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fresco_rescue

Hello – Many thanks for all the positive feedback on this Tale – why not make yourselves a nice cup of tea, break out the Hobnobs and read it all in one go!

If Music Be The Food Of Love…..

December 16th – 1996 Kings Cross Station

As a child I was awestruck by the grandeur of train stations. It was where grown-ups went. On a daily basis. To do things. What these things were I had no idea. But they went there to do them.

When my parents brought my sister and I up to London for day trips from our suburban backwater, these great voluminous places, full of scuttling humanity had a sense of solid purpose that scared and exhilarated me at the same time. I remember clasping Dad’s hand a little tighter as we walked through them, something my son now does when we come up for day trips to London on my access weekends.

Now their role in my life is much more mundane and perfunctory. Merely conduits to another place accompanied by the heady perfume of diesel engines and fast food outlets.

I was early when I reached Kings Cross station today. Too early. I don’t like having to hang around. The slate grey sky and traffic noise gave a claustrophobic feel to the low slung station entrance. A newspaper vendor cried out “Standard! Standard!” The banner headline told of a political scandal involving a Conservative MP. Another? Surely there are not enough of them left.

A drunk’s basted features appeared before me, “Spare change?” He held a can of super strength lager with the other hand outstretched for alms. I fished in my pocket for some change and gave him a pound. And another one. It was nearly Christmas after all.

“Cheers. Merry Christmas.”

A policeman crossed the lee of the entrance and intimated to the drunk not to come any closer. The beggar mumbled to himself and returned to a companion who was arguing with a waste bin. He took a deep slug from his can and began to solicit others.

Shoals of people drifted and eddied around the station concourse. A limp muzak rendition of Hark the Herald Angels, a begrudging admission of the festive season, played over the public address system, regularly interrupted by information of departures, arrivals and security alerts. The brash yellow lighting gave the atmosphere a soiled, used feel and the floor was pocked with discarded chewing gum like a grubby Dalmatian pelt.

As I looked at the departure board for signs of my train, I heard the nasal drone of an accordion. A Slavic voice accompanied the dirge, “If you thin I sex, an you wan my bod, cam on babi let me no -”

A Balkan tribute to Rod Stewart. Most of his songs have a good beat. Baby Jane is my favourite.

The accordion player was short, squat and unshaven. He wore a vivid, silver trimmed waistcoat over an Adidas shell suit and wore Adidas trainers. He had wrapped a strand of tinsel around his head and warbled the back catalogue of Rod Stewart with a healthy disdain for the original lyrical content – “I am salling, I am salling, oh lard to be nar oo, to be fray”.

I wondered if he knew any sea shanties, much more in line with our glorious maritime history.

A small, under nourished woman was with him. Black headscarf, pained, gap toothed expression daubed on her young face and a cherubic swaddled baby clinging to her. She approached me and held out a polystyrene cup and asked in unmistakable tones of poverty and misery for money. The baby began to cry. I fished in my pocket for some change and gave her a pound. And another one. It was nearly Christmas after all.

She thanked me and approached an elderly man of military bearing standing several feet away, “Certainly not. You must understand that for you and your ilk, and that goes for your musically challenged accomplice, that only the reintroduction of Workhouses can save you people from your insatiable breeding habits and thus your poverty.”

The woman waved the cup in front of him, “Will you leave me alone you Slavic miscreant? Didn’t England do enough for you people in the war? If only Franz Ferdinand had not sent his breast plate for buffing that day we would all be in better shape. Why, the next thing you and your kind will do is annex Shropshire. Now if you don’t go away, I will be forced to report you to the relevant authorities.”

A smartly dressed woman curtly waved her away but a man, a student by the look of him, dropped a number of coins into her cup.

The busker made his way towards a group of Asian tourists who stood like Mere Cats, eagerly trying to locate their train.

“I lav ewe hoh-knee!” I deduced it as Hot Legs, another of rocker Rod’s classics.

Sub-consciously the tourists formed a defensive square that would have drawn praise from the Duke of Wellington. The accordionist found it impossible to isolate any member of the group and allow his partner to beg. One of the tourists took copious photographs of the incident. As tourists do. The minstrel fired a broadside of cedilla laden insults at them. He continued to pour invective at the group and bumped into a middle-aged man who wore a florid, veined complexion. The accordion wheezed in harmony with their collision.

“Excuse me,” the man said in rounded Welsh tones. “Well well, an accordion. What pleasure that instrument has brought to countless thousands over the years. Lamentation, celebration, medication and education, the humble accordion has accompanied life around the world. Once, singing in Poland, Krakow I think it was, I spent a night in a small tavern singing Polish laments with a number of cheerless, mustachioed peasants and their hefty women folk. I don’t mind telling you that one of the Babushka’s favoured me that night,” the man winked conspiratorially at the busker before breaking into song and competing with Ding Dong Merrily On High that blared over the public address system.

He sang with a liquid, cool voice which to shimmered and filled listeners with an instant longing for lost lovers. People were stopped in their tracks at the primal beauty of his voice.

The accordionist began asking for money. His cup was soon overflowing with coins and the occasional note. The man was content to sing his vision of pain and loss. As abruptly as he had commenced, he stopped. Applause rang out. He nodded his thanks, turned to the accordion player held out his hand and said,

“Bryn, I am a Welshman.”

“Huh?”

“Bryn, I am a Welshman.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind my friend; I am prepared to offer you half of the stipend the adoring masses have just given me.”

“Huh?”

“Give me half the money,” Bryn replied in less gilded tones. He held out his left hand and rubbed the thumb and forefinger together.

“No.”

“Yes,” replied Bryn

“No,”

They began to jostle. The knot of people that had stopped to listen to Bryn sing now watched with bemusement as the men traded insults in Welsh and Albanian, both apparently with full knowledge of each other’s dialects. The accordion again wheezed its accompaniment. A jaunty Polka.

The old man who had berated the busker earlier turned to me and said, “I’ll have a fiver on the Chetnik. Blood thirsty animals they were in the war.”

The Policeman re-appeared, pulled the two men apart and began to frog-march them from the station, oblivious to their protestations of innocence and accusations of the other party’s guilt. The woman and child followed demurely behind.

Bryn spoke, “I demand a Judicial Review of your actions officer. I am due to board the 14.27 to Edinburgh. Do you know I once shared a sandwich with Charlton Heston?”

Both men were led off the concourse. The beggar approached them for money. I couldn’t tell you if he was successful in his pleadings. But I doubt it. Even if it was Christmas.

Part 2

Elizabeth had to run down the platform to catch the train. The run hadn’t taken much out of her, she was a dancer after all, but being punctilious by nature, nearly missing it had caused some anxiety. She walked through the carriages checking her ticket and seat reservation until she found her seat, 26 Facing in Carriage C.

A middle-aged man with a florid, veined complexion was sat in the seat next to her. Bryn was red faced and slightly out of breath after his exertions with the Busker and Police.

“Close shave,” he said.

“Yes,” replied Elizabeth as she settled into her seat. She took a sip from a bottle of water and stared into the evening murk, attempting to decipher the name of commuter stations as the train sped through them. She opened the book she had bought at York Station the day before, a set of short stories revolving around murder and suspense with the occasional humorous twist. Unable to concentrate, she closed the book and stared at her reflection in the window, allowing herself to float in a pool of leathery half thoughts.

In the seats behind, a toddler began to scream, shattering the calm of the carriage The child writhed and wriggled to be free of his mother’s grip. His mother was trying to reason with him.

“But if you stand on the seat Stephen you could fall and hurt yourself.” The logic of her statement had no bearing on his noisy blubbering.

“That’s <i>enough</i> now Stephen,” The mother’s patience was being sucked out of her. An ethereal noise began to arise from Bryn, the rich, textured layers of his voice defining a set of beautifully evocative sounds, Gaelic in origin. He sang for a further two minutes, the lament slowly evolving into a haunting lullaby. The child became silent.

The lullaby finished. Passengers shook themselves from the mellow torpor his singing had induced. He turned to Elizabeth and smiled at her. She smiled back with a sense of calm curiosity mixed with relief that the cries of the child had ceased. He stared out of the window, content to let the memory of the song linger like a melodic vapour trail.

“Your song was very beautiful”. Elizabeth said.

“I agree. It is an old lullaby my mother sang to me during my own bouts of misunderstood rage. The words deal with a mother’s sadness at hearing the news of her son’s death in war and through her dreams she can stay in contact with him. Yes, altogether very moving. Plus it has an additional value which should never be overestimated” – He beckoned her to come slightly closer – “It always shuts little bugger’s like him up.”

“What is the name of the song?”

“Anything you like really, it’s not the name that counts. More the feeling of loss and love transmitted.”

“It really was beautiful. You have a lovely voice.”

“Bryn, I am a Welshman,” he held out a hand.

“Elizabeth.”

“Thank you for the compliment Elizabeth. Gifted tenor from an early age. According to my Rhodri Lewis, a fine man if slightly inclined to preach about the virtues of Verdi, I had a voice with a range and sensual quality that called upon the angels to bear witness. It was he who urged me to seek my destiny through the notes and words of others. Performance is the highest calling a man can attain. I often considered myself to be a strutting wild beast, locking horns with the sounds one moment, gently stroking their cadences the next. I like to nibble the lyrics,  revelling in my unabated talent. I assure you, critical acclaim was never in my thoughts, I just wanted to sing. Actually, I like to think of myself as the first to connect with the audience where they worked, shopped, played, drank, lived even. Truly, my recitals are akin to the Sermon on the Mount.”

“You busk?”

“I think of myself as an external performer. I’m on my way to perform outside the Usher Hall in Edinburgh for the festive season. <i>Rich</i> pickings this time of year. Although I refuse to sing Gilbert and Sullivan. A pair of shite hawks if ever there were. Lozenge?”

“No thanks.”

Silence fell between them. The Ticket Inspector, a taciturn man who exuded marital discord mumbled, “Tickets please” and punched their tickets with wristy ease. As he continued his duties Elizabeth remembered that she had not spoken to Andrew for nearly two days. He would be upset. She, much to her surprise only felt relief at this non contact with her boyfriend.

Bryn sucked with noisy gusto on his sweet. “The lozenge. A humble concoction of honey and cloves but a tincture without which my soul would forever remain dormant in the mundane we take for granted as life. Singing is my life’s mission. Cut me and no blood would flow from my clotted arteries but the notation of Mozart. Artists such as I are, by our very nature external to the world of the everyday. Through our actions we can shine a searchlight into the soul of mortal people, offering them a glimpse of what can be.”

She looked for a spare seat. There were none.

He bit into lozenge. The aroma of menthol filled the space between them.

“Would you care for an onion sandwich? They are medicinal in nature and thin the blood. Suffering from thick blood is a characteristic of the gifted vocalist. I once read in a periodical whilst waiting for an internal flight in Australia, that the benefits of the onion sandwich are truly exceptional.”

The sandwich had a tongue of onion protruding between the bread slices as if it were gasping for air. Bryn sniffed and said, “On second thoughts,” and returned them to his jacket pocket.

“I must apologise. As you may have noticed I find <strong>no</strong> subject more charming or enlightening than myself. Could I ask you what you do? Something physical by chance? Your movements are very graceful” He noted the change in her body language from his compliment. <em>I am so good at this! </em>he thought to himself.

“I work in Boots in York, on the perfume counter. But I really want to make it as a professional dancer. How did you guess?”

“Sadly, my own body movements are nothing like as graceful. My mentor, Cecil Findings, a man with a marvellous musical ear but with a fateful attraction to the Tuba, described my own gait as cryptic. More charitable people have said enigmatic.”

“I’ve just been for a try out in London. Unsuccessful. Again.”

Part 3.

She took a sip of water, her excitement about the audition now an exhausted memory. She absent mindedly tore strips off the bottle’s label.

“I take it you were unsuccessful in your audition?” Bryn asked.

“Yes. I will not be joining the Contemporary Dance Company.” She tore another strip. Rejected once more. Years of putting up with dull, shitty jobs, fending off drunken magicians and stage hands, so that perhaps one day, one day her gifts would be recognised by her peers and that Andrew’s ambition for them to live the “happy to get by as long as we have each other,” life would not be acceded to.

Bryn spoke, “The purity of a dream fulfilled is something we all aspire to. Failure is something everyone is so good at that we all love to repeat it. Like an addiction. But to this old, tired man who has experienced pain, heartache, failure and rejection there remains something noble about the pursuit of dreams. We must have the courage to manipulate our fears. Never give up my dear.”

“Thank you, I won’t.”

These lines always stood him in good stead. The speech was from the play “Trouble At Home”. He had appeared in whilst a member of a touring Repertory Company in the late 1950’s, playing several roles, a drunk, a limbless ex-soldier, a bricklayer and a man at a bus stop. In all he had said three lines, the longest of which was, “Bless you,” to the leading lady played by the elegant Lavinia Wythenshawe when she sneezed at the bus stop.

As always with this recital his thoughts turned to Annie, Lavinia’s understudy. She fell for his alchemy of dreaminess, dapper japery and tall tales. The first of many to be charmed by his roguish wit and turn of phrase. He wondered if Annie was still alive and rolled through each nuance and crag of recollection. Thoughts that had stayed with him for forty years. In their months together she was the air that he breathed; the beat of his heart; the blink of his eye. For those months she was the love his life. He wondered what became of the daughter they had. He wondered if Annie had forgiven him.

He felt uncomfortable. He focused on Elizabeth once again.

“My Father was my inspiration. I hail from a small pit village in the South Wales valleys. Pontybuchan. Mining was the foundation of our society. So deep were the mines that Tolkien based The Mines Of Mordor on them. Father owned the hosiery shop, but his passion was for magic. He used the name Rhodri The Welsh Wizard, performing amazing feats of magic and illusion throughout our glorious land. He also discovered a gift for chicken sexing but we do not need to pursue that.”

“I’ve worked with Magicians.” Her skin crawled.

“I can assure you his sexual peccadilloes were kept to the marriage bedchamber. My Father’s act often attracted the chagrin of religious folk who considered his mystical feats occultist. He had a pig who could recite Shakespeare, and a polecat who could do bird impressions and by common consent was very impressive, for a polecat that is. The only problem was that Depression era Wales could frown upon with a fervently creased Methodist brow.”

He whispered, “Inappropriate use of animals in a depraved manner and consorting with the English in daylight hours.”

“Sorry?” Elizabeth asked.

“That was the charge brought against him in September 1937 after a performance in the small fishing town of Hywlth in North Wales. Lovely natural harbour. Well worth a visit. Sadly the whelks have been over fished and are no longer available. Lovely with vinegar they were too.” He drifted away into the salty underworld of molluscs.

“What did he do?”

“The pig cursed in a manner most unbecoming a pig, or human for that matter. Nothing that would shock today’s audience with their culture free pretensions for sex and violence, their elastic morality. Excuse my French, but “Fuck!” carries far less weight to offend these days. But the high dudgeon back then! Such was the outcry that my Father was arrested and imprisoned for two years by the intemperate Sanhedrin in the Magistrates Court. Father never gave up though, once sawing a Prison Officer in half, sadly with disastrous consequences. He he died in prison and my own talents had to be suspended to support my Mother and twelve siblings. But I’m sure he found peace in Conjurer’s Valhalla. He never gave up Elizabeth. Right to the end.”

“Never give up.” Sound advice Elizabeth thought, although she wasn’t sure why this aged Welshman had felt the need to embellish his tale. Perhaps he was lonely. Or a liar. Probably a lonely liar.

She looked at her watch. An hour to home and the inquisition. Her reflection stared at her.

The trolley attendant, clearly an advocate of substance abuse, appeared at the Carriage entrance. Like Charon crossing the Styx in a poorly fitted cotton rich uniform, he trundled through the carriage at a funereal pace and into the adjoining vestibule ignoring the request of passengers in need of sustenance.

“I would have loved a cup of tea,” muttered Bryn, “Tea! Who would have thought the slopes of Ceylon would be such a steadfast companion to the nation’s yeomanry. I can honestly say the finest tea I have ever tasted was in Australia, home of the marsupial, dust and these creatures we call Australians. I was there in 1956 with a travelling show. I was second on the bill to The Tumbling Timmins – I have particularly fond memories of Betty Timmins. Broad of beam but kind of heart was Betty, such wrist strength – how the Antipodeans welcomed us from the Mother country. The crowds, adulation and excitement of it all. I never felt so loved, adored and indeed Elizabeth, may I say needed…………”

He had an audience. However small, Bryn had an audience………..

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fresco_rescue

Hello – here is a longer train travel tale.

You will need to read Part 1 here and Part 2 here to make sense of the story!

Hope you like it.

If Music Be The Food Of Love…..Part 3.

December 16th – 1996 On a train to the North

She took a sip of water, her excitement about the audition now an exhausted memory. She absent mindedly tore strips off the bottle’s label.

“I take it you were unsuccessful in your audition?” Bryn asked.

“Yes. I will not be joining the Contemporary Dance Company.”  She tore another strip. Rejected once more. Years of putting up with dull, shitty jobs,  fending off drunken magicians and stage hands, so that perhaps one day, one day her gifts would be recognised by her peers and that Andrew’s ambition for them to live the “happy to get by as long as we have each other,” life would not be acceded to.

Bryn spoke, “The purity of a dream fulfilled is something we all aspire to. Failure is something everyone is so good at that we all love to repeat it. Like an addiction. But to this old, tired man who has experienced pain, heartache, failure and rejection there remains something noble about the pursuit of dreams. We must have the courage to manipulate our  fears. Never give up my dear.”

“Thank you, I won’t.”

These lines always stood him in good stead. The speech was from the play “Trouble At Home”. He had appeared in whilst a member of a touring Repertory Company in the late 1950’s, playing several roles, a drunk, a limbless ex-soldier, a bricklayer and a man at a bus stop. In all he had said three lines, the longest of which was, “Bless you,” to the leading lady played by the elegant Lavinia Wythenshawe when she sneezed at the bus stop.

As always with this recital his thoughts turned to Annie, Lavinia’s understudy. She  fell for his alchemy of dreaminess, dapper  japery and tall tales. The first of many to be charmed by his roguish wit and turn of phrase.  He wondered if Annie was still alive and rolled through each nuance and crag of recollection.  Thoughts that had stayed with him for forty years. In their months together she was the air that he breathed; the beat of his heart; the blink of his eye. For those months she was the love his life. He wondered what became of the daughter they had. He wondered if Annie had forgiven him.

He felt uncomfortable. He focused on Elizabeth once again.

“My Father was my inspiration. I hail from a small pit village in the South Wales valleys. Pontybuchan. Mining was the foundation of our society. So deep were the mines that Tolkien based The Mines Of  Mordor on them. Father owned the hosiery shop, but his passion was for magic. He used the name Rhodri The Welsh Wizard,  performing amazing feats of magic and illusion throughout our glorious land. He also discovered a gift for chicken sexing but we do not need to pursue that.”

“I’ve worked with Magicians.”  Her skin crawled.

“I can assure you his sexual peccadilloes were kept to the marriage bedchamber. My Father’s act often attracted the chagrin of religious folk who considered his mystical feats occultist. He had a pig who could recite Shakespeare, and a polecat who could do bird impressions and by common consent was very impressive, for a polecat that is. The only problem was that Depression era Wales could frown upon with a fervently creased Methodist brow.”

He whispered, “Inappropriate use of animals in a depraved manner and consorting with the English in daylight hours.”

“Sorry?” Elizabeth asked.

“That was the charge brought against him in September 1937 after a performance in the small fishing town of Hywlth in North Wales. Lovely natural harbour. Well worth a visit. Sadly the whelks have been over fished and are no longer available. Lovely with vinegar they were too.” He drifted away into the salty underworld of molluscs.

“What did he do?”

“The pig cursed in a manner most unbecoming a pig, or human for that matter. Nothing that would shock today’s audience with their culture free pretensions for sex and violence, their elastic morality. Excuse my French, but “Fuck!” carries far less weight to offend these days.  But the high dudgeon back then!  Such was the outcry that my Father was arrested and imprisoned for two years by the intemperate Sanhedrin in the Magistrates Court. Father never gave up though, once sawing a Prison Officer in half, sadly with disastrous consequences. He he died in prison and my own talents had to be suspended to support my Mother and twelve siblings.  But  I’m sure he  found peace in Conjurer’s Valhalla. He never gave up Elizabeth. Right to the end.”

“Never give up.” Sound advice Elizabeth thought, although she wasn’t sure why this aged Welshman had felt the need to embellish his tale. Perhaps he was lonely. Or a liar. Probably a lonely liar.

She looked at her watch. An hour to home and the inquisition. Her reflection stared at her.

The trolley attendant, clearly an advocate of substance abuse, appeared at the Carriage entrance.  Like Charon crossing the Styx in a poorly fitted cotton rich uniform, he trundled through the carriage at a funereal pace and into the adjoining vestibule ignoring the request of passengers in need of sustenance.

“I would have loved a cup of tea,” muttered Bryn, “Tea! Who would have thought the slopes of Ceylon would be such a steadfast companion to the nation’s yeomanry. I can honestly say the finest tea I have ever tasted was in Australia, home of the marsupial, dust and these creatures we call Australians.  I was there in 1956 with a travelling show.  I was second on the bill to The Tumbling Timmins – I have particularly fond memories of Betty Timmins. Broad of beam but kind of heart was Betty, such wrist strength –  how the Antipodeans welcomed us from the Mother country. The crowds, adulation and excitement of it all. I never felt so loved, adored and indeed Elizabeth, may I say needed…………”

He had an audience. However small, Bryn had an audience………..

Read Full Post »