Monday, 22 February 2010

1000 words

The Merlin skims the water on a cold and unforgiving, February morning. Did it make a mistake, when it veered to the Southern bank of the estuary, where the Dunnocks chattered and chirruped in their hundreds in the hedgerows? What brought it to my church? Do you believe in appointments?

No tidal surge today, as I cross the swing bridge over the Severn - I have never witnessed one, though I have seen it on film, and heard of stories about surfers riding the wave from the very mouth of the estuary, until they run - triumphantly - out of momentum in the very docks of Gloucester.

I have an appointment with an elderly woman who holds a massive, bronze key. She has an appointment too - her son-in-law’s father has died, and today is the day of his funeral, but not in my church. He has finally died, aged 102, having eaten nothing but corn flakes and milk for the last thirty years. We will both agree that all this (we swing our arms around, expansively) must carry on after we have ‘gone’.

I remember my mother’s last words. Strange how I have never, until now, read any more into them than I did at the time, twenty five years ago. It must have been the shock.

She was sitting upright in the double bed with my father, and they were both watching the television, which was placed on a table at the foot of that bed. Becoming bored with the programs on offer - which she frequently was - she said:

“This is a load of rubbish. What’s on the other side?”

As my father got up to change channels, she died without another word. I don’t think he saw the funny side at the time either, which is probably why he never pointed it out. He was never one for deep irony anyway.

Before he died, I looked after him for a while, and one night, he became uncharacteristically emotional and said, “I don’t want to die...”

I asked why not, and he innocently answered, “Because I’ll miss you children when I have gone.”

He could not have seen the funny side of that either.

Meanwhile, my Merlin is flitting and darting, ever closer to the church at Longney. Ever closer, ever closer.

I approach the down hill stretch to Nailsworth, the traffic slows until it reaches a complete stop, and some cars turn off their engines. Maybe they know something I do not - maybe everyone knows something that I have not yet found out. A few cars restart their engines and so do I. We creep slowly forward a few hundred yards, and I notice that other cars are coming toward us in the other direction, which gives me false hope.

Then - as a uniformed policeman walks slowly and calmly up the line of approaching traffic, telling them all to turn around and go away, I see that the problem lies at the very base of a steep turn, and realise that it will be quicker to head back and go through Tetbury, if I am to make my appointment at the church on time. It later transpires that several people have been killed on the road, a few hundred yards in front of me. The lorries - unable to make a four point turn as we can - are destined to stay until all the mess has been cleared away.

Get me to the church, get me to the church, for Pete’s sake, get me to the church on time.

Our Merlin carries on up the estuary, heading for the same church as me.

I retrace my tracks until I reach the Tetbury fork, then I turn left and continue along the road I know very well. I drive past ‘Highgrove’, home of the Prince of Wales, and notice - as I always do - that the resident police do not seem to ever make the effort to clean the mud from the plastic‘no parking’ bollards that are always symbolically blocking the Prince’s back entrance. I have already wondered - again - if Diana ever thought of one of her young sons when she passed through the village of Willesley, on her way to Highgrove, and I mentally make the same old joke when I pass through ‘Knockdown’ - houses there are sold for ‘Knockdown’ prices...

I know I must, at some point, make a left turn, and this is what I do at the next major opportunity.

The Merlin flies ever closer to the church at Longney.

I drive down roads that I have never experienced before, and I find myself grateful for the accident that ended the lives of a few people, for this reason alone. It is a pleasant road. Soon, I am back on a familiar one, but - since I left early - I have plenty of time before my appointment at the church, and I am relaxed.

I pass by the mills at Nailsworth, where all the Scarlet cloth that clad all the brave, doomed, British soldiers and the robes of all the Popes of Christendom in Rome for hundreds of years, was made from the piss of thousands of drunkards in the local pubs, and hung out to dry in the fields above. Those soldiers dyed the same cloth in their own scarlet, but - unlike the Nailsworth hue - it was not fixed, despite the piss, and despite the dying.

Over the motorway, and past the very spot where poor Melanie’s body lay undiscovered in a plastic bag for years, having made the same journey as me, from Bath. Men in florescent jackets continue to fill bin liners, and search for another unforgotten treasure, twenty years too late.

After one thousand miles, one thousand flights, one thousand days and one thousand words, our Merlin flies - unusually - straight into the talons of a large, red Sparrow Hawk, just as I pull up and park outside the church in Longney. The children, in the school opposite, continue to play out their long lives.


  1. It's all true (unusually) and it's my 1000 word contribution to the 1000 word blog.

  2. I used to plant potatoes in Nailsworth - in the context of the life and death themes of your post, a very suitable pursuit.

  3. What the HELL were you doing planting spuds in Nailsworth, Mise????

  4. I love the way the merlin is taking the same journey as the narator. Very well done piece.

  5. I kept thinking of her last words, “This is a load of rubbish. What’s on the other side?” and his sadness at leaving his children but it could also be Ralfast's Granddad passing and his sad moving story married with the touching sentiment of yours. I don't know but suddenly I'm very sad.
    It is evidence of good writing I think for it has stirred in me a deep emotion.
    You take care.

  6. Unlike his namesake he was not indestructible. His origin as half incubus, half mortal gave him the power of prophecy, but not enough to escape death at the hands of The Lady of the Lake (Sparrow Hawkess maybe?).

  7. I've just read Ralfast's story, Simone, and yes - there is a connection isn't there? I've enjoyed reading them all so far, but I think I have missed one out - they're a bit difficult to find (or maybe I'm being stoopid, or maybe there aren't that many yet...)

    I heard a quote on the radio the other day. Someone said that the job of the poet was all about death and sex. I think - between us - we've got it covered.

    Thanks for the other comments too, CR and Cro.

  8. I lived in Bath, you see, with a friend who had a country retreat in Nailsworth and an enthusiasm for growing vegetables. I got drawn into the whole thing.

  9. Oh I see, Mise. I see you are in Ireland now. I wonder if we met when you were in Bath.

  10. Well done! For some reason, this sentence struck me as so deep and alluring: I have an appointment with an elderly woman who holds a massive, bronze key. That could be a prompt for something else entirely!

    And thanks, Tom, for visiting my blog, Something She Wrote. It's nice to connect!

  11. Thank you Janna. Well that church really does have a massive, bronze key, but maybe I'll spin off on that line elswhere if you think it's a good'un! I've got a travel story based in Ostia Antica coming up, but the key key-holder in that one was young.

  12. A Big P.S. - I took the challenge at it's word, and my 1000 word blog is exactly 1000 words long, but I haven't counted the others. I didn't realise that 1000 was a limit, or under.

    Don't you find it much easier to write within tight constraints like that? Isn't it easier to get it all down, if you know the limits? All the things which seem to be challenging - like Sonnets, Haikus, rhyming couplets, etc. - I think are absolute gifts, because they take so much of the work out of the process. Someone else has made up rules which you simply adhere to, when dealing with the subject. What do you all think?

  13. I didn't get the story until I realized what the Merlin was, then it clicked. Interesting stuff. I also like the picture on the banner heading. Chaps from the RAF (circa 1940)I presume?

  14. Hello Ralfast. Yes, Merlins are quite rare, I think - this is the only one I have seen, and that was after the Sparrow Hawk got it. It's also very unusual for a hawk to catch another hawk and eat it, which is what happened in this case. The men in the heading are a couple of crews from 1940's RAF Bomber Command, and the one under the 'P' of Stephenson, I believe is my father (see past posts).