Oh, can’t anybody see
We’ve got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
My father stood by the barred gate of our cottage, face red and neat, angry – and that was the last time I saw him. The last time then as now, so I didn’t have to look back to see him as I have done a hundred times since. A hundred times and a hundred dreams in which I return here often, to the sound of bees and the breeze in the wild grasses, the bracken and green nettles.
It was again a bright Monday morning, the same last lazy week of July. It was the turn of the century, or thereabouts, 1900, 1901. I felt myself to be nineteen, hard at the edges from ten years of smashing adventure and soft in the centre from never being further from Kirrin than the next clue. Nineteen and with sticking plaster on one knee. I carried a small tent rolled up about my umbrella, both well worn and the better for it. A bundle made of spare clothes, a tin of treacle biscuits and a little cheese had my Webley 1 in the middle and the strap over both shoulders so that I walked with purpose alongside the millpond. Dragonflies and a cabbage white came too to say their farewells. I was by afternoon truly on the road. I’m sure when first I walked it that I was closer to Truro by a day before I saw the first of my fellow vagrants. But on this occasion it was with the promise of a little rain and an early night that saw me first greet then pause to gossip with the man I half recognised but could not at first place. A lifetime again will do that.
Back then and the motorcar was scarce heard of. Blacksmiths had still not made that early-eager transformation into mechanics. We were years yet before everyone knew their way about tools and an engine, and decades before they knew nothing about either. Craftsmen then would walk the country looking for work. Young men would quite literally seek their fortune. The real tramps had their own codes and manner of speaking, travellers that wound a regular route a year in length to where they were something of a local character, albeit to many localities. They would always have a twist of tea and a tater or two. A round-nosed cob called Charley I came upon near to Exeter would give me my first billy after laughing at the little milk pan I now recalled having tied to my bundle also. And there it was.
I was saying goodbye. I was closing all the doors and hanging up the keys. I was shutting up shop, closing the business. I had gone fishing. It was summer and I was on my holidays. It was twenty-something years until I would be caught and left bloody, weeping in the snow of Podkamennaya. Adam might have saved me but had declined to do so. In 1973 there would be eleven of us, self-elected to see out the end of the world. To close all the doors, to hang up all the keys. To shut up shop, to close the business. There will be no sign that will say ‘gone fishing’ but there won’t be anything, at all, anyway. There is no such beast as ‘why’. I’ve hunted it, I know. And I sit now by the hedge. On the other side two coney are still and frightened frozen, trembling and low in the pasture grass whilst a tatty-backed ewe tries to urge away two half-grown lambs. They bounce and bleat and laugh it seems at the delight of it all. They’ve never heard of mint sauce.
I was surprised it was Alf. He wasn’t even part of the same milieu. Still that was the slides for you. Some would scoff that there are many worlds, the many changes and chances of possibility spawning an infinity of histories. Some then would be entirely right to do so. The number is finite, albeit rather a large number. Less now. That was rather the point. It was narrowing down to one and that one entirely out my hands. So for myself if no one else I was closing all the door, hanging up all the keys.
“Well,” he said, eyeing my boots and good twill shorts, my jersey, shirt and cap with distaste, “you’re a funny bleeder, ‘ent you?”
“Hello Alf,” if he was surprised I knew his name he didn’t show it. He wasn’t ephemera like so many now, even here where the sun was remembered. Gods want people (and one of them certainly) to worship him. They forgot let there be light, but they were pretty sharply in with the let there be an audience. Gods that believed in fate, in destiny, in being in certain places, told what to do. Alf had not the first idea what I was talking about. I was surprised to find I was talking about it too. He was in good company because most of you are a bit further than wondering too.
“’Ere, I fort you was a lad. Early on, that voice you’re using.”
I was pleased by that. I introduced myself, George Kirrin. You might have heard of me. You have actually, you just don’t know from where. Or don’t realise it. I was as good as any boy when a girl. “The voice Alf, that’s because the writer is male. You presumed it being in the first person that I was too.”
“But you’re not a king here, Alf. Or a gangster, or even much of a gambler, and I don’t think this time you’ll die in Spain, or discover the source of the Limpopo. You shouldn’t be here Alf, you’re in a different story. Stories, sorry.”
He grinned, he doesn’t mind. It was so clear this time around but soon and the century will turn, and that’s that. I’m down unbelievably to plan ‘d’ because of people who are still coming up with ‘a’. Perhaps on the next flip, Dominick.
“Spare us tuppence,” says Alf.
“Tuppence, wisely invested, la-te-da Mary Poppins? You don’t exist Alf.”
“No one exists, love. The world was born in 1968 and lives from 00 to 00, or 01.”
I’ve never liked exposition and since most of those that started reading this have already gone on to Gok Wan below, this is all a bit strange. I can say what I like.
And what I like, is?