Monthly Archives: February 2017

Are you coming Friday evening?

On Tuesday morning Ian bumped into Julie at Cyma Tower – the 22 story relict of 1970s modernity that was hell to live in – just as she was leaving.  “Are you coming Friday evening?” she asked in her bright and cheerful ‘Julie’ manner.  She was probably the longest serving member of what had become a great team to work with.  Her enthusiasm and compassion appeared to be boundless – and was most definitely contagious.

“What’s happening on Friday?”

“It’s on the invitation.  It’s a reception at ‘The Bull’s Head’ and most of us are going.  You’ve got to come along.”

“You know I don’t like things like that.  I’ve got better things to do with my time than stand around exchanging pointless conversation with people as they become more and more childish under the influence of whatever they are drinking”.  There was an edge to his voice that made Julie mentally back off.

“Fine”, she said as she shrugged her shoulders.  “Oh, by the way, the lift won’t go above the 19th floor.  An engineer has been called the notice says.   Take care.” 

With that she went on her way while Ian mentally fumed about the lift.  Mrs Peterson had enough difficulty with her claustrophobia in the lift without the added problem of two flights of stairs.  With that he mentally straightened his back and got on with his life.

‘I’ll make her a cup of tea when I get up there,’ he thought, ‘then we’ll look out of the window across the town where she has lived all her life.’  That’s a big plus for her living up here.  She can see for miles and loves talking about her childhood beyond the town centre in the Wellworth area.  From this height it appears to have hardly changed but down at ground level it is a real problem area – but there is no reason to upset her memories with modern-day truths.

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You are invited to …

Just one envelope lay inside the door when Ian got up on the Monday morning.  At least it was addressed to him by name – Mr Ian Brockett. Ian hated those that just said ‘To the occupier’.  The downside was that it was on what looked like a mass produced mailing label with no stamp or franking on the envelope.  It was obviously local and had been delivered by hand.

He wandered into the kitchen with it, picked up a knife from the draining board and slit the envelope open.  Inside was a single white card.  As he started to pull it out he saw the words ‘You are invited to attend…’ 

He let the card slide back into the envelope and left it on the worktop with the other bits and pieces of paper that had accumulated there over the weekend.  People could have no idea how much that phrase ‘You are…’ turned him off, whatever the subject might be.

He was happy with his life as a carer for a group of lovely people in the area.  He could not think of anything that suited him better.  He loved the one to one relationship that developed.  He became a part of that person’s family – very often the only part of the ‘family’ that connected with them.

He got himself ready and set out for another day.  He had two clients to see before calling into base for the regular Monday morning briefing.  First stop was Mrs Jeavons, a nice lady in her early 80s and still fiercely independent.  She had been suffering from a cold for the past few days and he just wanted to check that she was getting better.  It had taken him six months to get her to allow him to do anything for her except sit on the sofa for a chat while she made them both a cup of tea.

Second stop was Will Rowlands – an independent old soldier who loved to talk about today’s ‘soldier boys’ and the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’ he had been watching on television over the past few weeks.

When Ian arrived for the morning briefing most of the team were there.  They were hanging around, waiting for team leader Freda to arrive to start the meeting.  Julie said something to him about an invitation she had received.  Had he had one?  He couldn’t remember what he said, but it wasn’t important, anyway, and Freda had arrived and the meeting got underway.

As the meeting was breaking up Freda asked him if he had received his invitation for Friday.  “Why are people so fixated about invitations?”  Ian thought to himself as he mumbled “It’s on the table or somewhere” in reply before heading out to see Mr & Mrs Scott.  Helping them cope with Charlie’s increasing immobility was a lot more important than some invitation to something or other.

 

A destination is reached

Silence had taken hold in our carriage as we sat in opposite corners of our carriage.

Suddenly the train jerked. It was coming into a station, the first stop on our journey. That jerk of the rails brought me back to reality and I shook myself as a dog does after getting caught in a shower of rain. As the train pulled to a halt the man stood up and reached for my hat and coat from the rack above the seat.

“I believe this is your stop for this journey,” he said as he handed me my things. I automatically stood up and took them. I climbed out of the carriage and for a moment stood on the platform looking back at the story-teller. He smiled at me with a tired smile and spoke as he pulled the door closed.

“Take care of the precious gift of immortality. It is yours now, guard it well.”

The train pulled away from the platform and the man was lost to my sight.

I stood on that platform and watched the train disappear into the distance.

As I stood I slowly realising that I was now immortal, and that my erstwhile travelling companion would soon be no more.

It was in 1867 when I stood on that platform with realisation dawning. Now I, too, am tired of this ever-changing world and want to rest.

I cannot wait for 2067 to arrive. I cannot bear the burden of immortality for two hundred years.  Things now move so much more rapidly than they did when I had the conversation in the train.  I believe that one hundred and fifty years is now the limit a soul can take. I have come to the end, so…

Take care of the gift of immortality for it, now, is yours.

Guard it well.

The Illustrated Police News

The Illustrated Police News was a weekly illustrated newspaper which was one of the earliest British tabloids. It featured sensational and melodramatic reports and illustrations of murders and hangings and was a direct descendant of the execution broadsheets of the 18th century.  First published in 1864, it was inspired by The Illustrated London News, which had been launched in 1842 and revealed that newspapers with illustrations could achieve high sales.  Its standards of illustration and tone were reminiscent of the earlier Newgate Calendar – subtitled The Malefactors’ Bloody Register and the popular “Penny Dreadfuls”.

The paper gained a reputation for sensationalism during the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 and, around the turn of the 20th century, ran many articles dealing with the “alien immigration question”.  That promoted significant xenophobic attitudes and paranoia amongst its mostly working-class readership.  The paper ceased publication in 1938.

On Thursday 19th February 1914 it issued “Our Jubilee Number” which celebrated fifty years of existence. On page 7 we have ‘OUR JUBILEE PRESENT’ with ‘Details of a Simple Scheme to Commemorate a Notable Event in the History of Our Paper.’
All you had to do was collect 10 coupons – one from each of the next ten weeks publications; send them in and keep your fingers crossed that one of 100 ‘Marble Clocks’ would be yours.

There were also two pages of ‘Half-a-Century of Sensations and Crime’ with brief details of 42 individuals – 6 of them female.

I have a strange feeling we will be finding more about these nere-do-wells as the year moves on.  In fact I am pretty sure that sometime will appear here before the end of this month!

Our train moved on

As we both sat in silence our train passed through a short tunnel, briefly spreading darkness upon us.   As we came into light my companion began to speak again:

“Their children matured slowly as befitted the children of immortal parents. With no natural death to control their numbers it was important that they did not overpopulate their valley. To avoid this it was laid down in their laws that as a child reached maturity, at one hundred years, the oldest of that child’s sex within the community must die.

“That was the problem that now confronted the head man. One of the young men had reached his maturity last summer and now wished to take his place in the community. So the oldest man, the head man, must die. Their law said that he could not leave the valley nor, because of his immortality, could he die in any normal sense of the word. The only way they could end their life was to give their immortality to another living being that was not immortal.”

Once more my friend paused.  I looked at him but he was looking past me and into those days of the past – his past.  With a sigh he began again:-

“This they achieved by telling the secret of immortality to one of the animals that lived in the valley. In the telling of the secret the gift of immortality was passed to the other. Having told their secret the mortal aged and died. Provided they had told an animal that had not reached breeding age, the balance of nature in the valley was never upset.

“The head man, however, had long ago resolved to pass his secret to some other human. During the winter he had decided that their guest, my present companion, should be the receiver of the gift, the first human from outside the valley to become immortal. In the telling of the secret my companion had been given immortality, whether he wanted it or not.

“The head man had then hurried him on his way. The years would now rapidly and irrecoverably catch up with the head man and within hours he would be dead and the young man of the community would take his place.

“My companion had then found himself ushered out of the cell and into the bright spring day. His few belongings had been bundled together and these, together with a quantity of food, awaited him. One of the young men escorted him to the edge of the valley and directed him to a path that eventually led to the desert in which we were travelling.

“When we first met, my companion had been heading back to the valley to return the gift. However, the days we had spent together had changed his mind. His wish now was to pass on the gift to another dweller of the world. In telling me, the secret the gift was given again. Like him before me I had had no choice.”

The man grew silent. In the time it had taken him to tell the story he had aged ten years, or so it seemed. After a while he spoke again.  “As I said, at first I was overjoyed. But now I feel old and I am tired and want to rest. I have had enough.”

All went quiet in our carriage.

The traveller begins his story

The man looked across the across the carriage. “Yes, it is a face that tells the true story of its wearer,” he murmured again quietly to himself.  “But how does one come by this gift of immortality?” he repeated, louder but still to himself. Almost as if he was asking himself the question.

After a pause he looked straight at me; almost through me.  “I was travelling in the East when it came to me. I did a lot of travelling in those days. I had attached myself to a camel train heading eastwards; roughly in the direction to which I was aiming. For three days we trekked across the desert.

“During that time I talked often with another itinerant traveller who did not belong to the train either. He, in fact, came from the mountainous lands to the north of India but he had spent a long time travelling the desert wastes, never settling for long in one place or with one group of people.

“He was presently heading back to this mountainous homeland, there, he said, finally to die. He had one last secret to pass to another and then he could rest in peace.”

Again ‘my’ man stopped in the telling of his tale. Silence descended on the compartment, broken only by the click-clack of the wheels on the rails.  In a while he took up his story again.

“After the three days, we reached an oasis where a number of desert tracks met. The camel train was heading north-east from here; my new found associate was heading south. As I was heading nowhere in particular I elected to join him and together we set out, aiming for the mountains of his homeland. He was a pleasant companion, seeming to have an unending fund of stories of strange parts of the world. His knowledge of the desert seemed limitless, unerringly picking watering-places out of the vastness of the wilderness in which we travelled.

“Over the days of travelling we got to know each other very well. One night we had made camp and were sitting beside our small fire before finally settling down for the night. As was usual, we were telling stories of our travels and the strange and interesting places we had visited. I remember that my story was of a visit I had made to the Holy Land a few years previously.

“His story went back longer than that – two centuries, to be exact. He told me of a meeting with a holy man all those years ago in the land they now call Tibet. There, in the snowy fastness of those mountainous lands, he had spent a winter with a small community of holy men and their families. It appears that he made a very favourable impression on these holy hermits during this time. As the spring came and his departure drew nigh, the head man of the little community called him into his sparse cell.

“There he had told my travelling associate about the small holy band. Since time immemorial they had lived there – six holy men with their families – untouched by the happenings in the vast world around them; untouched by illness or by old age; immortal.

Again my man fell silent – and I shared his silence as our train continued through our green and open countryside.

A conversation begins

I thought that the man had gone to sleep as he sat in the far corner but, after a while, he began speaking again in his soft, tired voice, which now had a far-away quality about it as well.

 “It’s a strange gift, immortality,” he began. “When it first came to me I was overjoyed. So much time was mine. I had time to do anything and everything I wished. At first I rushed about, doing all the hurried, urgent things that one does when confronted with unlimited choice. I had unlimited time as well, but I could not grasp the idea and control myself.

“It took me perhaps ten years to really grasp and accept the fact that I was immortal; that I had no need to hurry anything.

“It gradually dawned on me when I saw my reflection in the looking-glass, day after day. My features did not change.

“For a decade my face had stayed the same. A little tanned from travelling in sunny climes perhaps, but still the same me. It was then that I slowed down. I could watch change take place. For a while inventions fascinated me. I watched them introduced, often with a great to-do, come into common usage, and then be overtaken by the next fad.

“I watched people. Great men appeared. Their careers and fame grew, blossomed into full glory and, in time, died. Sometimes their fame lived on, but more often it died with them. Countries appeared and developed from previously unknown corners of the world. Some took their place in world affairs; others sank back into the oblivion that had been theirs.

“I watched this ever-changing pageant with an absorbed interest, sure in the knowledge that I would outlast it all – and I have. But now my interest wanes. I grow tired. Old age is not just a physical thing; it is a mental thing as well.”

He lapsed into silence.  Despite myself I was intrigued by his story. Whether the story was true or not was something I could not tell, but he certainly believed it.  As he sat there in silence my curiosity got the better of me.

“How did you come by this immortality?” I asked.

He looked at me, almost as if he hadn’t seen me before. He studied me with eyes now shrewd and all-knowing. For perhaps a minute he studied me, looking critically into my eyes and at my face.

“The face tells the true story of its wearer,” he murmured quietly to himself.

A conversation on a train

“I am two hundred years old today.  It is my birthday.”

The speaker sat in the opposite corner of the compartment. As people do, we sat as far away from each other as space would allow. We were the only two in the compartment and had been travelling for some 20 minutes. In this time we had not even acknowledged each other.

As the man spoke, I looked at him for the first time.  He was small, perhaps no more than 5 feet 3 inches, with sparse, sandy hair. His brown suit was obviously old and well-worn but showed the unmistakable signs of having been carefully looked after. His footwear was similarly well-worn, but polished and presentable. With his clean, white, starched collar he looked a typical clerk; the type of man who diligently, and unambiguously, works out his life in the services of the same master in some commercial backwater.
His face was unremarkable – until you looked into his eyes. They were a very pale grey which hid vast depths. As I looked, I saw in them experience and understanding far beyond normal understanding.

“Yes,” he said, “I calculate that I’m two hundred years old today.”

“Oh,” I replied, feeling that I had to say something, but not quite sure what.

I studied him again more carefully. Apart from his eyes, I’d have credited him with little more than forty years. But those eyes held so much more than could be accumulated in a mere forty years.

“Well, you certainly don’t look two hundred,” I finally said.

I’d come to the conclusion that the man would need humouring, something I felt disinclined to do, so I’d decided to let the conversation die away as quickly as possible. However, in responding in the way I did, I seemed to have provided him with the necessary stimulus to speak.
His voice sounded tired, like the sound a well-fitting door makes as it drifts shut in a carpeted room. Even so, it carried over the rattle of the train wheels on the track joints.

“I suppose not. After all, I was only forty when I stopped aging. That was one hundred and sixty years ago and for the past fifty of them I’ve regretted that fateful day. Yes, regretted it, but done nothing about it. Now I’m tired and have come to the end.”

Definitely a man to be humoured, I convinced myself, and settled back to be a martyr to someone else’s needs.  The man sat in the corner with a far-away look entering his eyes, as if he really was thinking back over so many years gone by.  The only sound came from the wheels on the rails beneath us.

A background to the Domenech story

Hello – I hope you enjoyed the Jaime Domenech story.  This is a glance at the background:-

In the 14th to 16th centuries the Aztecs revered Quetzalcoatl as the patron of priests.  He was also credited as being the inventor of the calendar; of books and the protector of goldsmiths and other craftsmen.  He was also identified with the planet Venus.  As the morning and evening star Quetzalcoatl was the symbol of death and resurrection.  With his companion Xoloti, a dog-headed god, he was said to have descended to the underground hell of Mictlan to gather bones of the ancient gods.  Those bones he anointed with his own blood, giving birth to the men who inhabit the present universe.

The Spanish immigration to Mexico began in 1518 with the first settlements established in February 1519 following the landing of Hernan Cortes in the Yucatan Peninsula.  There were some 11 ships with 500 or so men, 13 horses and a limited number of cannons. In March 1519 Cortes formally claimed the land for the Spanish crown.  His conquest of the Aztec Empire was completed in 1521 and with it came the basis of modern-day Mexico.

A Final Farewell

My father and I stood in silence at the bottom of the panel as we looked at the name carved there – Jaime Domenech – a brave ancestor from many years ago.

It was the chief councillor who broke into our thoughts at last.

“Now you know what happened to your ancestor. He did not die. He lived, and he and his men gave life to this valley, this village. The Indians did not go away. They camped outside the valley, making it impossible for Jaime Domenech and his soldiers to escape.”

“Very soon, they found that they did not want to escape. They liked the tranquillity of the valley. There were many Indian villages in the hills and mountains around. In time the Indian maidens came to the valley. The attraction of the strange fair-skinned men overcame their fear of Quetzalcóatl. In fact, they believed the newcomers were the children of Quetzalcóatl, and they were pleased to come and live with them. They married the soldiers. More and more the Spanish and Indian bloods mixed. The children of these marriages were brought up in the traditions of old Spain. In time the population increased to over 600 souls.

“Then the maidens stopped coming. The Indian tribes moved away. Slowly the numbers in the valley started to fall. We are now less than one hundred, with few young men and no young women to continue our village. In a few more years our village will be empty; a home for ghosts and memories. It will be returned to Quetzalcóatl. We had hoped that we would go without anyone ever knowing we had been here.”

“We are the first white men to visit this valley in all those years?” My father’s voice was hushed.

The old man nodded. “Yes Señor. No man from Cortez’s force found the soldiers. The maidens that came never returned to their villages so building on the fear of Quetzalcóatl that kept the Indian warriors out. Everyone here can trace their ancestry to one of that first brave band; the band led by your ancestor Jaime Domenech.”

My father and I stood there silently, thinking about the life these people had led over the previous 400 years.

At last my father spoke: “It is a strange story you tell, Señor. My son and I have many questions to ask but that would be prying into your private history. You said you wished to leave this valley as you came, with no one knowing you have been here. We will respect that wish.”

He reached into the shoulder bag that lay at his feet. “All the notes I have made in coming to this valley of yours are in this book. I give it to you to do with as you wish. Your secret will remain safe with us. No one will ever find your valley because of us.” With that, father handed his journal to the elder who took it with a smile.

“Thank you,” was all he said.

We left the valley, escorted by the same two men we first met. They took us past their cottage to the edge of the valley near where we had entered. As we stood on the ridge, looking back to the edge of the valley and the village my father turned to the two men.

“One question, if I may, my friends. What is the name of your chief councillor, the man we have been talking with in the large hall?”

It was councillor Blue Belt who replied in that strange lilting tongue so like, and yet so unlike, our own. “His name, Señor, is Jaime Domenech. A direct descendent of the leader of the band of soldiers who first came to this valley. You and he are of the same family, Señor.”