Sunday, 3 March 2013

Where am I?

This - believe it or not - is the Green-Eyed girl giving a very good impression (at my request) of a lamprey in the pub last night. She had to ask me what a 'lamprey' was.

Of course, she is normally radiantly pretty, but is feeling a little down right now and suffering from a minor bout of low self-esteem, so it was probably not very sensitive of me to ask her to pose like this for the camera. No harm done, I think.

I have only seen a lamprey once, and I have never eaten one, let alone died of a surfeit of them.

There is a magical area just outside Farnham in Surrey, and within a very small radius of ancient land, you will find a large, white-painted house which was the first home of Jonathan Swift in England; the site of the first Cistercian monastery in England, and a large, stone-roofed cave which was the home of a famous witch in the area called Mother Ludlam.

A little stream issues from the mouth of the cave, runs across the sandy path, then sinks down the bank to a patch of marshy ground before finding it's way to the languid river Wey which crooks an elbow round the ruins of the monastery about a quarter of a mile away.

An ingenious monk once - many hundreds of years ago - channeled this stream with a series of interlocking, lead pipes, and formed a conduit which supplied the monastery with all of it's fresh water for drinking, at a time when it was safer to drink beer in the mornings, rather than river-water contaminated with the sewage from nearby towns and even the monastery itself. The old witch's house became physically connected with the Christian brothers, who would walk past the mouth of her cave on their way home, if ever they had reason to go into town.

Late one night, a college friend and me decided to explore the tunnel which ended at the back of Mother Ludlam's Hole and began in the village of Tilford, a few miles away. This was an unusual thing for me to do, especially since I have never been very happy in confined spaces, and I took the lead and held the torch as we inched our way against the fast-flowing, shallow water.

The tunnel begins quite high and wide, but within a few yards, it gets lower and becomes quite cramped as it goes deeper into the hard and yellow, sandy hillside. By the time we were about 20 yards in, there was only about two inches between our backs and the roof of the tunnel, and we made our way by shuffling rather than crawling.

Then - in the pool of light made by the torch ahead of me - I saw a creature lying on the little bank to one side of the stream, and it actually flinched and wrinkled as if this was the first light to have ever touched it's off-white, slimy skin in it's long life.

It was about eight inches long, had no discernible face and seemed almost translucent through want of blood. More importantly, it was only a few feet away from me and I yelled out, shouting at my friend to back away as my back involuntarily arched, jamming me against the roof of the tunnel.

There was no room to turn around, so we had to crawl backwards the whole 20 yards, with me screaming at him to hurry up.

Of course, my companion had no idea what had frightened me so much, as I was blocking his view, and when we got out into the cave, I still could not tell him what it was - only describe it as I had seen it.

Later next day, I tried to find out what it could have been, and decided that it must either have been a giant leech, giant slug (not likely) or a fresh water lamprey. If it was a leech or a lamprey, then it must have been very hungry indeed, as the nearest cow would have been about 2 miles away at Tilford, and it had obviously been going in the wrong direction for quite some time.

I suppose it could have been one of Mother Ludlam's long-escaped assistants - or ingredients - but I don't think I have seen anything I would less like to eat, either before or since.

I have just had a call from the Green-Eyed girl on her mobile, asking me where she is. I tried to point out to her that the usual protocol when calling people on mobiles was to scream out where you are ("I'M ON THE TRAIN!" etc.) as a prelude to the conversation, but she's lost.

I know that I am supposed to work miracles on request, but without fitting her with a satellite tracking device - which I think she might object to - I need a few clues before beginning a guessing-game like that.


  1. Let's hope she's not in that cave Tom otherwise you will have to go in again and may well meet that creature. Dare I ask whether you had been drinking? Also, did you say eight inches long (too lazy to scroll back) - if so then a strong man like you surely could cope with eight inches. Or did you say eight feet? Now there would be a terrifying thing.

    1. No, I had not been drinking, and yes, it was about 8 inches, not feet. Ever seen 8 inches of writhing slug before? How is your car-parking?

  2. Dear Tom,
    I had to look up Lamprey too. Weird creature - first I believed you might have seen a weasel (they also live under the earth, and can be white - and they are not nice either). I would have screamed too - the very clammy feeling of not being able to go backwards, nor right nor left - brr... Jonathan Swift could have written a satire "The Brethren and the Witch" - or "Pop Goes the Weasel'...

    1. I have never seen a weasel without fur, Britta, and I have seen a few weasels in my life.

    2. Or eyes, or arsehole, or tail... etc.