. And dried and hit the abundant ‘herbals’.

Dandelion leaves got the nod. As did those of blackberry. The berries were give or take. And a Monsieur Collenette of the Vale made himself quietly popular fabricating wooden-fanglements: faux baccy cutters. In Richard’s museum, a veteran example sits unashamedly amid the Swastika flags, Lugers, striped pyjamas, and the wing piece of a Focke-Wulf 190 shot down by friendly oops. 

Guernsey baccy leaves
A Monsieur Collenette leaf cutter
Herbal smokers

4.00 p.m.. Albert grabbed from his hallway ledge, I was off to secluded Jaonneuse beach via the Waitrose fish counter. 

Soon I rock-wobbled, my knees wave-slapped by the incoming tide, WhatApping an angling Albert catching a birthday fish. His rod, a milk whisk. The line, sewing thread. And the hook, a bent food bag tie, baited with them fridge offies. Main prop, a fresh mackerel. Giggles returned from the elsewhereness.

Albert’s topple-swim was, of course, unintentional. And the intrusion of washed-up disposable gloves into shot did rather spoil the evening’s joy. Jetsam of the Germ Occupation of Guernsey rather than the German, I supposed.

I returned to the missus sogged as a hippo rather than as a fruit-dove. And hungry. The kitchen cupboard offering nowt but the dried and tinned, she offered to tear open two slabs of Ritter rum, raisin and hazelnut chocolate, and declare supper “a square meal, safely prepared without the application of heat”. 

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Albert has provided.” I produced the careworn mackerel. “Wok curried to goloptiousness in coconut milk? What say you?”

“I say, didn’t you buy anything else at the supermarket?”

The mackerel’s fate

The pongy and unwanted good to go, me the ‘putter-outer’ braved the elements. Other flat dwellers had been quicker off the mark. And amid their offerings was a rummager. A gull caught mid sack rip. 

“Naughty! You’re no better than a bin chicken!” I scolded. ‘Bin chicken’: the Aussie given name for the very urban-adjusted white ibis. The gull’s look was bafflement. “Piss off,” I growled. This it comprehended. My back turned, however, the fish head would likely thrill. It’d be a battle though against the tortoiseshell cat.

The fag end of the day’s news was the spider, too, had had a bellyful. And fingers crossed Albert’s efforts are appreciated, not that he’s angling for compliments. 

“Your shorts need putting in the wash,” said the missus. “Are those blackberry stains?” Fruitful stuff and nonsense was my belief. Six months I must survive before the next cricket season.

Illustration & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Unicorns And Duck Talk

12th September 2021.

Guernsey air show

September. Islanders batten down the hatches. Sooty Sid’s cold nights smoky coal delivery caused a tailback in our steep St Peter Port street that tested patience and handbrakes. The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s a Sin’ blasted from a car window. The gurt heron weathervane at Les Blancs Bois begins autumnal swings. Thunder, lightning flash and boat foghorn litter between sun shadows. All a bit Kate Bush. I’m meaning ‘Strange Phenomena’. Making the Guernsey Airshow Day sort of on, off, maybe.

Foghorn weather

Putting out her washing, Fayette was caught on the hop. Behind her back the Red Arrows plumed patriotic smoke and looped loops. Before that, the flying quackery of a Eurofighter Typhoon jet. Neck stretched out in, to use the French technical term, ‘canard’ fashion, the plane’s expansive underside one Brexity Union Jack ensured Guerns knew whose side it was now on.

Red Arrows…
… loop loops

Great. But there’s ducks and there’s ducks. 

The early month snick-snick-clatter-thud was alarming. In the elsewhereness Somerset wickets had tumbled. An ignominious worsting dished out by Notts. By an innings and an awful lot. Then, against Yorks, came numbing déjà vu. Within two days of the available four. Championship hopes, snuffed.

Rather than wallow I bade myself be distracted. By coddiwomple. That’s to say a car pootle in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

Impulse had me indicate first left after the nursing home. Les Tielles’ sea cliffs was good a place as any to wince on a sour blackberry. And, as chance would have it, to discuss ducks with clued up birdwatchers. 

Birdwatchers

They were headed for further twitching just as my phone pinged. Offspring number two of four. 

“Hello,” I said, spitting out further pith. “Did you know ducks can talk?”

“I know a Drake that can rap and sing.” Quick and contemporary, this daughter.

“I’m talking Ripper of Tidbinbilla.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s an Aussie, wombat bountiful spot pretty near Canberra. Ripper’s a clever musk duck. Musks have an odd floppy black crop wattle but that’s irrelevant. What important is Ripper can say, “You bloody fool”. Isn’t that fab?” 

Seriously, who needs a parrot when you’ve a musk duck? Indeed, Ripper’s linguistic skills have been recorded and reported in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. And I’m wondering if there’s a Royal Society F. 

Ripper of Tidbinbilla

“Also,” I enthused, “there’s another musk. This one in Pensthorpe. Which is Norfolk. Mimics a snorting pony. Be pretty bonza carrying that around the local Guernsey nag show.”

“Listen to Ripper, Dad… Anyway, where are you? You sound outdoorsy.”

“On a cliff. Surrounded by moving sunlit vapours. Can’t see bugger all but it’s blooming beautiful. Angeldom, almost. Otherworldly’s the word.”

Sunlit vapours

“Funny you should say that. I’m at Warminster train station. You’ve got a doppelgänger!” 

Should I have been surprised? Someone said coincidences are as rare as unicorns, yet this sea rock has lately seen unicorns aplenty. Hobby ones. Akin to head-on-a-stick horses. Partaking in a LGBT Pride steeplechase upon St Peter Port’s Candie Gardens under a dishwater sky. Candy floss and moo shakes abundant.

A Guernsey Police Special Constable, the emergency services rep, managed second place. His unicorn, decorated with bobbling inflated blue disposable gloves, had the misfortune to resemble a Covid germ carrier. 

Still, powder paint puffed in clouds all colours of the rainbow met water pistol spray and bursting water balloons to create a Hindu Holi effect, green symbolising new beginnings. 

Not that I’m about to change habits of a lifetime. Accordingly I frowned when my daughter divulged my double boasted the same scruffy hair and worn-in rustic attire. Caught staring she’d blurted, “You look just like my dad.” Course I became the focus of comparison.

“So,” I queried, “how depressed did he seem about the cricket? Does he bowl slow arm mystery balls, mysterious even to himself?”

“Dunno. I did ask if he ate a mozzarella balls like an apple.”

“That was just a fad.” Best not dwell. “Can he grow a clock in a pot?” The invading dandelion maturing to downy puffery amidst the kitchen windowsill thyme tickled me. 

“You what? We mainly chatted music,” she said. “Mentioned your old fart tastes.” Given she has a photo of herself in a friendly clinch with Glastonbury Festival co-founder Michael Eavis hung in her outside loo, that last remark felt kind of rich.

Michael Eavis in loo

I made to sound indignant but was distracted: a mist veil dissolve revealing a glistening sea. And a gang of arriving conservation volunteers. Punching palms, they readied for warfare against the blanket of sour fig – recalcitrant, cliffs profuse, a South African escapee, so unloved by this sea rock’s bees. 

Where to go? Far along the sketchy cliff path: the Napoleonic Mont Herault watch-house. A damn fine coddiwomple’s end. As exposed to the elements as a Somerset batsman’s stumps. Me nonchalantly headed that way, sour fig tugger-uppers looked on in wonderment. As if, trip-tangled, my hiking pole had magicked into a unicorn of my very own.

Sour fig tugger-uppers
Sour fig
Path to watch-house
Watch-house view

But me, a pop old fart? I’m merely under the influence. Guernsey itself’s so last century. Drake seems nowt but a mallard here. Blaming Brexit fish wars for Richard Tauber’s ‘Pedro the Fisherman’ being almost démodé, Andy the nurse persistently plays Blue Oyster Cult’s ’Don’t Fear The Reaper’. And while even in Tinbinbilla the imminent ‘Voyage’, the first new Abba release for 40-years, is likely being huzzaed, St Peter Port’s young Friday night outers haven’t moved on from ‘Dancing Queen’ during their chorusing descent into town. For variety, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ hits the Galileo figaros between the teddy bear shop and the Indian restaurant. 

Mallards
Teddy bear shop

To top that add ‘fowlness’. 

A retro rooster, in the up meadow cottage garden with the palm tree, duets with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark playing from an unseen hi fi. Summer’s meld into autumn is currently one Enola-Gay-Cock-a-doodle-doo that surely distracts the priory nuns from their canticles.

“Dad, you still there?”

“Yeah, yeah… Hah! Has my doppelgänger coincidentally ridden a unicorn, I ask?”

“He simply hoped you were lovely man. I said the most beastly thing you’d done was murder Adam and the Ants.” 

Another little episode. The windfall plums in the fruit bowl simply had a visitation. Counting five ants I’d called the most forward one Adam. Before squish by kitchen roll. ‘Antmusic’ had forever been an irritant. 

“Anyway, otherwise I told him you were amazing,” she said.

“Exaggerator, daughter mine!” 

“Wonder where I get that from?” A laugh. “Gotta go, Dad. Love you. Bye!”

Leant against a watch-house granite wall, coddiwomple done, the German observation tower humongous and grim not far away, I felt a chill in the air. I hoped the missus had closed our eyrie’s windows. Prior to the trials of Sooty Sid I’d thought Smokie a great band name.

Dammit, Ripper does say it about right.

Before the next cockcrow I fear more Somerset ducks at ‘Ciderabad’. Not just the heron will be swinging.

Illustrations & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Teddy Jockeys And A Cracking Spin

13th August 2021.

August. And for what it’s worth, Friday the 13th. Cricket has been reduced to slogs amongst the showers. Grockles keep arriving from sea and sky. Cases of the must-not-be-named rise among the jabbed. The powers-that-be puff, “Pfft!” While in the missus and my eyrie of a St Peter Port flat, a tiger moth – Lepidoptera not de Havilland – has graced us with its presence, baring its spotted underbelly. Life bumbles on.

In the charmingly leafy Talbot Valley I’d steered space for the slow lane clingers. Two aged love birds pottering arm in arm. Ahead of them, within their shadow, a mangy rabbit on its last lopes. Shepherded almost. Toward what I could only guess. Surely not a lie-down on the eyesore maroon-check mattress? The one fly-tipped beside the green, National Trust of Guernsey ‘Please Do Not Leave Your Rubbish On This Site’ sign. 

Talbot Valley

In Poopsie the Smart, the missus and I fast-laned. Albeit, given the mob of pheasant poults, at less than the 35mph, the Island’s top whack. Approaching us, a motorcycle. A steed proper frustrated. A gloved hand raised itself from the handle grip. A brief wave. Then the fading roar beyond the undoubtedly scattered, pulse-racing, dim-witted feathered. 

Pheasant poults

‘Was that one of your masons?’ the missus asked. 

“They’re not my masons,” I said. “Anyway could just’ve been one of the Bikers’ Group. Or even one of the tag-alongs.”

“Well, he obviously recognised you. You must’ve made an impression.”

I thought: Had I? Couldn’t think how…

I did a little mental rewind to the first Sunday of the month. Out on Guernsey’s eastern side, a clash of events: a memorial ride out of motor bikers and the Agricultural Show.

Not wanting the dribbles of hay fever, the show could keep its traditional barley threshing. So another no brainer. First up I’d plumped for the ride out. A-buzz for the irregular: an island circumnavigation. A considerate elevenses pre hit the road mingle at Portelet kiosk offered a swarm of leather and fossil-fuelled, two-wheeled metal. And a run on the flapjacks.

Carbon perfumes inhaled by their cold sniffers, a pair of off duty sheep dogs surveyed the runners and riders. Something they’d repeat. Later. Up at the show. Where the riders and their mounts were somewhat more bizarro. Mounts trained by shakers and movers offering sheep nut enticements in bucketfuls.

Surveying the runners and riders

At Portelet, the air was hazy and full of bonhomie. Lihou island and Fort Grey picturesque behind their backs, ubiquitous boat to the fore, the blokes of bikes discussed sprockets and muffins, polished chrome and saddle-art. Exchanged mutual admirations. Shared fags and thoughts.

Saddle art

Guernsey could do with road races like the Isle of Man and Isle of Wight, I earwigged one fella say as he zipped his macho leather bomber up over a bonza pink T-shirt. Bring more business and income to the islanders, he suggested. He was scoffed at. Obstacles got raised. The obvious: geese crossing, random ducks, peregrinating hedgehogs, loose cows, the horse infatuated. I could have added to the list were I not distracted.

Amid the Hondas and the Kawasakis, the Triumphs and the Husqvarnas etcetera, a rarity. Mercy me, a Sunbeam! Exquisite. Pale green. 1940s? A classic. Lovingly tended. To my mind the star of the parade. And the riding posture’s so straight-backed it’s likely the pride of Alexander technique. I said as much to the beaded bloke, thin as a pipe-cleaner, closest by me.

The Sunbeam

Having offered belated condolences to a lass he called Mirella, Sid, on his own admission, told me he knew nowt about Sunbeams. He was a mere tag along. Although he did wax lyrical about the bikers’ great café culture: a cuppa and a slice of what you fancy was what it was all about. Natural, then, I said, the ride should start at the kiosk and end at a St Peter Port harbour greasy spoon. He said I was well genned and debated whether ‘greasy spoon’ was defamatory.

Exhaling a deep toke of his roll-up Sid was eager for “the cracking spin ahead”. I imagined Wallace and Gromit grins. And Somerset’s wily Jack Leach making the most of some turning wicket in the elsewhereness.

Cutting to the chase, Mac spoke of whom the ride out paid homage. The antithesis of any mattress dumper, honorary Guern, Zef Eisenberg. The millionaire bodybuilding whizz-kid speed freak whose motto was ‘Max your life’. Philanthropist, caff-crawler Zef. Three-Sunday-breakfasts Zef enabling catch-uppery with all his biker mates. Zef whose 2015 Guinness world record, transcending 225mph on a turbine-powered motorbike, still stands. And who, abreast his Suzuki Hayabusa four years later at Pendine Sands, snatched the iconic ‘flying mile’ from actor Idris Elba.

Zef at Pendine
Zef the whizz-kid

The same Zef who died last autumn flipping a souped up Porsche 911 straining to smash the land speed record at notorious Elvington, the longest airfield runway in England’s north. Built by the Yanks but which they never used though Top Gear did. 

Mac added Zef had also been one of the Widows’ Sons and “so much else”.

“Widows’ Sons?” I butted in. 

“They’re all here. Duck Duck Go them,” said Mac, turning away, tinkering with his phone, making Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’, Zef’s unofficial anthem, bleed from his ear buds.

Transpires the Widows’ Sons Masonic Bikers Association, to be exact, are men of the square and compass. Guernsey’s influential mycelium threaded from the Island’s earliest lodge, born way back in spring 1753. Providing a common foundation for friendships looked after by the Great Architect of the Universe. At ride’s end, Mac cautioned, the Widows’ Sons and they alone would be laying a wreath on Zef’s grave. I took due note.

Just prior to the official free for all sally forth I high-tailed it to L’Eree and a normally quiet island corner. A place for the binoculars. Where a rock monster lurks, a gull kindergarten bobs the swell and a heron, stabbing a fish dinner, wears its grey suit of feathers like a benediction.

L’Eree corner

Ah, that corner where there exists the perfect road bend to snap bliss in motion. A throbbing procession: flashing lamps, waved mitts and, of course, Wallace and Gromit grins. Me giving the happy thumbs-ups. Particularly to the Sunbeam.

Left standing, it was on to the next wow factor. Although lockdown victim Teddy’s Diner had closed for good, that arvo, back up the road a bit, teddy bears stuffed by other means, would be lauded as capped and harnessed jockeys. Upon racing hay bale hurdling sheep, that tire the joke about woolly jumpers. I just couldn’t miss out on a Bailiwick obsession. Seriously, Sark by itself is an absolute hotbed…

“Woah! Slow down, love!” squawked the missus. 

“I am slowed down.”

“Did that tractor driver just acknowledge you?” 

“Might have done.”

“Why?”

“Might have chatted to him about sporty sheep.” 

This really is such a small sea rock. Pretty rubbish to say otherwise. But why am I talking to a moth?

Illustrations & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Foxglove Confetti And Squeeze Ins

18th July 2021.

Discussing depth of fish

July. Euros football fever having seeped to Guernsey, a sad rag of St. George sagged from a car aerial in Waitrose car park. Fresh anxiety seeps too. After passing a bundle of months isolated from worldly woes legs now jiggle with the jitters. And not over Paul Verhoeven’s sapphic, nun-writhing succès de scandale ‘Benedetta’ premiered at Cannes this month. Although shock on this swear to God sea rock becomes a habit.

I bade check out doyen Gwen “G’day”. Returned to the island for retirement after thirty-five years lived in Ballarat, Victoria and missing AFL, possums and galahs, her face was visor shielded. “Whee-whee-whee,” she murmured to herself, swiping bar codes across scanner with pizzazz. Proceedings that came to an abrupt halt. At sight of my avocado. She looked pained. I told her so, adopting a sympathetic tone. Asking if she was okay. 

Shtum, she did a slow-scan. Careful. Heavy with concentration. “Ten minutes ago I charged £308 for one of these,” she sighed. “Thought I’d have to call the customer an ambulance. Honestly, this till! Last week it charged a gentleman all his items twice… You look a bit pained yourself.”

“An accumulation. And I’ve been made to feel like the Bishop of Portsmouth,” I huffed. Nobody else queueing, Gwen had a spare minute…

Roll back to pre-brekkie, post June’s strawberry moon but before a butterfly alighted on a dingy and proclaimed itself an admiral. My slip had been a pearler. Clean shaven to socialise with the gulls I’d magicked foxglove confetti. Thimbles of it. Out of courtesy. Stepping aside for Tipper, a towering speed-walker. Down on my bum I went. Amongst the rain-wet greenery and rabbit poop on the cliff path where wild roses bloom. “Another day in Paradise!” hailed Tipper. The very same fella whose dad swapped homes in the 1960s because, he said, Guernsey was better than Swindon.

Admiral
Foxglove confetti
Wild roses

Mine and Tipper’s paths soon crossed again. This time above the kayaks of Petit Bôt. Me in a state of flailing abandonment. My favourite cricket watching bench overwhelmed by fly, mozzie and midge and maybe ticks in the massed bracken fern. Tipper emerged glum out of the unseasonal fog. The spring in his speed-step, AWOL.

“Paradise lost now,” he growled. “They’ve only opened the bloody borders!” ‘They’ being Bailiwick bigwig, libertarian politicos. Some with paws in hospitality. Humble islanders mumble about themselves not being given a skerrick of a say.

Petit Bôt fog

Ergo, the buzz of a twin prop. An Aurigny plane. Low-vis, the last deterrent, conquered. The vanguard of the holidaymaker droves. Them grockles. Twice jabbed and no terminal testing. But watchwords stay Delta, Beta.

Not an immediate problem. If I kept myself to myself. A less infested seclusion was needed anyway simply to enjoy the cricket al fresco. 

A north easterly ride away in Poopsie the Smart I’d chanced upon just the spot. A seat overlooking the Baie de la Jaonneuse, albeit hard. Cusp of a rocky ledge. At a pinch, with space enough to lay cap and hiking pole. And only get-at-able through an inconspicuous gap between gurt granite stacks. No bug could possibly ferret me out.

Evening perched and iPhone glued I absorbed events at ‘Ciderabad’, Somerset’s county ground. I forgot the pall rising on the inland horizon. Putting it down to someone’s fiery misfortune rather than a smoke signal. I tuned out the raucous raven helpfully croaking ‘hark!’. And the mob of linnets flustered into feathery blurs of chestnut and pink would have to lump what spooked them.

Smoke signal and raven
Baie de la Jaonneuse

Leather on willow was the sum of my consciousness. Until hearing the lapsed consonants and chatterbox speed of Essex. In plural! Rock-stepping with ibex resolve! 

Sugar plum fairies, I was cornered! Be courteous, be courteous. “Hello,” I said.

“Hi!! You’re so lucky to live here!” A short, skinny woman, friendly sounding, wearing a colour-assault T-shirt had made a quick assumption.

“Yeah, you really are!” enthused the bloke, equally slight, sunnies atop his head, calf tattoos glaring below his shorts, ‘Three Lions’ replica shirt. “Got any bins?” He clocked my smirk. “Binoculars? I want a closer look at those two odd birds out on that rock. Sal and I can’t agree on them.” 

I glanced to the distant targets which he excitedly aimed his phone camera at. I missed a wicket. “Cormorants. Discussing depth of fish,” I said, puffing my cheeks, resorting to Zen. “Bins? Sorry.”

“I thought they were cormorants. Ha! You and your gannets!” chuckled she.

“Could’ve been immature gannets, Sal. They’re dark.” said the bloke defensively.

Focus turned on me, Sal grasped my ill-hidden seethe and morphed into diplomat. “Okay, we’re off for more exploring. Gary’s hoping for a whale.”

“Enjoy,” I said. “Where are you parked?”

Sal frowned. “Dunno. This one here put us tidy beside a little black car somewhere. Hope your team wins.”

“Yeah, totally,” said Gary, being led away. 

“Don’t get lost,” I farewelled, an inner unease growing for no obvious reason. A Somerset win couldn’t allay it. 

In the large and otherwise empty, pot-holed dirt-rough parking area I found Poopsie sandwich-snuggled. On the near-side, the thick wall beside which I’d left her. Plonked driver’s door to driver’s door, and sporting big fat ‘H’ stickers fore and aft, I twigged whose hire car. Indeed, Islanders joke the ‘H’ stands for ‘Horror’. And too ruddy right.

I did try to get into Poopsie. I really did. I squeezed and I squozed. A muscle or three triple ouched. No cigar. The cheese-spread effect. So I woolgathered. The raven’s glib gurgle-croaks repetitive. Daylight grew dimpsey. My phone battery dwindling the missus quickly consoled me. Said supper would be salad. And was adamant I really should stop anthropomorphising birds. 

“Didn’t expect to see you again.” greeted Sal. “No whales.” Gary slid through his driver’s door with the ease of greased piglet, hooraying they were off for Lobster Thermidor.

I had one question: “Guys, you seen the Little Chapel on your island travels?” 

Gary was non-committal. “It’s on our list.”

“Good oh, mate. Should you size up its door think of yourself as Brother Déodat and me as the Bishop of Portsmouth. ‘Nough said.” Cryptic and, on reflection, way too subtle. But to be fair to Sal, she did briefly flush.

In a nutshell the Little Chapel is a labour of love and stubbornness. A miniature take on the Basilica and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Nestling mid-island in the leafy Vauxbelets Valley and admired by cows and flypast mallards, the chapel was the single-handed effort of a small, shy, short-fused and spectacled, exiled French monk. Brother Déodat. 

Vauxbelets Valley (Little Chapel far right)
Brother Déodat
Little Chapel

A swotty chap, Déodat saw the valley as ‘pulchritudinous’. And thought it a pretty swell idea to beg British and mosaic his build with broken pottery bits – classy stuff: Wedgwood, Spode, Doulton et al. – that would otherwise have been chucked on to an unlovely Stoke-on-Trent shard ruck. A pieced together King George V and Queen Mary fringed by garlands, a laurel wreath and a bare-bum cherub is a statement in time.

However, the chapel of porcelain, pebbles and seashells that tickles the fancy today was Déodat’s final go in a learning curve. Kicking-off in sprightly fashion in spring 1914, his first effort, excruciatingly Lilliputian, got mocked. So, in a fit of pique, he flattened it. But he wasn’t overly discouraged. Version two was wider. By eighteen inches. Yet Déodat still hadn’t quite thought outside the box. 

In autumn 1923, Willy Cotter, the tubby Bishop of Portsmouth, pitched up. Ironically, for Mass. And was unable to squish through the door. Voila! My point of reference to Gary. 

Whack, whack-a-thump. Déodat swung his sledgehammer for third time lucky. Which it was. At a shove, the chapel can hold ten bods. With the lines of a lofty cathedral, a noble spire above the entrance, it’s a twee thing of beauty.

Asked why he’d stuck at it, “Children learn mostly through their eyes,” was his reply. Something the makers of ‘Benedetta’ should have borne in mind…

I stretched my back. “Twinges,” I informed Gwen. “So you can understand my bishop quip to the ibex?” I sought validation. Gentle nod received, I poured over my receipt.  “Wowza, this is actually fair enough!”

“Come by my till again at your peril though,” Gwen laughed, troubling her visor to steam.

“I’ll be all-a-tremble, muffling anecdotes through a face mask I’d mothballed an aeon ago.” I replied, praying like Brother Déodat not to get worked up. 

Meantime there’s cricket on again tomorrow. And a little bird tells me the planes will keep on droning and the ferries chugging. Regardless, I’m on the same page as Tipper’s dad. In soul balm alone Guernsey trumps any Swindon. Despite the numbers of you-know-whats growing to match those of the island rabbits or an uncertain amount of foxglove confetti. 

Illustration & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Swift Departures And Kitchen Darling

16th June 2021.

Swift departures and kitchen darling

Guernsey’s paddled in to summer with rainbows and ongoing claustrophobia. Further discouraging ‘The Germ’ our borders remain shut and us sea rock dwellers get by as best we can. Jabbed veterans mutter it’s like the war.

Pandemic angst seemed a lesser woe this arvo, however. Suffering my cussing about the duality of municipal leaf blowers and baling tractor din outside the window the missus had bright ideas. “Go find yourself a coffee somewhere, love. Or go see the Swig-Vixen. She’s decluttering. I told her you loved cooking. Says she’s got something she wants to give you. Sun’s out so wear something on your head.” 

“Got a battle helmet?” I replied.

Blowers and baling

Argh, the Swig-Vixen. She, a catering give upperer, who nowadays scatters food on her patio for wild mallard, takes pot-shots by use of a scope mounted hunting rifle at the enticed rats, and whose ornamental garden buddha bears the scars of ricochets. Of course I succumbed to Swig-Vixen beneficence. A fluffy duckling could have put up a better fight.

On the Café Victoria table bang in front of my nose – I’m talking the Victoria, St Peter Port and not the Aussie state, formerly my home, nor Victoria, Johannesburg – sat a large cappuccino, my Big Bash, bright green ‘Melbourne Stars’ supporters cap and my ‘new toy’. Around me, Candie Gardens. Distant, the harbour lighthouse.

Café Victoria
Candie Gardens

White-bellied swifts boomeranged and skimmed not knowing whether to stick or twist. Their indecision the fault, in part, of my neighbour Sooty Sid. Whose spring reno of his gutters and soffits had totalled the unforgotten nests. A pretty rubbish discovery after five thousand kays. In five to six days. From West Africa. Directed by an amazeballs apus sat-nav. Only to be puzzled.

Puzzled swifts

And the birds weren’t alone in their sense of homelessness. The gurt statue near the café terrace only stood in the gardens because of it. 

The dramatic monument to the scribbler of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Les Misérables’ had been earmarked for a spot in Lisbon. But the Portuguese had changed their minds. Well, their king did. So, in order that the hard work of Brittany blacksmith turned sculptor Jean Boucher wouldn’t go unappreciated, the French, in 1914, gifted ‘Victor Hugo in Exile’ to Guernsey. I mean, he did loll about here for fifteen years.

Jean Boucher
‘Victor Hugo in Exile’

Blast it, though, I never seem able to say ‘no’. Having had a good fiddle I shoved the great lump of a whatsit foisted upon me under my chair.

A Swig-Vixen kitchen darling for a half century, the spätzle maker – a trad hole-stippled gadget to squeeze eggy pasta dough into noodles – had provenance. Swabian made (in Stuttgart or Heidelberg probably) it’d travelled to ‘Joburg’. Then to Humberside. Before finally pitching up in the Bailiwick. 

The Swig-Vixen’s vintage car obsessed, engine oil and grease slathered hubby now risked using it as a piston. Or so she’d said. She’d did say something else. Which had quite slipped my mind.

Contemplative, I wiped cappuccino froth from off my top lip and wished I hadn’t. 

There came the sort of exaggerated laugh that can make a chap feel self-conscious. Sat at the adjacent table, a trim lady of a certain age. Long neck. Long legs. Long lashes. Definitely camelid-ish. A vicuña! Wearing a wide brimmed sun hat. Leashed to her chair leg, a cute, butter-woundn’t-melt dachshund ignored the stay-put sparrows.

“You’ve made your mouth all grey!” giggled the vicuña.

On top of my hand already suffering a bit of a rash, my fingers, I noticed with alarm, were coated in metallic dust. 

Ah, I remembered! The Swig-Vixen had advised: “Soak the thing in salt water before using it and it’ll be fine.” My instant response, “Best chuck in the Little Russel to amuse the oysters of Herm”, didn’t deign make it from brain to gob.

Fact was her hubby had stuffed the gadget in the dishwasher too many times. How he loved his dishwasher! Or to put it in ‘boffinesque’: atomic hydrogen particles meant flaky metal. A pH thing. Soapy alkalinity plus alkaline water equalled corrosive oxidation and hence smudgy, grey fingers.

It was as if I’d been messing in the bowels of Les Vardes, Guernsey’s last working quarry. 

I mean, sheesh, during what islanders call their ‘Stone Age’ – that’s to say Victorian and Edwardian times – as many as 250 quarries were slogged upon. An insane number.  From above, the island would have looked akin to Swiss cheese. The plinth giving Victor extra prominence was hewn from Guernsey granite.  The dressed finery of London’s Strand and the Thames Embankment too. Monster stone walls here got built for blooming fun.

Guernsey’s ‘Stone Age’
Reflective quarry
Les Vardes quarry

And modern times offer proper playtime technology to tinker with. Les Vardes blast sites are laser profiled. A swanky drill rig makes neat holes for the explosives. And the detonation’s proper push button IT. Just the bonzer ‘whoomph’ remains old school. The result: 125,000 granite tonnes a year for domestic use and loads and loads of aggregate.

Yet Les Vardes days, too, are numbered. This I learned a couple of evenings ago whilst ambling the quarry’s rim. Apart from the bunnies, the gulls and a bumblebee I’d thought myself alone. Not so.

Headed my way along the winding path came a flash of colour, bright as a kingfisher, that briefly disappeared amongst alder, gorse and foxgloves to emerge again as a vision of a bloke. To-heel, ancient and unrestrained, a white, black-blotched terrier padded along gamely.

Entering my shadow the dog rolled on on its back, four legs in the air. The back left all-a-twitch. The full expiring cockroach.

“She likes you,” observed master. His epidermis face to feet a palate of yellow, green, turquoise and orange, a failed tattoo apprentice’s portfolio. 

“Bane of my life dogs,” I muttered.

“Wha’? Go on. Tickle her tummy.”

I showed willing, alarm bells ringing.

“I love coming up here,” said the kingfisher. “I enjoy the birds. Pity the gulls drown them out.”

In the belief the mutt was about to orgasm I withdrew my hand. “Gulls are birds,” I dead-panned.

“Hrr-hrr, you got me there!”

My hand began to itch. 

“Lots of rabbits out this evening,” I said, prolonging conversation, not wanting to appear rude. “They’re denying responsibility for that big hole.” I pointed past an official ‘Keep Dogs On Lead’ sign to the humungous amphitheatre of rocky ledges, grime and echoing gull screams. He was so right about the gulls. I couldn’t even hear a sparrow.

The full expiring cockroach

“She loves her rabbits,” enthused the kingfisher. “Caught one last week. Beggars belief. She’s still got it.”

“The rabbit? Quarry of the quarry?”

“Nah, nah, the nimbleness… Pity the quarry’s closing. Been here two hundred years. Be worked out in another twelve month, they say. I dunno what they’re going to do with it.” 

I wondered who ‘they’ was. But there you had it: local knowledge. Closure was afoot. A blast too many and the blessed sea might flood in…

“He was brought to Guernsey on ‘The Giraffe’.” The vicuña, again.

I rubbed my good ear with a forefinger. Ushering in more regret. “Pardon?” I said.

“You were staring at Hugo.”

“Was I? What giraffe?” Certainly an alternative to vicuña, I thought. I braved a glance at the dachshund. It wagged a tail.

“Name of the boat that brought Hugo’s statue over from France. A steamroller towed it up here on gun carriage from the harbour. Masses and masses of people celebrated the arrival.” A locally knowledgeable vicuña-giraffe, then.

“Good to know,” I said. “The good old days, eh?”

“I didn’t know they made garlic crushers that big.” said the vicuña-giraffe, pointing. “Is it just for elephant garlic?” 

“It’s not a garlic crusher. It’s a spätzle squeezer.” I tried to sound authoritative. “Very German. Also does pretty mashed potato, I’m told. You can have it if you like. Give it a good home?”

“Nah. Ta, anyway.”

Pfft! So easily said! Bully for her, I mused, a swift departure occurring. Both for me and for the wee feathered boomerangs. Settling on twist they headed away toward Sark. Or Alderney… Or, heaven forbid, the forgotten world. I, instead, navigated the steep, Stone Age pavements back to my Stone Age ‘home’. Where the missus shared my delight of the kitchen darling. 

But what is it with my absolute inability to say ‘no’? Least with dogs my cure’s an antihistamine. 

Illustrations & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Feathered Omen and Cheese Spread

10th May 2021.

Watching the cricket

Comfort food is the heffalump trap of the night toiler. Or as the missus delicately put it: “Love, your gilet poppers appear strained.”

Me blaming her one-off, Highland Park whisky and Baileys glugged, mascarpone tiramisu that rendered us insensible was met with a “Pouf!”. So when she mentioned she wanted to study the Ch’i system I became guilt-wracked. I thought ‘busted’, she’s sussed my broader spectrum cheese gobbling. 

Which has only got worse since my foray to Petit Bôt, an idyllic combe, bay and headland middle-for-diddle along Guernsey’s south coast. And where a beach cave’s a draw at low tide. So an iPhone in pocket’s ever a grand thing. Zilch need to miss the cricket.

Petit Bôt

Especially not when the end of April had brought the strong winds. Those that sent full, polythene recycling sacks as if tumbleweeds about St Peter Port’s streets, tore infant leaves and blossom candles from the sweet chestnuts, and flung a downy, young blackbird against Poopsie the Smart’s windscreen. Where it gripped hold a wiper blade for dear life. I offered compassion by smile. Given the Wurzels’ ‘Blackbird’ is long adopted as Somerset cricket’s song of joy, the tenacious bird was, to my mind, a good omen. Amid spring fevered flaps. 

Good omen?

Harking back to 1945, German occupation and all that, May is the month of liberation. Beyond the flags and bunting, marking it has annual interpretation. 

This year, islanders are shedding. Their clothes. Trousers, belt and underpants have lain bundled on the pavement outside the Royal Plaza. A robust bra draped from a ‘Birdo’ (Bordeaux) ‘No Parking’ sign.

Liberation flags and bunting
Liberation sheddings

And, at Petit Bôt, lingerie that, essentially, had covered the boobs and bum of a wasp-waisted caught the eye in Bel’s cave. Bel being an ancient female deity whose face and gurt hand, the gullible believe, is visible in rocky relief at the cave’s main entrance. A gruff “Oh, fuck!” and a vanishing girly giggle pointed to the alternative exit. Narrower. Offering discreet escape.

Me? I’d have become stuck like Winnie the Pooh in Rabbit’s house.

Bel’s hand and face

Hmm, well. Another bear’s tune, a catchy number Jackie Lee made famous in 1970, rising from my deep subconscious in semi-sane twilit hours, had drawn me to the cave. To have a nose. To tread in the Victorian footsteps of an island draper’s wordsmith son, Herbert Bird Tourtel. For whom, at twenty-one, nooky in the nooks was, perhaps, romantic thinking in 1895: 

“The twilight air seems laden

With the song of sylph on wave,

With the song of sad sea-maiden

Pensive in her lonely cave.”

            (‘The Coming of Ragnarök’) 

Bel’s cave

A full-on blood-rush soon after had Herbert answer a career call to the rags of Fleet Street, and marry a published animal illustrator called Mary. They were a glamorous, nomadic pair and proud owners of a biplane. However, aviation pioneering wasn’t their major claim to fame. Come 1920 Herbert, by then the Express’ sub-editor, proved himself ursa-minded. At his suggestion Mary created Rupert Bear. And she let her imagination rip in the gimmicky women’s page.

Rupert and his anthropomorphic band of, like-sized, well-dressed pals – elephant, pug, and pig, or whatever – mixing it with textbook wildlife and all-human witches and royalty, made a first public outing in the Daily Express in November that year. Herbert, bless him, dreamed up the rhyming couplets. The intention was to rival ‘Teddy Tail’ a Daily Mail mouse. And heigh-ho, time moved on.

As did I. From the beach. With the briny lapping I opted for higher ground, that tune resurfacing to earwig:

“Rupert, Rupert the Bear, 

Everyone come and join

In all of his games.”

Tch! The annoyance of an inner child!

Call it whim, I traipsed up, up, up, past an unnerving stone directing me towards ‘Battery’, then down, down down, the dusty, path and its zillion steps to the headland’s Napoleonic St Clair’s battery built of grey, granite stones, and where a sentinel, doughty, oak tree stands in peace and tranquility. Ironic really given the battery’s original purpose had been all about firing cannon balls. Loudly. For more than 2,000 metres. The work of two 24-pounders that were nowt but glorified gull scarers.

Unnerving stone
Dusty path
St Clair’s Battery

St Clair’s, like the other sixty of so defunct batteries that dot the Guernsey coastline and never blasted a shot in anger, isn’t somewhere one ends up accidentally. You have to want to go there. I kidded myself of this, hoping the huff-puff and a gentle, bonny-for-the-physique, perspiration might at least begin bringing my poppers back to order. 

From out of nowhere, fast, heavy footfall shocked me from my la-de-la head space. A vibrant orange clobbered jogger. Youthful. Unruly hair tamed by a sweat-sodden headband. He almost pelted into my arse. 

“Whoa! Careful!” My alarm was palpable. The last jogger that scared the bejesus outta me had had me fall and sit on him.

Happily, Master Orange continued his downhill pad-padding without misadventure. 

I soon found him again. He was befuddled, rattling the battery’s cliff edge, iffy chain-link fence. Aha, another island novice. It wasn’t just me whim-prone, then. 

Iffy fence

“Thought you could get around to more of the island from here,” he bemoaned.

“Nope,” I said, making real mental effort to blank out sodding Rupert. “Just a crazy smugglers’ path beyond that wire, a zigzag down to the rocks. Head back to the magazine. The little stone house you past? There’re steps up behind if you fancy them. They’re steep and overgrown. Dunno where they disappear to… One bit of advice: beware the bear… or bare!”

It was the last I saw of him.

St Clair’s magazine

My puff homeward was the way I’d come. On the up side I diverted to a stoic, green bench which earlier I hadn’t given more than a cursory glance. I clocked a shrivelled posy of wild flowers on the seat. Who? Why? Godot? I put the questions out there.

The bench simply answered the ‘why?’. We became friends in a moment. And I’ve become a habitué. The view’s goddam gorgeous. Not just of the bay below but the easy-on-the-eye profusion. Young bracken fern and pink campion. Daisies and bluebells. Gorse, primroses and white three-cornered leeks.

Easy-on-the-eye profusion

Between a Thursday and a Sunday it’s the place to watch Somerset play championship cricket. Just give me a baguette and a bag o’cheese. Ooh, and a jar of cider chutney.

And for the past ten days the county’s fortunes have been on the up. Back to back wins aren’t to be sniffed at. As opposed to surreptitious cheese. Which is.

Indeed, when on debut batsman Lewis Goldsworthy, a diminutive Cornish whippersnapper from the grim mining town of Camborne, withstood the Middlesex red ball battery over after over and then smote the winning runs, my brie-squishing air-punch startled a goldfinch and checked a murderous kestrel in its stoop.

The palpable problem has been caused by a friendly, indy grocer’s shop sat between the blessed bench and the missus and my eyrie of a St Peter Port flat.

From the cow, Guernsey mature and smoked cheddars snuggle. Beside them, the Torteval cheeses lovingly crafted by Fenella, a former NHS nurse, step up to the plate. Well, fingers. Her Fort Grey, confusingly blue, is a winner. At Frome’s Global Cheese Awards, held on the cusp of the world becoming otherwise distracted. On the other hand, Peter and Mandy, near enough Fenella’s neighbours, offer Golden Guernsey Goat’s. That too is yummity-scrumpity. And just think they’d originally bought a bundle of the rare breed nannies merely to keep their vergees tidy. 

Fenella’s Fort Grey
Peter and Mandy

The threatening sound of pinging poppers must pale, though, when compared to Liberation Day’s 76th anniversary, fizz-bang fireworks yesternight over St Peter Port. Yet Somerset thumping Hampshire a few hours earlier, away at the Ageas Bowl for the first time since 2015, was just as deserving of feu d’artifice. Which a very late-to-bed blackbird, fluting as if Mozart inspired, highlighted. I snatched the last nibble of brie in salute.  

“Saw that,” said the missus. 

Dress it up all you like, a popper’s health is a tiresome exercise in determination. Dammit, I shall go on-line. Hunt out a gilet that’s ‘X’ rated. Absolutely no way around it, I too can feel the urge to shed togs. I mean, why not succumb to cheese spread? I only wish I could rid my head of that bear.

Illustration & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Prickly Salutes And Bounder Pots

15th April 2021.

Hospital “Ratatouille’

The missus and I have high-fived for having completed two years on this sea rock. The past thirteen months without escape. Easter has slipped past. A grand year for sloe gin lies ahead. The blackthorn blossom’s magnificent. Delicate. White as… hmm… the unseasonal flurries of snow. The rarest of Guernsey happenings in mid winter. Let alone right bang at the start of the cricket season as the woodland bluebells open along La Folie des Doux (The Madness of the Sweet). While at Moulin Huet, which so inspired Renoir, bathers are inspirited by him.

Guernsey sloe
Moulin Huet
Renoir’s inspiriting bathers

The Princess Elizabeth hospital’s ‘Ratatouille’, still just about quicksilver, continues its squeeze. Under the drain cover outside the Emergency Department. The large and happy, charmed brown rat has spent these past nights stealing cheese from the adjacent kitchens and ducking the wheels of blue lighted ambulances.

While, along the swanky Queen’s Road, and wearing her ‘on duty’ green scrubs and an ‘off duty’ single woollen mitten, the missus has rescued the rat’s antithesis, a fat, eejit hedgehog gone from pottering pink-nosed-air-sniffer to bring-it-on ball. As the headlights bore down. Of the number 61 bus. Fast headed for St Peter Port’s harbour terminus. My role? Futilely flashing Poopsie the Smart’s weak beams. Noticing too late the pair of rugged leather gloves nestled in the door pocket.

Gentle nudges up the bum by the missus met with resistance. Instead, the scoop up, the much ‘ouch’ and ‘ow’ and the brief trespass. The pricky-back, dropped from shin height safe under a camellia in the paradisiacal garden of the Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey, Sir Ian Corder KBE, must have guessed itself in Heaven. I salute it.

Prickly bum nudge

It’s in this bonkers world that I continue my bettering. From Colin the Cockle. A Guernsey ‘Guern’ and ‘help-self’ connoisseur. Who picks his favourite snack out the beach where he ‘moors’ his boat. And he’s full of useless information. Like: “Soak ‘em in flour and seawater for an hour. That way they spit out their sandy goop. Makes ‘em less crunchy with bread and butter. Lovely cockles are.” I take his word for it.

Colin the Cockle

Last Friday arvo Colin was where I’d imagined. Messing with crustaceans

From distance his buddy, young Davy, chucked lady crabs at a bucket target, failing to take into account the aileron effect of flustered claw waggles. 

“G’day, mate!” I called. 

“Where you from?” asked Colin as I haltingly, rock-wobbled alongside. The question had obviously been brewing.

“Originally? Pompey… Portsmouth. I’m a Hampshire hog. Somerset adopted me. Australia then fostered and kinda cultured.” It sounded like an apology, so I added that the missus and I had exchanged the excitement of echidnas for the delight of Guernsey hedgehogs.

Colin furrowed his brow. My explanation of bus and mitten didn’t unfurrow it. “I’ve been to Australia,” he said thoughtfully. “Went for a month. Met a couple from Jersey. Small world. I was in that hot place near Perth that has all the boats. What’s it called?”

“Fremantle?” I hazarded. “Did you feel the refreshing ‘Doctor’ wind? Or notice the ‘SOY’ signs, those polite ‘Please Don’t Feed The Seagulls Or They’ll Shit On Yous’?”

“Yeah, hmm, maybe.”

Fremantle

“Braved my mandibles on charcoaled kangaroo chunk skewers there,” I remembered. “Something once tasted, never repeated. Like your cockles.” 

Colin’s mind-cogs clunked a notch. A grin spread. He pointed east across the sea-watery Little Russel. “Roos got eaten on Herm. The wallaby sort. The Mermaid has some info.” I lay a tentative mental bet he meant the island’s foodie pub.

Herm across the Little Russel

And I wasn’t about to get snobby over marsupial subtleties of difference. Not when in a state of wonderment. “Really? Wallabies on Herm? Actually bouncing like Kanga?”

“Nah. Not now. Used to be lots. I know a lady. Carly she’s called. Her great grandad Thomas worked as chief wallaby looker-afterer. Can’t blame him, though, for what happened. That was the fault of the German prince’s butler and chef.”

“Do tell,” I beseeched, just as Young Davy kicked the bucket. A goodly way closer to his crabs. 

Flying crab

Behind us a church bell tolled. Funereal.

“Hope that isn’t for a Davy’s lady or the missus’ hedgehog culled by the guv’nor’s mower. Forget Ratatouille aspiring,” I joshed.

“Wha’?”

“Nothing, nothing. Bad taste. What were you saying about a prince and wallabies?”

“Dunno much else. You’ll have to look it up.”

That evening I did. Herm’s wallabies were a bunch of red-necks. Bennett’s (Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus). Hardy souls. Shipped from the vast warm land of gum trees to a Channel Island speck. An Elysium likened to a cross between the mediterranean and the Yorkshire moors. And much loved by eccentric Prince Gebhard Blücher von Wahlsatt a surprisingly sensitive, direct descendent of the Prussian von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt, ‘Marshal Forwards’ famed Waterloo blood-bather, Wellington’s ally. 

Oddly, Gebhard was Herm’s sub-tenant. At the start of the First World War he’d already lived on the island for twenty-five years. Many of them in the company of his exotic free-rangers. And why not? By all accounts they seemed happy enough getting a mention in light dispatches and in the Scientific American

Prince Gebhard
Mentioned in dispatches
Old wallaby country

Unfortunately for Gebhard, the fickle Westminster parliament took umbrage at having ‘a Hun’ of gung-ho ancestry on Herm . In 1915 he was forced to pack his tweeds. Until doomsday. The moment his back was turned grim dispatches followed. His butler and chef – particular bounders – got blotto. And went cold-hearted, red-neck hunting.

Guns blasted from the 11th century Saint Tugual’s monastic chapel to Shell Beach. Wallaby was on the menu. Be it stew pot or grilled. ‘Guerns’ fretted over the provenance of pies. All of which perhaps had a lot to do with the prince’s heart giving out a year later. 

Saturday noon, however, again bought the boom of guns. Big ones. The cannons of Castle Cornet. Forty-one rounds whumped. For 40 minutes. One round for every minute of them. The castle is one of only a half dozen saluting batteries around the UK. The salutes vibrating my cheese board were for a prince. A more cherished one than Gebhard. Flags flew at half mast. In itself half a mast more than Colin’s boat can boast. Heavy-headed tulips drooped. The previous day’s bell toll explained.

Gun salute
Half mast

After a grand innings of 99, prickly, game-bagger Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh had passed. It’s chiselled in granite the royal sea dog was a Guernsey visitor. And, so it was said in the ‘Drunken Duck’, a memorial stone plonked. Marking where the Duke and the Queen took a summer stroll out west in Les Buttes, around St Pierre du Bois parish church. That was in the late 1970s when John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John topped the charts with ‘You’re The One That I Want’. 

The one I wanted was that stone.  

Royal visit

The sweet lady doing the nave flowers knew nothing of it. She did know, however, where there was a dead pigeon. Not a quitter, I roamed the churchyard for a fruitless twenty minutes. The mystery deepened. “C’mon Guerns, where’ve you put it!” I muttered. 

Having confirmed he was local, I asked a sarky gent with two collies. He thought I was blathering nonsense. Until I shouted ‘Yay!’ to set his dogs barking. The ruddy lump was hidden in plain sight. Parked as close to Poopsie’s front bumper as the hedgehog had been.

And so to the future. Fresh in the knowledge Somerset’s cricketers, having grumbled at the umpire’s upward pointing finger in the new season’s opener at Lord’s, had prevailed victorious against the odds, next week this Hampshire hog shall spring aboard the Herm ferry and go say hello to the Mermaid.

Safe to say, swigging a tot in memoriam won’t be for the hospital rat.

Illustrations & text © 2021 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.