Chapter 17 – Saturday
In which Charles is presented with an alternative career opportunity.
For fuck’s sake! … it wasn’t even light yet … his dad was shaking him awake.
He must’ve kicked his duvet off during the night so it was fortunate he didn’t have an erection … on the down-side it meant he hadn’t been in the middle of an erotic dream … which maybe suggested dreams weren’t about what you wanted to happen but about what had already happened … so maybe he wouldn’t have sexual dreams till after he’d had sex.
“… now!” his father repeated … sticking his head round the door which could’ve been embarrassing.
Breakfast’s bacon and egg had been loaded into a bun … ketchup and/or mustard were in sachets … probably purloined from wherever his mother … more likely his father … took an occasional beer or perhaps more … unless they went together.
His breakfast bun was clearly intended to be consumed on route to Nana Pickles house … which was now technically a room in a home … which he’d completely forgotten about … the trip not the room despite being reminded before going to his room last night he’d been so engrossed in his automatic writing.
Which possibly should’ve been en route like the chess move taking a pawn in passing was called en passant … it was odd chess, unlike other sports it seemed incapable of deciding on a single language … like en passant and en prise ‘in a position to be taken’ and j’adoube ‘I adjust’ were French. but zugzwang ‘compulsion to move’ was German, fianchetto ‘mini flank’ was Italian, ‘checkmate’ was from Arabic shah mat ‘the king died’, ‘rook’ was from Persian rukh ‘chariot’ and apparently ‘chess’ itself could be traced back to Sanskrit chaturanga ‘an army unit of four divisions (elephants, chariots, cavalry, infantry)’ … maybe that was why it wasn’t really a sport.
As usual they all had to wait for Beverley … he wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed that she got far less telling off than he would if he’d been last or happy that it wasn’t him that was last and therefore getting told off … went with the general unfairness of life if only because there was more chance he could get a poem out of it.
He’d eaten his breakfast before Beverley got in the car so could just as easily’ve had it in the house … could’ve had a hot drink instead of the juice his mum knew he didn’t really want.
He looked out of the window but it was still still dark … closed his eyes tried to think of rhymes for bias: pious, Gaia’s … unfairly: unawarely … didn’t get very far.
He always looked forward to trips to Nana P’s … indeed to any event involving that side of the family … though actually that pretty much was only on her birthday like today … unless someone got married or died … though he’d only been to one funeral so far which’d been particularly odd as he didn’t even recognise the name of the deceased … probably was just part of coming of age as Beverley had gone but not The Twins.
Highlights of that trip had been hearing his mother say fuck when his father’d almost driven them off the road … which his dad’d tried to explain as due to black ice which didn’t make sense as ice was white … well transparent at least … especially since The Twins had never heard her say anything worse than sugar … and drinking his first beer … given to him by Uncle Myrt who said it was free or paid for by the deceased at least which amounted to much the same thing … and seeing Uncle Myrt cry which made him wonder if the deceased was someone from the Pickleses … made him now think of Auden thirty miles from Vienna.
On the way home he’d decided he’d ask to live with Uncle Myrt if his parents ever died in a car crash … assuming he didn’t die as well … or they got salmonella from a tin of tuna … though only Beverley was guaranteed to survive that.
It was hard to believe Uncle Myrt was from the same family as his mum … though he probably wasn’t exactly a real uncle since like Nana he was a Pickles whereas his mother was a Jenkins … it had never been discussed and he wasn’t about to raise it but most likely his grandmother had married twice or something … if so Myrt could be his mother’s younger half-brother or a step-brother which would make him his half-uncle or step-uncle … neither of which he’d ever heard of … probably because even non-biological uncles were just called uncle … even male friends of his parents of his parents’ age … well females friends were called aunts … males tended just to be Tom, Dick or Harry.
Well Jeremy, Grant and Gilbert.
Uncle Myrt was one of the main reasons he looked forward to today’s trip … you never knew what he’d say … what he’d been up to since they’d last seen him … what great stories he’d have to tell … he didn’t even care if he exaggerated them … in fact they might not even be true at all … he didn’t care … it was like having Robert Louis Stevenson or Jack London or Joseph Conrad for an uncle … except his stories weren’t about pirates or wolves or … whatever Conrad’s were about … but rather about things like getting caught for poaching when he was a kid … or when he’d got lost on the Moors … or his first kiss which took place in a church … or almost getting trafficked into modern slavery last summer when hitch-hiking even though he’d been on incapacity for years … it was just the great way he told them … not that there’d been a service or a mass on at the time … he’d been in the scouts and they and the local guides had been supposed to go to the church to polish all the brass bits … which wasn’t a euphemism he explained … they’d just kissed.
They might’ve got up before dawn but it hadn’t helped, they still got stuck in all the usual Saturday traffic jams all the way across Yorkshire … cars with blue or white or red or blue-and-white or blue-and-white-and-red scarves streaming from closed back windows on their way to Sheffield or Leeds or god-forbid Barnsley or York or jumping-on-the-bandwagon to Huddersfield … and once they got nearer the coast it would be red-and-white or gold-and-black for Middlesbrough or Hull … firstly the fans going to away games and by late morning those at home … Geez Yorkshire had a lot of football clubs … all of them crap … all of their fans living in the past … particularly in the glory days of Leeds United in the late sixties/early seventies … God how they must hate Huddersfield less than twenty miles away.
An extra downside of weekend motoring was that whenever they encountered their first travelling fans they’d be subjected to their dad’s treatise on Yorkshire football:
“We might not be the best, but we were the first.”
By which he meant Sheffield Football Club, the oldest extant club in the world … though what he meant by we was less clear … probably like Merkins he liked laying claim to anything Yorkshire … because he certainly had no personal connection with Sheffield … certainly didn’t support S.F.C. … in fact at other times he tended to argue that football was the real opiate of the masses … when he wasn’t arguing that TV was … or that “prescription opiates were the new opiates of the masses” … which he probably thought was funny or clever or both.
“We’re the only club in the world awarded FIFA’s order of merit except Real Madrid,” which of course he pronounced like English real … feigning stupidity … which he probably also thought witty.
“And the Sheffield Rules we helped draw up and played by until 1878 seriously influenced development of the modern game, creating such things as corners, throw-ins, free-kicks, headers, the goalkeeper, and even the whole idea of club colours with one team wearing a red cap and the other blue. Though the rest of the world wouldn’t accept our tolerance for free-for-all pushing,” … which probably made non-Yorkshire people soft … which would have been poofters until he like most of his generation’d learned to be politically correct.
Added to all the scarf-wearing cars were more upmarket models taking teams of blonde-haired women to York for shopping, tapas and white wine … a bottle per person according to his mum … and downmarket models like theirs loaded up with families crossing the country to visit relatives … like them.
And then there were the tourists who looked at maps, drove slowly, pointed at and photographed everything and were loudly abused by all other road users … lorries mostly knew better than to venture out on weekends, at least during the daytime but if one had its driver would be constantly abusing all the others.
Nana Pickles lived in Hornsea on the coast between Hull and Scarborough … which must’ve seen better days … she said that suited her and she planned to live out her final days there unless climate-change coastal erosion meant the residential home fell over the cliffs and into the sea … he was too polite to point out that surely that would also be her final day … just as he was when she complained that the Hornsea Wind Farm they were planning to build would spoil her view he didn’t point out that A she was on the wrong side of the home to get a sea view … B the wind farm would be built about eighty miles away so below the horizon from Hornsea unless they built it higher than Scarfell Pike … and C wind power might be one of the few things to prevent climate change and coastal erosion.
Hornsea was about as far from Heatherington as possible without leaving Yorkshire … and although little over a hundred miles away and they’d left at god knew what hour it took most of the morning to get there.
As they entered the town their mother distributed cards for them to sign and presents for them to familiarise themselves with so it would look like they’d chosen them themselves … his was a clock … which was a weird gift for someone with precious little time left … the front of his card was nice enough … though the drawing of a ruined castle might be one metaphor too far … but the inscription inside was absolutely awful:
It didn’t scan properly … it had the most forced of rhymes … barely made sense … the meaning of gay had rather moved on … and worst of all it was laid out in a kind of fake hand-writing font so what with her bad eyesight he worried Nana P might think he’d written it himself.
It was almost surprising it didn’t come with a little coloured pin-on badge with ‘I am 80’ written on it.
He offered to swap it with one of the others … but they’d all already signed without even a glance so he was stuck.
He crossed out the last line thinking he could improve it … but frankly eighty wasn’t easy to rhyme … Kuwaiti was perfect but would be even more forced than weighty … gaiety was close enough but after gay in the second line she might think he really was trying to tell her something about his secret sexuality … so he crossed that out as well … didn’t want to be the cause of her demise.
It was starting to look a mess … shame he hadn’t brought some Tipp-ex.
Probably easier to find a new rhyme for day … hey, say, play, x-ray, ballet, Milk Tray, café, Taipei … hm, not that easy either … shit they were pulling up outside the home … he had to write something quickly … settled for:
Next year he’d be prepared … though god knew how he’d find a rhyme for eighty-one.
It was hot in Nana’s room … like a sauna … except he’d never actually been in a sauna so Merkins would probably call it a cliché … she probably thought it was normal … old people always had their heat on too high … it was probably cos they were all skin and bones.
“They won’t let me open the window, the bizzums,” she said … clearly in a feisty mood … and she probably wouldn’t have used bizzums had The Twins not been there … “It’s like a prison. An old folks’ prison, not a home. If it was a home, I could do what I liked. In my own home, like.”
To take her mind off it … he gave her the clock … felt stupid … just about every clock she’d had in her old home spread throughout the house were collected in her little room … cell.
So to take her mind off that he gave her the card.
“Thank you, Dear,” she said before opening it … frowned a bit at the drawing of the castle … opened the card and read his amended text.
“A little morbid, maybe, Dear.”
His mind scrambled to remember what he’d written … congratulations … special day … laughter and gaiety … grand age of eighty … loud and proud … what was morbid about that.
Beverley had taken the card … read it and was tutting.
“Oh dearie me,” said Uncle Myrt looking over her shoulder … was joined by The Twins: “How could he?”
How could they use the third person as if he wasn’t there … and what’d he done anyway?
“Charles,” was all his mother said … but her tone was clearly disappointed.
“Closed and morbid, not open and happy like the original,” said Nana Perkins, almost in tears.
The original with the terrible rhyme and terrible scansion he felt like pointing out.
“Walking like …
… pall bearers,” The Twins concurred.
“A poem for the deceased,” said Beverley.
Shit … day … gaiety … eighty … way … a.k.a. Hey, Baby, hey … a.k.a. the In Memoriam stanza.
“Charles, how could you, Son?” … as if his father knew what they were talking about.
“Thank you, Dear, that’s lovely,” Nana’d started opening her other presents … a hand-embroidered cover for her bedside cabinet from Beverley … a flowering cactus from his dad … and a book on bird-spotting and a pair of binoculars from The Twins.
He went and looked out of the window.
Only Uncle Myrt seemed aware of his pain, came over and put his hand on his shoulder … tried to cheer him up with some of his old stories.
On the way back, he cheered himself up with the thought that maybe writing greeting-card ditties was another job poets could get paid for … imagined huge Dickensian factories with desks instead of looms, and workers in cloth caps … his subconscious still hankering to be a member of a working-class literati? … taking their words up to a gang master at the front to see if they were acceptable and would be rewarded with another bowl of gruel.
Which set him to wondering what kind of birthday card Dickens might have written.
He had no idea.
It was dark as they drove home … his father was under strict instructions not to go faster than thirty-five m.p.h. at night, so he had plenty of time to doodle ideas based on his previous notes:
He liked the idea of Wordsworth in his cottage in the Lake District turning out hand-crafted cards before the mass production of the industrial revolution … kind of liked his Wordsworth ditty … and they hadn’t even passed York yet, so thought he’d try a female one too … E.B.B.’s Let Me Count the Ways perhaps … or Christina Rossetti’s … what … or Emily Dickinson … yes yes.
By the time they passed the Welcome to Heatherington – A Nice Town sign, he had:
It still needed a little work … but his mind had turned to Uncle Myrt … the long conversation they’d had that afternoon … his promise to try and turn his stories into a poem.
“A ballad perhaps,” his half/step-uncle had suggested … perhaps hoping to become a new hero on the Yorkshire folk scene … had even supplied an opening verse:
OK, he’d certainly work on it.