Thursday, 26 March 2015

A Humbling Thought

A humbling thought

   Despite the hectic traffic on the slip road to the M1 motorway, I spotted, and swerved slightly to avoid, a mother duck followed closely by a clutch of day-old ducklings; fluffy and confused, but trusting. She clearly wanted to cross the six lanes of traffic that separated her from the other side. Some instinct must be telling her that she has to find water in the next few hours; perhaps she can smell it, perhaps she knows to go downhill, but somehow she has concluded that the other side is better for her and her novel (and doubtless unexpected) companions. Constantly glancing over alternate shoulders, she steps tentatively into the traffic then as quickly retreats.
   What must the little chicks be thinking? Imagine cracking open your shell and stepping out into the sunlight, knowing so little, yet knowing with certainty one big thing: "Follow close to that duck, that strange but reassuring shape."
   Mother duck (we suppose) has never been here before; took no classes in motherhood. To fly would be for her so normal, and so easy, and she would find water in minutes. However, indistinctly but inescapably, she knows that flight is inappropriate while she has these six fluffy little followers, to which she is so strangely bound. What a heavy responsibility! These may not be thoughts exactly, but she  experiences two conflicting impluses. It is no wonder she tries again and again to fight a passage through the thundering traffic.
   How different it is for us, with our complex brains, speech, primary and secondary education, books, the internet and the experience of hundreds of generations to guide us! We do not need to head off in the wrong direction time and again, in obedience to an impulse we cannot voice, and cannot even locate.  And yet we do it.
   Is that not a humbling thought?

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Darby and Joan

Darby and Joan

When I arrived after my 3 mile walk, there were only two other customers at the Blue Bell. I met the first soon after I arrived.

The door of the gents eased open and in shuffled a head of snow-white hair, a neck, the shoulders and torso of an acutely bent and elderly gentleman; probably 6 foot when straight, but that would have been twenty, thirty, forty years ago. "This is the rush" he said in a pleasantly articulated, cultured and resonant voice, as he shuffled into position. "Well, you made it" I replied, fielding this unexpected greeting as best I could. I left him to it and headed off to the bar to order my half of 'Original', noticing as I passed, a lady at the table by the window. She was of an age with the gentleman, but more
frail; motionless and transparent like a glass galleon. The gentleman gradually returned and sat down. Every minute or two he addressed a conversational remark to his wife, which I could not help overhearing: about the coffee, about the meal at the 'Bow Wine Vaults', which was probably their best, and  at the 'Bromely' which was probably their last at that venue. This point he repeated, as though some extra sadness attached, but one I could not guess.   All to little effect. Comparing the gold-wrapped chocolate mints with some at home was his most successful venture, and drew from his wife a murmur of agreement. He went to pay the bill at the bar, commenting cheerfully on his progress, his willingness to help out financially, his "little something for those who contributed 'at the coal-face'", his wallet, his sticks. Could he please have the bill back from the till so that, in years to come, he could resolve potential arguments with his wife over what they had eaten, that day at the Blue Bell?

It seemed she had exhausted her quiverfull of repartee earlier in the marriage; but her husband played on as much for the gallery as for himself; perhaps he had been a barrister. I felt sucked in, by his need to talk, and being intrigued by his cultured accent I asked if they were from Melton. "Oh no! We lived for 50 years in London, where I made a little money; not much but enough. We are both retired", he explained, helpfully. "In fact we are both a little doddery". "Very
doddery", corrected his wife. There seemed to be a game afoot concerning the chocolates. "I shall eat one of mine." he said at one point. A few minutes later, he asked, with a touch of sharpness, "Have you eaten your second?" "No" she replied, lifting her hand to show him the evidence. I felt this might be the latest round in a long-running contest. It was not much, but it gave them something; a bond. "Well, we should go." he said, without moving. "I think I shall put my coat on", she replied, also without moving. "Come", he said, "pass me your coat." and he helped her on with the nearest sleeve. I got up and helped her find the other sleeve hole with her glass-like left arm. "I half hoped a gentleman would come to our assistance", he offered, and thanked me for talking to them. I left them sitting there like Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for something; energy perhaps. I did not feel I could wait with them, for that energy might take some time