By Chris Wilson
The dawn is breaking as I write to you, and it heralds the start of yet another wonderful English early summer’s day. Much has been said by poets of all ages of the sweet caress of silk on unblemished skin, but it is different on England, yet no less precious than all the jewels of the world. The silk my dear is the slow summer sun which sweeps across the still silent fields, whispering sweet nothings to the dew dropped, darkened, dreaming countryside, but it is the skin that makes England so durable and special, but what s strange skin it turns out to be. Smooth and unblemished, no, for too many battles have been fought over its lands. Pale, wan, and utterly alluring, no again for remember the English have their weather, and of course the sea, yet it still has a strong kind of earthy beauty, for within such a natural barrier there is a strength and depth of character that many never know, and though living in England other will never see.
In previous letters I have spoken of the English as clowns, and I still do so, but even the clown or his audience can laugh forever. He needs his sleep; he needs his rest as come the morning a new battle will be on the horizon. He may not be a great fighter, but he never gives up fighting, and all the time but he has the strength to laugh at himself and to see within himself with a clarity that is beyond compare. Do I need to look far for such an example, oh no my dear, not far at all, for beside me, in the soft morning light, lies my pot bellied and now pug ugly Tommy; and by God can he snore!
Yes my dear, Tommy lies sleeping beside me, yet as I gaze at him, and securely fasten my ear plugs even more securely I still thank God that he lies by my side. When we first met I thought he was dull and stupid, as indeed I thought the whole nation to be so, but I was wrong, and now I stand corrected. Oh don’t get me wrong, Tommy, at times, still has all the intelligence and aesthetic beauty of an unwashed half rotten potato, yet, as with his fellow countrymen there lies a strength within his belly, a strong intertwined cord of three separate yet conjoined elements that can take many years to understand. Determination, resoluteness, and adaptability, they are three elements in question. Just three understated and at times silent forces which like the ageless turning of the tides have endured, and do endure, invasion, civil war, pestilence, and the mockery of those who stand around them. To demonstrate what I mean I turn first to a great British institution, and then to my dear Tommy, who still snores by my side.
Every year, in early autumn, a large number of allegedly sane people crowd into a dirty great big, acoustically once awful Victorian music concert hall, and have a rattling good sing. They sing of control of the seas that they control no longer, of a hopeful and glorious country that by any standards is almost bereft of such entities, and of building a new Jerusalem; which as we know lies deep within Israel. Such incongruities are of no importance though as they sing of a land which is firmly bound within their bone marrow, and which they somehow know will always be there. They may never see this land in their lifetime, they might not even recognise if it is on their doorstep, but it is their land, their sodden lump of rock, sand, and muddy old pastureland and God help anyone who tries to take such lands away.
Oh she is used to being invaded, and she really is quite an amicable host, when she wants to be, but from all such temporary residents she exacts a heavy, before quietly sending them on their way. Their minds, their pockets, and their genetic pool, are always plundered, and a good thing to for such spoils of war have made Britain what it is today. Battered, bruised, and very often covered in grime from massive industrial revolutions, most folk over here no notion of their history, and even less from whence comes their pride, but akin to dumb overworked oxen who turn their heads to a new dawn, they instinctively know that there will always be an England, and an England that they will forever own.
All very poetic and worthy I hear you cry, but what about my Tommy, have I forgotten him in the midst of thus insurgent tide. No my dear, how could I, for he is as much a part of England as the hills that surround us on all sides. We were talking last night, as sometimes all couples do, on special occasions, and he spoke with a sincerity and warmth which I have never heard him use before. Gone was the reserve that this nation is so proud of, and in its place a soft humble certainty which will support us over the years. He had been silent for ages, and I nearly asked him why, but then he began to speak and both words and feelings came f forth which I will treasure to my dying day.
“My dear, you have often asked how I love you, but I have never given you an answer, as quite frankly I’ve never known how. I’m not too sure whether the words are right this time, but I do love you, more than I can tell you, and I know such love will last up until the day we die. I’ve got no drums or bugles to bash or to herald you with, and no jewels to lie before you, but if I’m good enough for you, well, you have got me. I know I’m nowt special, never was, never will be, but I’ll always be there for you in a way that I hope you understand. Think what you will of me, many have done so before you, but if you want someone to care for you and support you, I’ll be there as a lover, brother and companion, or even as a damn good friend. So let me know if you ever fancy a brew just knock on my door and ask for Tommy, there’ll always be tea in the tea pot and, there’s no locked door from where you’ll be standing; only a key that you might wish to lock once inside.”
God bless my Tommy and his little ginger furred cotton socks, and God bless those curious things called English reserve and fortitude, for I question whether I deserve to be given such presents, especially when such riches are often so hard to find.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, from the phoenix to the dodgy old swine, my darling Tommy has awakened and with a grunt, a heave, and a bleary eye turned balefully towards me, he has uttered a few simple yet unpleasantly imposing words
“Have you spoken to the children yet?”
He has enquired of me
“They are your kids, they sang from your songbook, and with your assistance they have created merry hell!”
Considering that Tommy has never liked mornings that was quite some sentence, but on this occasion his words and his facts, cannot be denied. I could have answered him by saying that I am always talking to the children but such a statement would be both pointless and ingenuous as even I admit that, technically, my little darlings have gone just a little too far.
That’s right my dear, Theo’s Sunday Sing- a- long, a glorious event which though beginning with piety, ended in a stream of uncontrollably painful tears
This episode is akin to cake baking, in the sense that sound preparation is needed before any finished product can be enjoyed ,so the first thing we need to do is to source our ingredient. Once done we need to mix them, bake them, and then make sure that we make a silk purse rather than a sow’s ear. Do you recall the time we switched my mother’s vodka, for mango juice? I got a right old thump from Mumsie Wumsie, but by God it was worth it at the time. So, my dear, we must assemble our ingredients and create our masterpiece, now what do we have here
1) Take three Russian or part Russian Moggies and one English rent a mob puddy tat crew
2) Add one English Hymnal and the complete sermons of John Donne
3) Place 1) and 2) within a suitable arena, and mix thoroughly allowing plenty of room for accidental bloodshed and mayhem
4) Allow additional room for spectator galleries and swift arena access
5) Supply one, or both parties, with ample if not wholly appropriate supplies of liquid fortification
6) Arrange a date and a start time; Sundays come highly recommended
7) Halfway through the maturation period add “The Red Hot Randy Ruskie volumes 1,2, and 3”
8) Light blue touch paper and retire…QUICKLY
Even as I imagine you reading this letter I seem to hear a sigh whistling across the great Siberian steppes and tumbling down my master’s rather sooty chimney. It is a sigh of soft sorrow of lost years lost pleasures, ago yet a joyful sigh as well so many pleasant memories seep into the mind. Dou you remember that li’l ol rascal from our halcyon childhood, that precious red book which our parents desperately hoped we would never see? I do, and I do not need to remember, as my own copy lies tucked away in, what was up until recently, a very secret drawer. Not so secret now however as by circumstance rather than by planning Tommy knows all about it, but it was his little booklet that I sent my children into battle, and it was the usage and abusage of such a booklet that brought our reputation crashing to the ground.
The day in question actually began quite well, we slept in and then had a hearty breakfast in order to prepare ourselves for battle, and myself and Tommy gave a cursory nod and a bob towards the village church so as to get God on our side, but then things went just a little bit astray. You see while we were away Kitty and Katie had been at our master’s vodka. Not the standard maiden’s water from the corner shop mind you, but the special Ukrainian Vodka, that on a Saturday night my master and Mistress always enjoyed. You know the stuff I mean, that rocket fuelled head banger potion which once discovered is never forgotten, and which destroys the liver, as well, as the brain, and there wouldn’t have been any problems if they hadn’t got quite so plastered, and ended up sleeping on the floor, with a freshly opened bottle beside them; and if the bottle in question hadn’t lain propped up at an angle for all and sundry to enjoy. Such is life however, such are the whims, inconsistencies and misfortunes that mould and shape us; and such is often the starting point for uncontrolled mayhem to come.
The twins, of course, claimed that any consumption was purely accidental, and even if proved otherwise they had to fortify themselves for the evening to come, but I told them afterwards, fortification against the enemy is one thing, getting rat-arsed and raising every demon from Hades is another, although I must admit, to their credit, they bore their booze well, and both bore a wonderfully beatific smile.
By the time their actions were spotted however, it was too late to anything, even with a few litres of black coffee, and so it was we sedately trooped off towards the Bishops’ Bash house, or the Bishops Palace as it is for formally known, and all to soon we settled ourselves down for what we believed would be a thoroughly boring evening to come. How-de-do’s and How-de-do’s gain were exchanged by all parties and then, with great dignity, it was Theo himself who escorted us to where could gain the best of all views. Silly beggar is our Theo, and a lousy strategist and militarily commander; for who in their right mind hands over the high ground to the potential enemy, and the perfect spot from whence all can be seen. The importance of such a position was only top unfold later on in the evening but, much to our inner displeasure, although we behaved and kept smiling, we first had to endure two hours of Theodorus and his idea of fun. Two hours of chanting, and lugubrious sermons, and an unending tide of inane protestations to their own personal Lord who, by some mind boggling incestuous relationship, loved them all. All I can say is that if he really loved them as much as they think he did then he must have needed one hell of an address book, and have testicular spheroids made of steel.
Nothing lasts forever, thank God, and half way through the evening there was an intermission, and at long last keenly anticipated refreshments. That is when I first heard the twins begin to growl, and I can’t blame them. Sardine tartlets, pawn cocktails, and ice cold non alcoholic bitter lemonade, that is what was laid before us, but I really began to get worried when Tommy complained that someone had pinched his hip flask; and at that point I knew that war would soon be declared.
First of all though Theo held the limelight, for once he had lumbered up onto the main central podium he solemnly prepared to address the crowd. Not for long though, for as he prepared to launch into yet another sermon, he received a kick up his backside which sent him crashing into the stalls. Arse over apex the initial rise and descent of his all too short, yet all to undignified flight was poetry in motion, but ending up jammed between two rows of seating, with his legs sawing the air above him, there was very little that he could do, but even he was stunned into silence as Kitty and Katie stood before the throng. You should have seen he, my dear, she was wonderful, for like an old sea captain high on the quarterdeck in the middle of an Atlantic storm, she swayed, yet never entirely buckled before an imaginary, yet by her actions, all too realistic gale. Then she began speaking, and I must admit she brought tears of joy and pride to my eyes.
“Ladies and gentle men, fellow pedigrees, and moggie mongrels one and all, it is with real pleasure that I stand, or sway here, before you, as I bring greeting from my homeland, a country far to the North from here, and from many thousands of miles away. What joys we have experienced tonight, what pleasures, and what sobriety, but then also so much more, for tonight we have seen what only I can only describe as being endurance and tradition. An endurance to see through whatever comes at us, from whatever angle; and a tradition of stubbornly carrying on, no matter how tough, or how pointless, it may seem.
Well my friends, we also have our own traditions that we have brought with us from Mother Russia, and it is these values that I would like to present to you now.
Sleeping within many an ancient silent Russian library, many such traditions and values may seem inaccessible, but fused within the ever ready and ever tuned strings our beloved Balalaika’s, they still resonate over the centuries, and, once plucked out of antiquity, they still continue to sing. So it is, dear friends, that we would wish to entertain you know with a few songs from our homeland. We do not have our boots, out the ever present Russian snow, but we do have our old balalaika, our memories, and our love of our country, and it is these that we present to you. So it is that I ask you to raise both your voice and your glasses to Mother Russia; and join in with us as we sing her happy song”
Boy oh Boy did the pair of them sing, but there was one problem though. They sang of the gutters rather than of the regal palaces, the brothels rather than the proud barricades, and of the drunkards fornicating in the courtyards, rather than any proud prelate sitting on his throne. My dear even I was embarrassed to begin with as they surpassed even my more daring and inadmissible entries, but then I also applaud them, for if the young cannot speak with such freedom then there is little or no hope for us all. What any such youngster needs to appreciate is that there is a time and a place for everything, and that, on certain occasions, let alone at certain places, a degree of wisdom or decorum should be employed. As such their repertoire, though hugely entertaining, was inappropriate for such an occasion, and is subsequent intervention had not arrived at a timely moment, them a degree of rather painful bloodshed might have occurred.
However they sang what they sang and that was an end to it, but strutting around the stage like a pair of randy chorus girls they acted with a degree of gay abandonment that even shocked me. Legs wide apart, pelvis’s thrusting, they showed to the assembled company all that nature had bestowed upon them, and through words, song, and action they implored every tomcat within the vicinity to come and have a damn good look and see. As regards what they sang you will receive a copy of their song sheet by registered post but how would you react if with such abandonment two of your children came out with the following song
There he was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Snappin’ his whiskers and shufflin’ his feet, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
he looked good (looked good), he looked fine (looked fine)
he looked good, he looked fine and I nearly lost my mind…..
As you will ee from the video this is a very fine song in so many ways, with an admirably catchy tune, memorable lyrics, and plenty of scope for audience participation, but the lyrical adjustments they adopted were nigh on unrepeatable, and then of course up stepped Theo
He had very well behaved up until then, despite much deliberate and well rehearsed provocation, but when he heard this song he flipped good and hard. Quite frankly I can’t blame him; it was his backyard, his party, and his reputation as compare going down the Suwannee River, but as everybody was clapping and singing away merrily his enraged voice rang out over the din. In one fell swoop he reasserted his authority, summoned his troops behind him he hurled himself at the twins.
“God for Theo, the Bishop, and St George”
Good old Theo, he was always one for tradition, but then he shouldn’t have given us the high ground, as by doing so all his efforts were in vain.
As Theo and his cohorts charged the twins and I took the central ground, whilst Tommy and Tomaska covered the flanks and kept an eye on our rear. Half a league, half a league, half a league onwards, into the valley of death rode the six hundred; oh it was the battle of Balaclava all over again. They fought well, Theo and his followers, but just as stupidly as their historical heroes, for though they charged at us with incredible ferocity, they had failed to consider who or what else might be coming down from all sides. They were dismayed when they faced our claws, disturbed when they were pelted with unripe crab apples that we had stacked up by our side, but horrified as Kitty’s well placed pub crawl rent-a-mob swept in from the rear. Oh it was glorious, my dear, and I’ve not had such a good fight in years!
The best was yet to come though, as the fight spilled over to the Bishops croquet lawn, and now the Bishop and his party of ball bashers became ensnared within the brawl. To begin with the Bishop was absent from the preceding on what was termed diocesan business, but when a flaying croquet stick slipped out the hand of one of the players, and then crashed through his bedroom window, he soon appeared on the scene.
Better for him if he had not done so as all too soon his heroic defence of his palace turned into ignominy, shame and pain. Why so my dear, well, unbeknown to us he had his ”niece” stating with us, and quite surprisingly, as they both came out wearing very skimpy black bondage leatherwear, he was sporting a pair of handcuffs and chain, and she was holding a knotted bull whip in one of her hands. To what end such apparel; and equipment, night be provided for is maybe left to individual imagination, but it has to be recorded that one Miss Hetherington, chairperson of the Parish council, and secretary of the village debating society, will never be quite the same
Not everyone was shocked into silence however, for in the silence that followed the couple’s dramatic entrance my master walked in on the scene. He has a powerful voice and laugh at the best of times, and it rang out merrily as he saw the centre stage leather bound couple, but that was nothing compared to his joyous howl of mirth as he saw The Bishops wife appear on the scene. She had come back early from a women’s ecumenical conference in London, and, understandably puzzled by what lay before her, she demanded to hear from her Lord Bishop as to how he had become a Uncle without her knowledge or any kind of family or genetic linkage, why the curious apparel and accoutrements, and in summary, what the hell was going on.
Courtesy and a certain standard of decency forbid me to describe the discussion that followed, let alone the lady’s actions, but sufficient to say that at one end a black eye was created with immense power and accuracy, whilst toward the middle of his body a well placed swinging croquet mallet caused a certain amount of pain
So it was that the evening ended, but even then my babies had one more surprise for me, as on the way home they began to sing. There was no bawdiness now however, and no vulgarity, and as they sang they nearly brought me to tears.
Soft and sweet they sang of love my dear, and of a true loved which, though many times consummated, could only be seen through a sea of fading memories and tears. Sea soaked Captain cat and Come up and see me Rosie Probert, one dead and drifting into the eternal darkness, and one still living yet trapped within the sea salt soaked and smoked passages of his mind, and in the land of his dreams so long , long, ago. Come back blind Captain Cat and lie easy Rosie, come back and live within us in our dreams.
Their duet can be seen at the back of this letter but it haunts me even as I write to you know. The twins say that they have read in a play by a Welsh guy called Dylan Thomas, but all I know is that my babies are growing up my dear, they are growing up to quickly; and as I am getting older, this does not bring me joy.
Attachment: Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas
ROSIE PROBERT (_Softly_)
What seas did you see,
Tom Cat, Tom Cat,
In your sailoring days
Long long ago?
What sea beasts were
In the wavery green
When you were my master?
I’ll tell you the truth.
Seas barking like
seals, Blue seas and green,
Seas covered with eels
And mermen and whales.
What seas did you sail
Old whaler when
On the blubbery waves
Between Frisco and Wales
You were my bosun?
As true as I’m here
Dear you Tom Cat’s tart
You landlubber Rosie
You cosy love
My easy as easy
My true sweetheart,
Seas green as a bean
Seas gliding with swans
In the seal-barking moon.
What seas were rocking
My little deck hand
My favourite husband
In your seaboots and hunger
My duck my whaler
My honey my daddy
My pretty sugar sailor.
With my name on your belly
When you were a boy
Long long ago?
I’ll tell you no lies.
The only sea I saw
Was the seesaw sea
With you riding on it.
Lie down, lie easy.
Let me shipwreck in your thighs.
Knock twice, Jack,
At the door of my grave
And ask for Rosie.
She is forgetting.
The earth which filled her mouth
Is vanishing from her.
I have forgotten you.
I am going into the darkness of the darkness for ever.
I have forgotten that I was ever born.
says a child to her mother as they pass by the window of
Captain Cat is crying; …………he’s crying all over his nose.
Yes Captain Cat was crying, but then so was I. My babies, oh my babies, they are leaving me, and I do not want to see them go!
- Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas, Reviewed. (stuartaken.blogspot.com)