The London Bridge Experience – In Rhyme

My sister Pat came to the south to visit me one time

She used to live up in the north in colder, wetter climes

Making jams and moulding candles with a special gel

She loved the isolation there; thought city life was hell.

Adolescent Nick, her son, came with her on the trip

they cast aside their country garb and dressed a bit more hip

—-

What can you do to entertain a laid-back pair like this?

Every idea that came along one of them dismissed.

A walk along the river Thames did not motivate the duo

Nor the changing of the guards, nor an East End music show.

They rejected every thought we had; I started to despair

But finally they settled on a good old fashioned scare.

—-

London Dungeon is the place we really ought to be

If terror is the thrill you seek, with a dose of history.

But wake up early, do not dawdle, we really can’t be slow

We’ll need to catch the first train; we’ve a long long way to go”.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men will often go awry

Particularly if you have a family like mine.

—-

I do not wish to dwell too much on the holdups and delays

that caused us to be very late before we’d found our way

to the London city block where the dungeon is emplaced,

suffice to say I was not surprised to see the queue we faced.

We stood and pondered long and hard, “are we in or out?”

When suddenly, out of the blue, appeared a ghoulish tout.

—-

He cleared his throat behind me, “ahem” I heard him say

“It’s likely you’ll be standing here, in this queue all day.

“They say these dungeons”, he continued, “are all occupied

by ghosts and spirits (good and bad) of all the ones who died.

One thousand years of bygone times are preserved down below

But London Bridge is older still, by a thousand years you know.”

—-

“A special deal I have for you”, my eyes lit up with glee;

“Go to the bridge with this note admit six for the price of three.

You will not have to queue for long; no more than half an hour

Which means there will be time for tea after you’ve had your tour”.

So that is how it came to be that we took our absence

From The Dungeon to see instead, the London Bridge Experience.

—-

The first ten minutes was a let down for our little little group

We were forced to stand and watch a video playing on a loop

of the history of the London Bridge and a spooky song,

over and over and over again, for far too flaming long.

Then at last, as I was wishing that we’d made a different choice

an actor appeared and welcomed us in his most theatric voice.

—-

“My name is Brownlow”, the fellow told us, “welcome one and all.

If you’d be so kind, please follow me” – then vanished through the door.

So we left the first room as we’d found it for the next unwary group

and dutifully followed him in our little troupe.

We gathered on a stage set next, that was a library

and Adam volunteered himself to stand as Brownlow’s proxy.

—-

The next set was a monastery with an angry monk ensconced,

who threatened one of us with death if we spoke again just once.

He said it like it was a joke but he clearly really meant it;

All the actors in that place seemed bored and discontented

I imagined what it must be like to do a job like that,

with no respite from the boredom, no time to have a chat.

—-

The next stage was a better one; a real revelation

The actor shared his knowledge with flair and imagination.

“Welcome to Boudicca’s land, the queen of the Iceni

who challenged all of Rome’s great power, and claimed the lives of many.

“Where is Brownlow?”, the new guy asked, “will you please come here”.

So Adam, who’d been expecting it, said, “yes, that’s me – I am here!”

—-

The next eight minutes spent with him were highly entertaining.

Young Brownlow was his mannequin; he gave him a sword to swing.

He adorned him with old clothes and jewels, explaining all the while

How they dressed themselves in Iceni days for comfort and for style.

But he held his best back till the last, his epic grand finale;

“There was”, he said, “an evil way to wound your enemy badly!”

—-

He reached into his box of tricks and lifted out a shield.

“Made of oak and steel”, he said, “go on, have a feel!”

He handed it to his associate who weighed it on his arm,

acknowledging its sturdiness and just how it could do harm.

But then he took us by surprise, threw caution to the wind

He said to Brownlow (pointing at me) “go smash it in his shins!”

—-

I have to say, in my defence, that you’d have done the same

if such an opportunity had also come your way.

Adam knew me well of course and I could read him like a book

He raised an eyebrow and I nodded – that was all it took.

He ran towards me, as instructed, with his shield raised high

Shouting as he came along, “Die you Roman, Die!”

—-

He smashed that shield down on my leg and I felt not a thing

The actor completely unaware that my leg’s titanium.

I acted, though, like I’d been struck a gruesome crippling blow

The sickening thud of steel meets bone let everybody know

That an error had been made; a gross miscalculation

The actor’s face turned white, then puce, then deepest, darkest crimson.

—-

“YOU IDIOT!” he yelled aghast, “YOU FLAMING, HALF-WIT FOOL!

“I’m sorry sir”, he said to me, “that really wasn’t cool”

He snatched the shield from the grinning lad who was trying his very best

not to laugh and spill the beans but the actor was very stressed.

He shouted at at him angrily, “I SIMPLY CAN’T CONCEIVE

THAT YOU COULD BE SO STUPID. THIS IS ONLY MAKE BELIEVE!”

—-

Just after that our time was up our party shuffled out,

some of them were grinning broad whilst others were aghast.

I felt quite badly for the actor, the game we’d played was cruel

but knew it best to tell him that we’d played him for a fool.

So after everyone had left I showed him my prosthetic

“No harm was done”, I said to him, “it was a harmless trick”.

—-

He looked at Adam then at me, he was clearly still distraught,

His face was quite expressionless processing his thoughts.

At last, when it had all sunk in and he knew he had been pranked

he jumped up angrily to his feet and, without a word of thanks,

Shouted to the world in general, as he turned on his heels to flee,

“Why on earth are things like this always happening to me?”

—-

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The London Bridge Experience experience

Nephew Nick, who was present when it happened, asked me to tell this story. He and his mum, (my sister Pat) had travelled down from Scotland and were staying with us.  We decided to take them into the city one day to do some touristy stuff and, looking back on it now, I have to say it’s remarkable that the events unfolded as they did because, if it had not been for a series of coincidences, this story would never have been told. I’ll explain as I go along.

Coincidence one was the fact that Pat and Nick had come to visit in the first place! At the time Pat lived out in the wilderness on the Black Isle, north of Inverness and she’s never liked towns. I don’t remember the reason that convinced her to discard her country tweed and don her city finery, but it would have to have been momentous or she’d have remained on the Black Isle making jam and candles and swatting midges.

The second coincidence was the family’s decision to go and do something touristy in London; a place that none of us would deliberately choose to go – ON PURPOSE! (We hadn’t always felt that way about the city, it was simply a natural reaction to the experiences we’d had in the umpteen times we’d been there). We’re all small-town hicks, unused to crowds and the masses of people who are endemic to big cities, where the souls one encounters are either rude,  I-left-my-manners-at-home-and-I-don’t-care-if-you-think-badly-of-me-for-behaving-like-a-baboon tourists or just-shut-up-give-me-your-money-and-go-wait-in-the-queue-until-you’re-called tour operators / coffee shop, restaurant, shop staff who are sick to death of the people they are paid to serve behaving like baboons.

I’m generalising of course; not every tourist is a baboon and not every server is an obnoxious jobsworth, but there are enough of them to absolutely ruin your day if you happen to have a run of bad luck and meet too many of them in a short period.

Nevertheless, we made the decision to go into London, specifically to the London Dungeon, on that day largely because my children (who weren’t children any more, and hadn’t been for a several years) harboured a resentment over the fact that years before – when they were children and we were visiting London (as tourists) for the very first time – I had promised to take them to the London Dungeon but ended up taking them to the Imperial War Museum instead.

If your family is anything like mine, you will also have experienced the frustration of getting a medium-sized group of people out of the door in a halfway decent time. You’ll understand the exasperation of finding out that someone,who should have bathed hours ago hasn’t (so everybody else’s ablutions are delayed) and then, when you finally think you’re there and you can leave, you can’t because someone suddenly realises they have to go to the toilet – that sort of thing! Needless to say, by the time we finally stood before the city block where the London Dungeon is located, the queue for it went around that block eleventy seven times. Given that it was well past ten o’clock by then, it was highly likely we would be spending the entire day in the queue and it was as likely that we wouldn’t even reach the entrance by the end of the day.

Enter coincidence number three; an angel appeared!

We were beholding this award-winning queue, wondering what we were going to do with ourselves (now that we’d made the journey) and just as I was about to suggest a repeat visit to the Imperial War Museum (more for Tish and Nick’s benefit that anyone else’s – one visit there in a lifetime is really quite enough) divine intervention saved the day.

The cherubim (who was actually a young mortal male dressed and made up to look like a ghoul – so it wasn’t immediately obviously that he was an angel) made his presence known by politely clearing his throat just behind me and saying, “excuse me, are you thinking about joining the queue to see the London Dungeon”?

ME: (No, we’ve come here to look at the queue) “Well, we were thinking about it but we will probably go and do something else instead”. (He’s clearly a tout for something or other. Is that a sheet he’s wearing? Hmmm, he can see we’re about to leave and he’s going to try to persuade us to stay)

TOUT: “The London Dungeon is said to be haunted”.

ME: (What’s his angle?) “Really? Well, none of us believes in that sort of thing”.

TOUT: “The dungeons are about a thousand years old and the ghosts of some really evil people are said to haunt them – Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd and, of course, The Torturer himself.”

ME: (Mmmm hmmm, yeah right. Unless the next words out of your mouth are “sir, it’s your lucky day you and your entire party have won a prize to be fast-tracked to the front of the queue”, this conversation is over) “A thousand years you say?” (nonchalantly) “I visited a Roman town in Italy that’s a lot older than that”. (that makeup he has around his eyes is actually quite cleverly applied. It makes him look genuinely ghoulish)

TOUT: (Looking suitably impressed) “You’re clearly a man who likes history”.

ME: (This young man is going to go far) “Well, it so happens that I do”.

By now, the family had drawn around, curious to know what we were talking about.

TOUT: “Well sir, how well do you know the history of the London Bridge?”

ME: (What has this guy been smoking?) “Well, I know the old one was sold to an American!” (and I’m no American buddy so don’t even think of trying to sell me the current bridge. Why on earth is he talking about London Bridge?)

TOUT: (Looking surprised) “That’s quite right sir; very good, but did you know there has been a London Bridge for more than two thousand years?”

ME: (Wow, I didn’t know that but, thinking about it now, that’s pretty logical. London’s a very old city. But why the hell is he telling me about London Bridge?) “Wow!”

TOUT: “Yes. And a lot of people have died on that bridge so it’s even more haunted than the dungeon.” (Looked pointedly at the queue) “this queue is very long. You’ll be standing in it all day and it’s unlikely you’ll ever get to the front.”

ME: (Tell me something I don’t know buddy. I wonder how far we will have to walk to get to the Imperial War Museum? I’d rather be visiting the dentist today than doing this!) “Yeah, you’re probably right mate!” (I’ll suggest the War Museum to Pat. I’ll tell her they used to make their own jam and candles during the blitz. If I have her on board the rest of them will be easier)

TOUT: “…. queue for half an hour.”

ME: (Eh? What did he say?) “Sorry mate, what did you say?”

TOUT: “I said, if you want to experience a very interesting historical adventure you should try The London Bridge Experience. You won’t have to queue for more than half an hour.

ME: (Half an hour? That’s amazing. It’s probably miles away and costs the earth!) “How far away from here?”

TOUT: “About a minute – it’s just over there” (Points over there)

ME: “How much is entry?”

TOUT: “Well, if you use this voucher …. how many in your party, six?” (scribbles something on the voucher and hands it to me) “you can take advantage of a special offer and get a bulk discount and……blah blah blah”

ME: (This guy is heaven-sent. This is going to work out half the price of the Dungeon tickets and we won’t have to queue all day and we won’t have to go to the war museum again and it’s only over there. He’s an angel.)

We followed the directions he gave us and found our way quite easily to the correct place where we joined the back of a queue that had formed just underneath the A3 (the approach to the London Bridge), which was less than thirty metres long. The entrance to the exhibition was clearly visible just ahead on our left. NOTE: I believe the London Dungeon has now relocated and is now a little further away.

After about ten minutes of static immobility some doors opened just ahead of us and a group of people emerged then, soon afterwards, the entrance doors at the head of the queue opened and we shuffled forward quite rapidly as people started disappearing inside. But, just as suddenly, the doors closed again and we stood for another ten minutes before the exit doors opened again and the process repeated itself.

It was an hour (still way better than the time we’d have needed to wait for entrance to the dungeon) before we at last found ourselves passing, with massive anticipation, over the threshold into THE LONDON BRIDGE EXPERIENCE.

****SPOILER ALERT ****

On the off-chance that you may one day want to visit the exhibition for yourself you probably shouldn’t read any further. I’m not going to tell you every detail of the experience but, for the story to make sense, it’s necessary for me to give some details that may spoil the experience for you. Bear in mind this did happen a few years ago so things may have changed now. Be warned though,

****SPOILER ALERT ****

Firstly, the Experience is billed as being an immersive theatrical experience bringing together history and horror, education and fun which, in layman terms, means actors are employed to teach you the history of the bridge. The tout we’d met had been only one of a great number of freelance thespians that existed outside the exhibition itself. They wandered up and down the queue whipping up the crowd and telling us to prepare to be scared out of our wits, “because” they said, “not everyone has what it takes to survive the experience”! By the time the double doors opened to admit us we were in a fairly animated state of anticipation and excitement.

Our expectations were still high when the doors closed behind us and sealed us off from the outside world. Our group, about twenty-five strong, was in a large antechamber with television sets mounted on the walls loudly broadcasting a video on a loop that alternately played a spooky rendition of London Bridge Is Falling Down, welcomed us to the London Bridge Experience and a documentary about the history of the bridge and then started again at the beginning. It was a little underwhelming! We were in that ante-chamber for about ten minutes and, by the end of it I knew the video backwards and I wanted to go home.

Finally, just as the group was getting restless (someone suggested, in a slightly panicked tone, that we’d been forgotten) the doors were flung open and a bloke in costume dramatically welcomed us, once more, to THE LONDON BRIDGE EXPERIENCE, then asked us to follow him before turning on his heels and exiting from whence he’d come.

We followed him into a set that was decked out to look like a library. We all huddled together while the actor, who introduced himself as Mr. Brownlow, stood behind a lectern on a low podium. When everyone had settled down he started talking, rather theatrically, about what adventures we had in store for us. Just before he finished he sadly declared that he would be unable to join us on our tour (his duties wouldn’t allow it) so he would need a volunteer to act on his behalf; a proxy Mr. Brownlow.

Coincidence number four. My family was standing very close to his lectern which is how it came to pass that Adam became, for the purpose of our tour, Mr. Brownlow. When the doors on the other side of the library opened to admit our group, real Brownlow told all of us to follow proxy Brownlow, who’d been given instructions, to the next stage. Thereafter, upon arriving at a stage the resident thespian would ask our Brownlow to identify himself and when we departed it was he we would have to follow.

Brownlow’s role, as well as being our unpaid tour group leader, was to be the designated scapegoat for every demonstration along the tour. So, if someone had to be beheaded for example, Brownlow was our guy.

There’s one last observation I have to make before I get to the nitty-gritty of the story; the actors were never going to qualify for acting awards in any way shape or form. They were so appallingly bad that I was kicking myself for allowing myself to be lured here and was actually yearning for the dungeon queue, which I could at least leave if I wanted to. Having stated that however, it’s only fair to remind you how awful it must be for those actors to do that job. Imagine having to speak the same lines, over and over, day-in-day-out, every ten minutes or so. Seeing brand new faces every ten minutes yet unable to interact with anybody beyond the limitations of their roles. Groundhog Day! I did not blame them at all for their lack of enthusiasm; I felt sorry for them.

Eventually Brownlow led us from a set made up to look like a medieval monastery (where the actor threatened one of our group with death if he spoke again without being invited to do so – he wasn’t joking either; I could see in his eyes that he meant it) into a set that was made up to look like an Iceni/Roman battlefield where our group was welcomed by a very enthusiastic actor, who seemed genuinely delighted to see us. I surmised it was his first day on the job.

ENTHUSIASTIC ACTOR: (Welcoming smile, arms outstretched, dressed in Celtic battle garb) “Welcome everybody, welcome to the world of fierce Queen Boudicca, who dares to challenge the might of the Roman Empire. Where is Brownlow?

ADAM: (Standing next to me at the front of the group because he was accustomed to being singled out and having to make his way to the front) “Yeah, that’s me.”

ENTHUSIASTIC ACTOR: “Well come on up here sir, your services are needed.” (Gestures encouragingly)

ADAM: (Takes a couple of steps forward where E.A. places his hands on his shoulders and spins him around to face the group)

E.A. (Proceeds to give history lesson using Adam Brownlow as a mannequin) “’The way they dress is astonishing: they wear brightly coloured and embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer. These cloaks are striped or checkered in design, with the separate checks close together and in various colours” (Drapes Adam Brownlow in Iceni clothing) “The wool cloth material made on the loom is then sewn together using a bone or metal needle and wool thread.” (Hands Adam Brownlow a bone needle) “The Celts also love to wear jewellery made from bronze, gold, tin, silver, coral and enamel.” (Drapes costume jewellery over Adam Brownlow) “Celtic warriors carry long, or oval-shaped shields, spears, daggers and long slashing swords made of iron. The Celtic warrior’s deadliest weapon is his long sword, which he whirls around his head and brings crashing down on the enemy.” (Takes the bone needle from Adam Brownlow and hands him a sword) “Go on, wave that around your head”

ADAM: (Hoists sword and waves it awkwardly around his head)
E.A. “Celtic shields are made of oak, covered in hide or felt, and have a central strip of iron. They are very heavy.” (Hands Adam Brownlow a shield) “These shields are not only for protection; they are also deadly weapons which are used to disable the enemy. A heavy shield smashed down on an enemy’s leg will break the bone for sure, and once that has  happened the warrior can no longer fight.”

Enter last coincidence!

I very rarely wear long trousers but, coincidentally I was that day. If I had been attired, as I usually am, in a pair of shorts it would have been obvious that I was wearing a prosthetic leg and, had that been the case, things might have turned out differently.

E.A. (To Adam Brownlow, gesturing towards me) “Go on, there’s your enemy, go and smash that shield down on his leg and break it.”

ADAM: (Caught my eye and tossed it back to me)

I: (Caught Adam’s eye and tossed it back to him. Adjusted my stance so my betrousered leg was easily accessible)

ADAM: (Hoists heavy shield and runs towards me) “Aaaaaaaggggggh. Die you Roman dog!” (Smashes shield into proffered leg)

ME: (Dramatically, as if in great pain) “Aaaaaaaggggghhh” (Bravely remain standing and say nothing)

HALF OF OUR GROUP: (Ignorant of my prosthesis) *GASP*

OTHER HALF: (Also ignorant) “Hehehe”

E.A. “YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER IDIOT! WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU THINKING? (Snatches the shield from Adam and simultaneously murders him with his look. Turns to me) “Are you alright sir? I’m so sorry” (Turns back to Adam) “YOU IDIOT. I DON’T BELIEVE YOU JUST DID THAT!” (Turns back to me) “Are you alright?”

ME: (Wincing and grunting through the pain) “Yes, I’m okay”

ADAM: (Grinning from ear to ear, finding it very difficult to contain his mirth)

I always feel a bit sorry for my victims when I’ve played a practical joke on them and this unsuspecting actor was certainly no exception. The poor guy was undoubtedly thinking about a massive lawsuit that was about to come down on his head and he was probably wondering which one of his colleagues was responsible for choosing that BABOON to be Brownlow.

When the ten minutes was up (fortunately for him, quite soon) and everybody shuffled out, Adam and I (again by mutual unspoken agreement) remained behind to let the poor fellow know he had just been pranked.

He didn’t take it well at all. “Why does this sort of thing always happen to me?” he shouted to no-one in particular as he stormed out of the room.

 

EPILOGUE

I like to think our victim will one day be a truly great, internationally acclaimed actor and that one day, when he’s asked what the most memorable moment of his career has been he will relate this story and be laughing about it. I’d hate to think that our practical joke made him give up acting to become an accountant or something as boring. That’s the beauty of life though isn’t it? You never know what’s waiting for you just around the corner.

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Ndakanzwa Jongwe Richichema (I Heard A Rooster Crow)

When I was young and life was simple, years before cellphones,

I had to find somewhere to live, a place to call my home.

So I made a deal, with my good mate, Jem John was his name

He was an avid gardener and I felt just the same.

The place we took needed some work to spruce it up a bit,

The house was fair to middling the land a garbage pit.

—-

A rocky, barren patch of earth where nothing had survived,

But paper thorns and blackjacks, which had found a way to thrive.

Jem John and Heidi (bless her heart) were childless in those days,

Unmarried, so they lived in sin, as grandma used to say.

Lynda and I had one small child, a bouncing baby boy,

But the two of us were married so we were the real McCoy.

—-

One summer day old Alfred (which was Heidi’s other name)

Brought home with her a box of chicks of fluffy bantam fame.

“They’ll lay us eggs, and scratch for worms and fertilize the soil

We’ll have freshly picked tomatoes and it’s home grown veg we’ll boil!”

She gushed and cooed and fawned a lot over the feather balls

That ran around the lounge rug and in and out of doors.

—-

Till at last old Jem John put his foot down with a firm hand.

“They cannot stay inside”, he said, and henceforth they were banned.

She cried a bit, to see them go, did Heidi when they went,

but cheered up grandly when she saw what Jeremy had meant

when he’d said to her he’d make for them a palace fit for kings

he’d clearly meant it, every word, it had lights and slides and swings

—-

And there they lived, those little birds, out there in the shed,

safe from harm and sheltered while they ran about and fed.

Then one day stockman Jem declared, “There oughtn’t be a plight

if they go outside at day time and come back in at night”.

So that’s how things went on a while and all was fine and good

We went to work and back each day while the chickens scrounged for food.

—-

Then one night, when fast asleep, I was wakened by a sound

I knew not then, from whence it came, my heart was all apound.

I sat there quietly in the dark and listened with all my might

Not knowing what on earth it was that made me wake in fright.

No logical solution came to me out of the dark;

no owl did hoot, no car backfired, no noisy dog did bark.

—-

‘til at last I told myself there was nothing there to fear

and started drifting off again, to where there are no cares!

But as I reached that no-man’s land, ‘tween wakefulness and sleep

I was startled to my very core by an awful, ghostly shriek!

The sound of it was inhumane, I sat bolt up in bed.

“Could it have been a murderer removing someone’s head?”

—-

At last the noise I heard again, this time it made me chuckle

I realised just what it was; a trainee bantam cockerel.

The sounds he made as he tried to crow were really quite amusing

Even though the little chap had pulled me from my snoozing.

“Poor Heidi’s hen is not a hen, she’s going to be so cross”,

Was the last thought in my mind, before I nodded off.

—-

The next day, before she left, I asked of Alf E Neuman

“Did you hear your cock last night, making sounds inhuman?”

“What cock?” she asked, her eyebrows raised, all puzzled and distraught;

“Oh Jelly-tot, my dear, my love, what does he talk about”?

Old Jem John Victor, sage as sage, replied as a stockman does

“Just calm yourself my dear”, he said, “there’s no need for a fuss”

—-

“Sexing birds”, he intoned, “is not as easy as it looks

You’d know this if, like me, you  knew of soil and sheaf and crook.”

He stood and waxed quite lyrical, that morning on the lawn.

I tried my best, but it was hard, to stifle all my yawns.

I do recall though, through the fog, despite my deep fatigue

that, statistically, they get it wrong as oft as once in three.

—-

Africa lay dark and still – the continent a-slumber

But once again that bastard bird tore the peace asunder.

“That idiot”, I told myself, “there he goes again

Does that little bastard know it’s two A-fucking-M?”

I lay abed and gnashed my teeth and thought unpleasant thoughts

of the methods I could use to kill the chooks that Heidi’d bought!

—-

Next morning when I said to Alfred, “did you hear your bird?”

She laughed out loud and just rushed off as if she hadn’t heard.

“Well fancy that”, I thought to myself, as she vanished in the dust,

“If you cannot count upon your friends then who is there to trust?”

Torn between a friendship long and some grotty little chicks

I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, I didn’t want to pick.

—-

The day was long my eyes were sore, I yearned for a warm soft bed

to get some badly needed sleep with the pillow on my head.

In Moscow you get pardoned when an accident occurs,

you even get forgiven for the second time you err,

but to do it thrice is a call to draw the battle lines;

that’s what Sir Ian Fleming wrote in 1959!

—-

Next day, again at two am, that cockerel crowed once more

leaving very little doubt that he was declaring war.

I wanted him to die that night, knowing fear and pain;

I wanted to end his useless life – again and again and again!

I lay in bed and gnashed my teeth and listened to that racket,

That endlessly went on and on driving me off my bracket.

—-

That stupid bird could not crow and someone should have told him

but all his mates just egged him on making him get bolder.

The problem was, the sounds he made impressed them all no end;

they hailed him as a hero on account he set the trend.

His crow, if you could call it that, imprinted on my brain

my hate for him was strong and pure, I wished upon him pain.

—-

I went into the shed next day, to see if I could see

which one of the little bastard birds was my enemy.

But nothing gave his game away, his camouflage was good,

the little guys were unconcerned, just pecked there at their food.

“I hate you all” I said to them, “I will truly make you die.

Have you heard of coq au vin, or bantam and mushroom pie?”

—-

Heidi got upset this time when I asked her impolitely,

“Did you hear that bastard crow in the middle of the night then”?

“Oh Jelly-tot my love”, she simpered, “it really isn’t fair,

I want to hear my baby talk”, and she wiped away a tear.

I could not understand her mind right then, her crappy attitude;

she acted like the birds were kids when all they were was food!

—-

At work I felt like death warmed up, my eyes were sore and crusty.

At tea time, when I told my mates, they all laughed loud and lusty.

I must admit though, that it calmed that dangerous resentment

so when I left for home that night I felt peaceful and contented.

I went to bed without a care only half expecting

that over zealous barnyard fowl to practice crow-perfecting!

—-

But sure enough, he did just that, disturbing my sound slumber

and once again I was forced to hear his one and only number

that went on and on without curcease, frustratingly unfinished;

the cockalorum sang his heart out with gusto undiminished.

it fried my brain and stretched my nerves and jangled in my head,

but just when things could not get worse they well and truly did!

—-

At first I did not trust my ears when, as if to mock my rage,

a second cockerel started up on that selfsame page.

And if that fact alone was not quite enough derision

a third bird, then a fourth, stepped forward for the mission,

which was to drive me quite insane, to make me lose my grip

and I felt it slipping till at last, something inside me tripped.

—-

In a rage I flung the blanket off, while cursing loud and clear

till Lynda, bless her gentle heart said, “what is wrong my dear?”

“I cannot sleep”, I said to her, “those chickens have to die!”

“Come back to bed”, she ordered me, “or you’ll make Heidi cry!”

I heard the words she spoke of course, but to them paid no heed;

the birds had got my dander up so I went to do the deed.

Outside the world was cool and still, the stars were shining bright,

the cockerels were not calling now, no sound disturbed the night.

I came back to my senses then and that is when I knew

that I could never kill those birds, I could not follow through.

I also knew though, in my mind, that if I went to bed

They’d start their game up once again to drive me off my head.

—-

I looked around me and I thought, “now what will I do?

If I just go back to my bed they’ll start again anew.”

I saw friend Heidi’s washer there and I got inspiration

how to rid myself, right then, of this maddening affliction.

So I went inside the chicken shed for my evil plan to start,

but they all just sat and looked at me so I almost lost all heart.

—-

“I’m here”, I said, “to kill you all” (for my sake more than theirs)

but I was answered, by all six of them, with nothing more than stares.

I took a step into the room, still unsure what I’d do

and felt my naked foot sink down into some chicken poo.

That’s when I lost it all, for sure, that’s when my anger rose

there’s nothing quite as motivating as shit between the toes.

—-

I roared with rage, I was so cross, they flapped and squawked in fright

“they should have thought about that when they started up this fight”.

I caught the creatures, one by one, and carried them outside

then shoved them ignominiously, one bird at a time,

into Heidi’s pride and joy, that stood shiny and pristine;

Her brand new slimline, metallic red, top-load wash machine.

—-

By the time I’d done the deed my anger was all spent

I closed the flap on the last bird exhausted but content.

Then Jem John Victor  walked around the corner with a stick

and scared the hell right out of me, that sneaky bloody prick.

“What goes on here?” our stockman asked, scratching his tousled head.

So I pointed at the wash machine and took myself to bed.

If you want to read the story, click here

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Mater

(Thursday morning)

Mum was so much better when I saw her yesterday. She has responded well to the reduced-strength pain killers evidenced by the fact that, while I was there, her physio team came in (three of them) and got her up out of her chair. She walked about five yards, holding a zimmer, before turning around and walking back again.

The antibiotic seems to have worked too; she was alert, chatty and responsive

Despite there being a vast improvement after the service to her hearing aids Mum is still very hard of hearing. Tish came down from her office to visit at lunch time and the two of them had a conversation, which ended with Tish crying with laughter and Mum wondering what was so funny. The conversation is transcribed below.

TISH: Hi Mum, how did you sleep?
MUM: Yes thanks.
TISH: Haha, (slightly louder) I asked how you’re feeling
MUM: (puzzled expression) Only the top. The bottom ones keep falling out
TISH: (looking extremely confused) What on earth are you talking about?
MUM: (opens mouth to display top row of dentures and toothless bottom jaw) I have to speak to the dentist about them
TISH (almost shouting) I ASKED HOW YOU’RE FEEE-LING?
MUM: Ahhh, sorry, I thought you were asking if I had my teeth in. I’m much better thanks
TISH: How is the pain?
MUM: (puzzled expression) How is the rain?
TISH: (louder) Watch my lips. HOW….IS….THE….PAIN?
MUM: What?
TISH: (shouting) HOW IS YOUR PAIN?
MUM: Bed??

At that point two things happened; there was a power cut and a male nurse, armed with a sheaf of papers and a pencil, appeared at mater’s bedside. The power cut was obvious to everybody except mother (probably because, from where she was lying, she couldn’t see the lights go off in the corridor and she definitely didn’t hear the dramatic changes to the background sounds) but that didn’t occur to us. The outage caused a monitor, attached to an elderly patient opposite mum,  to emit regular beeps. 

MALE NURSE:  (in heavily accented English) Goo’ af’ernoo’ Mrs. Eilertsen, wha’ you like for breakfuss tomorrow?
MUM: Oh hello Carlos. These are my children, David and Tish.
CARLOS: ‘ello. I em please to mit you. I am Giorgio
TISH & ME: Hello Giorgio. It’s nice to meet you
GIORGIO: Very goo’. Mrs. Eilertsen, wha’ you like for breakfuss
MUM: I will have porridge with sugar and cream
GIORGIO: (makes his notes) Hokay, very goo’. Goo’-bye
MUM: Goodbye Carlos
GIORGIO: I am Giorgio
MUM: I prefer to call you Carlos.
GIORGIO: Hokay, goo’-bye (withdraws)
TISH: Mum, why do you call him Carlos:
MUM: Because he looks like a Carlos. Can you hear that mouse squeaking?
TISH & ME: (listen intently for a while, hear nothing)
MUM: There it is again

I realised she could hear the intermittent beeping of the monitor opposite her and her hearing aid was translating the sound incorrectly

ME: It’s not a mouse mum, it’s an electronic sound you’re hearing
MUM: (puzzled) Red Jelly?

It was at this point that Tish started laughing.

When Tish left to go back to her day job, Mum’s second cousin Suzie, whom I’d never had the pleasure of meeting, arrived to visit. They’d just got through the greetings and I’d been formally introduced when Leanne, naturally anxious for news of her beloved grandmother, facetime called me.  I handed my phone to Mum who, despite countless tutorials and demonstrations on the functions of the app, held my phone up to her ear and shouted, “HELLO”

LEANNE: (clearly audible) Hi Nainie, how are you feeling?
MUM: HI MOUSE (that’s what we all call Leanne) WHAT A NICE SURPRISE
LEANNE: HOW ARE YOU FEELING?
MUM: SUZIE’S HERE. REMEMBER SUZIE?
LEANNE: (who had never met Suzie either) No, I don’t think I’ve ever met her.
MUM: HOLD ON. I’LL PASS THE PHONE TO SUZIE SO YOU CAN SAY HELLO (passes the phone to Suzie)
SUZIE: (holding the phone correctly, looking into the screen) Hello Leanne, it’s nice to meet you
LEANNE: (laughing self-consciously) Hello Suzie, it’s nice to meet you too.
SUZIE: I’ll pass you back to your grandmother
MUM: (phone returned to her ear) THANK YOU FOR CALLING MOUSIE. I’LL HAND YOU BACK TO YOUR DAD

While Mum and Suzie chatted Leanne brought me up to date with her latest news. She told me a rather funny story which she’s transcribed so I can share it with you. I’ve added [some comments] to provide clarity.

Leanne writes:

The Narambeen CRC (Community Resource Centre), [which Leanne heads up], held a multi-cultural event at the Café and afterwards, when I got home, I reflected on how smoothly the night had gone. I had no trouble going to sleep.

At exactly 1:09am my eyes flew open with sudden terror; “was the oven turned off? Of course it was”, I said to myself, “there were two other responsible adults with me, helping me to keep an eye on things. There’s no way we would have left it on. Would we?”.

I was seriously worried. I tossed and turned, imagining a variety of possible Newspaper headlines the next day; Narembeen Community Resource Centre Burns Entire Town and CRC Manager Faces Angry Pitchfork Wielding Mob. It didn’t matter how illogical it was; the more I told myself to “stop being silly” the more I was convincing myself I HAD left the oven on and the more worked up I got. I had started to liken the events to the Great Fire of London in 1666, when my thoughts shifted to whether or not Insurance would cover such an enormous claim – how often had an entire town been burnt down by someone’s negligence?

Enough was enough and I had to go check. I stumbled around in the dark, muttering to myself about the Great Fire of Narembeen 2017 which in turn woke the not so happy Happy [his name is really Glen, and he’s quite tall] who tried to stop my ridiculous thoughts. He did not win the argument; I was on a mission to save the town from my mistake.

At 2:36 am (yes I had argued with myself for an hour and a half) I pulled up outside the CRC on the main street. My barely functioning brain convinced me to keep the lights off when I unlocked the door and went inside “because”, I told myself, “you don’t want to draw attention to yourself”.

Once I got into the Café and established that the oven was indeed OFF I sighed a big sigh of relief. My brain then started working overtime again and I imagined another headline – Barefoot Burglar Busted in Dressing Gown, so I made a speedy exit and went back home to my bed.

Sadly l didn’t get much sleep (even though I’d put my mind to rest by going to the CRC and checking) so I was feeling a little rough in the morning and, because my restlessness had also disturbed Happy, he wasn’t feeling too bright either. Breakfast time passed with the two of us communicating in caveman style grunts then, after Happy had left for work, I discovered that in my state the previous night I had somehow locked my keys in the car. How I managed to do this is a mystery because the keys were still in the ignition and it’s a button lock, so it should have been impossible. So there I was again, in a state of despair, trying to get into the locked car and in the midst of the drama my sweet, well-behaved dog decided to choke on a piece of wood. I ran to his aid, which he interpreted as a direct attack, and he ran away from me.

Imagine this, a woman dressed in office attire (including heeled boots), chasing a dying dog through the grass, stumbling over chairs, rocks and a washing line, screaming, “it’s ok Albert I’m trying to help you” (In hindsight don’t think the screaming helped). Eventually I managed to corner him and was able to pull the piece of bark from his esophagus. He didn’t thank me, he didn’t even stay by my side while I caught my breath, in fact he wandered off and picked up another piece of wood, so the last laugh was on me. My only consolation was that at least I found the spare key and was able to drive off with some of my dignity intact while Albert thought about his actions.

That, ladies and Gentlemen, is how I started my Wednesday. Let me leave you with a bit of advice. Check the oven before you leave or it will result in a wild night, key mysteries and a dog who isn’t grateful to you for saving his life.

FOOTNOTE:

(Thursday afternoon) I just got back from the hospital. Mum was very down in the dumps and completely fed-up with being in hospital. She was in pain but her care-team has assessed her and have decreed that she is fit enough to be discharged (yay) but there’s no way she’s strong enough to look after herself during the day while Tish is at work so she’s asked me to stay another week. Quite naturally I’ve agreed to do so.

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