Tuesday, 31 January 2012

True Be The Hearts That Love You

So, Sunday, I drove Dadda to see his youngest brother to pass on some medicine. His brother lives in the middle of nowhere and before we went, I wanted to see all the Arnold stuff was taken care of. I mean, his morning walk, his weekly bath, his dinner. Only problem was I woke up late (being out until past two the night before for Mark's birthday didn't help).

I said we would leave at noon and I went I got back from Arnold's walk, it was 11.30 and Dadda was blustering and hopping on coals. I thought about the way I would normally respond which is to get mad and ask him to find his own way of getting to the middle of nowhere without me. But I'd just listened my daily Tony Robbins tape that a dear colleague had given me for Christmas and had just defined failure as reacting the way I always react rather than responding. So I just went calmly on, made Arnold drink his water, bathed him (two lathers), wiped him down, had my own shower and changed, ladled out his food and then I was ready to leave. And it was noon. Sharp.

My father (who always reacts to these things like they're a way for me to diss him got into the with a face like thunder). I decided to ignore it. Not respond angrily, not try to placate him.

Libera was playing on the radio (the best of...Eternal CD) and the music is incredibly sweet and soothing. No temper can really last through it unless you're really determined to be angry.

I wasn't that angry to begin with, but I found even that little loosening. As we passed the Sungai Besi toll, I asked him how to get there. He called his brother and got instructions (which we totally messed up because he's not used to the new Kajang).

So I pulled over to the side of the road and my uncle, who had been waiting for us at the church which he thought was an easy landmark to find came out to find us. And then we went to a mamak for lunch and then over to his place for tea and fruitcake and chocolate.

I found a pack of angel cards on his altar and looked at him in surprise. "Angel cards?"

"Helen got me that," he said.

So I picked one. It said: "Play". So my message was that I would not be writing the story I thought I would be writing when I got back home. He also brought out a set of life purpose cards and I picked "Study". Hmmm....there seems to be a contradiction here.

Anyway, my uncle had all sorts of kooky things, compliments of his wife who is presently in England, and he talked about how he tries everything for two or three days and then gives up. He'd put on "music" which was one of those "rain on the roof" kind which is supposed to rewire your brain. It was soothing ambient sound and his apartment was very cool. Listening to the two talk about family matters and India and politics and God knows what else, I fell asleep.

I snapped out of slumber when I heard my uncle's voice apologise for boring me. I said I wasn't bored. I was lulled. We talked about his tendency for self sabotage and his habit of buying books he never reads beyond three pages and what to do about it.

Towards the end, he said...thank you, good conversation and seemed more positive. And as we took off for home, the atmosphere in the car was so different from before. And I changed the Libera CD for another Libera CD. (The best of, is a double CD) and gave myself up to the music. And got back in time for Dadda to get to church on time. Despite a traffic jam and minor storm along he way.

Sometimes it feels like someone has gotten inside me and ironed out the wrinkles. You know what I mean?

Monday, 30 January 2012


Last week was a week of celebrations. On Thursday, there was dinner with Hamdan, Addy and Sok Khee at this little French bistro in Section 17 that I had trouble getting to. Well, Hamdan whipped out his iPad 2 and guided me over the phone. Got there in one piece and wow. Was it a celebration. Our boy won an Eisenhower fellowship.

And Saturday was Mark's birthday and he was performing at Backyard 2. So I toddled up with my Arnold boy so he could hang out with me (a learning experience - Arnold doesn't even like the outside of bars, and he certainly does not like loud music, although he did like being patted by all and sundry). I gave Mark "The best of Jackson Browne" which I wrapped in calendar paper (I said I would give him my old CDs wrapped in old newspaper, but I didn't quite do that). Here's the ribbon I used to tie it all up.

And from the front...

Cute, huh?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

May The Road Rise Up

Huh, nearly missed it, didn't I? And affected my perfect record. But not quite. I still have four hours more. OK, three and a half. And if you came here for a blessing or a pick-me-up, let my boys do it for you.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Rise Together

I am now reading When Everything Changes by Neale Donald Walsch. It is peppered with poems by his wife, Em Claire. And I love them.
Here is one of them:

It's a beautiful time to be alive.
And the long walk home is peopled -
We are everywhere.
Yet the struggle to surrender is where we walk aone.
So the next time you fall
to either side where you lie
and take the hand
of your dear Sister or Brother
whose own face is muddied.
We can rise together,
even if we fall alone -
for it's a beautiful time to be alive
on this long walk home.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Violent Men

I've just finished "Must You Go?" by Antonia Fraser about her life with Harold Pinter and I had to draw a deep breath at the end. It's amazing how something written diary style, skipping back and forth between the years, could form, not only such a coherent, but a compelling narrative. It was funny, thought-provoking and tender by turns, heart-wrenching when it came to his illness and how he soldiered on. She left a lot of it out, so you get a few broad strokes, drumming down to the inevitable end.

But here is an entry from before he was given the death sentence that made me laugh out loud. Some things to remember: Antonia is married to Harold but she has six children from her first marriage to Sir Hugh Fraser. Damian is one of them and he is married to a Mexican girl.

1 February 1994

Palacio del Artes, Mexico City. Vast Art Deco building. Harold gave a poetry reading. Contrary to all our expectations, and their general rule, the Mexicans were all totally punctual. We learned later that there was a simple explanation for this. Damian had announced beforehand to all his friends: 'My stepfather is a very violent man and we must respect that.' The Mexicans all nodded sagely. While peaceful themselves, they understood violent men. 'And what makes him violent,' Damian went on, 'is people who come late to his speeches or poetry readings. Very violent,' he emphasized. So the Mexicans were all on time. Nor did the press bulbs flash unduly, since that was apparently another phenomenon calculated to provoke violence...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Gather Ye Rosebuds

It's been a lazy holiday. Most of the time, I've spent reading (Must You Go, Antonia Fraser, The Way of the Pilgrim, Anonymous, When Everything Changes, Neale Donald Walsch)and lolling around in bed.

Yesterday, I thought I would go to Backyard and see Mark and give him his birthday present. Instead, I filled a bowl with strawberry cheesecake-flavoured ice cream, lolled on the newly washed sofa, and watched an entire season of Modern Family.

That's 24 episodes.

Got a slight sick headache from all that pleasure and so to top it off, ordered a Golden Fortune pizza from Pizza Hut (I shared some of it with Arnold, who kept close to my heels).

And then the episodes wound to a close way past midnight and I stumbled off to bed. To read, perchance to sleep.

I slept.

Nice to get to bed without any fuss.

If you asked me to describe the day, I would say it was full of lazy and wanton pleasures.

But then, I like lazy and wanton pleasures.

It's nice to take a break from the schedule and just vegetate.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Shine on, Today

Just what it says...

Watch this video for a great start to your day:

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me ... We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look...To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.


Saturday, 21 January 2012


I love this so much I watch it over and over again. It fills me with delight. So of course, it belongs here. To fill you with delight too.

(Are you the friend I cannot see, Are you the one who cares for me?)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Right Here Waiting

I know you're hurting; I know you're sad.

But just remember.

I'm here if you want me.

If you want to talk.

If you just want to hang out.

If you want to play cricket (although we don't know how).

If you want someone to destroy songs with you.

In public. Or private.

If you can't sleep and want to talk.

Don't forget.

I'm here.

Right here waiting.

Just call.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dancing With A Limp

"You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

Anne Lamott

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

When Good Enough Is Good Enough

Somedays you get up and just good enough is good enough. I woke up late this morning because I was up all hours at my good friend Alison's for a scrumptious dinner (we went on eating long after we were stuffed to the gills) and wine and talk...and basically, I wouldn't have even woken up then if Arnold hadn't howled. He wanted his walkies.

So I pulled on my dog-walking pants, staggered out, and he started jumping all around, tongue hanging out, happy at last. We went on this new route we have discovered which makes him even happier. New smells and all that.

Then I got home and tried to get some of my morning rituals going...and it got later and later...and finally out of the house at 9.50 and into work at 10.20 and there's a lunch somewhere at the KL Hilton that I optimistically agreed to go for (and now I wish I hadn't as it cuts into my day and I still have stuff to transcribe, stuff to write)...

As I sat on the sofa after my shower, willing myself to get up, get changed and go tilting at that particular windmill we call work, this extremely voice came into my head. It said, things may not be perfect, I may not be perfect, but then, I was not expected to be.

Do what I can today, do it the best I can, and tomorrow is another day, slate wiped clean.

My word for the year is 'follow through'. So I'll follow through even when I'm not up to par, even when I disappoint my own expectations, even when there's no applause from my invisible audience.

Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

And now, a pat on the head.

Good girl.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Dog Walking Pants

At some point I should get around to telling you about the rhinos. They were lovely. And endangered. But not yet. I'm not in the right mood to do them justice.

Instead, remember these?

My favourite pants. They've become my dog-walking pants. They're comfortable and there are two big pockets at the side for the plastic bag and the paper to scoop to poop in. Putting on these pants engender a Pavlovian response in the dogs (mostly Arnold). When they see it, the know it's walkies time.

So, yeah, these pants not only give me joy.

They give the pooches joy as well.

Ain't that something?

Monday, 16 January 2012


I've just finished Larry King's Truth Be Told. It was given to me as a present last year by an appreciative contact whose story I had written. He thought I would value a memoir by a journalist.

This is how bad a journalist I am: I put it away on my shelf and in the meantime, went through my usual bizarre cocktail of reading matter (from the really kooky stuff to the really mundane that I forced myself to finish, just cos) but never touched this. It was there, on the shelf, smiling enticingly at me, but because the contact had said...journalists read this stuff, I didn't. I never like doing what I'm expected to do.

And then today, I picked it up. I had finished my last book just last night (Jon Kabat Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are) and was ready for something new. Something fresh. Maybe Margaret Atwood? I had not one, but two books to read. Both presents. But this was a present too.

Hmmm. I picked up Larry King. And didn't put it down until I finished it. I read in intervals throughout the day (stopping for a lunch at my aunt's), driving, walking along Bangsar pavements, buying a bathroom scale, yikes! taking the dogs for a walk, and other miscellaneous things that you cannot read a book and do).

But then I picked it up again straight after each of these. And read. And kept reading. Ashley, the hairdresser told me I had splendid powers of concentration. He watched me read without stopping for two straight hours.

"You want to cut short? No? Just trim? OK. You keeping long ah? Maybe later can come back and perm...."

Truth be told, I just loved it. It was so easy to read. Even when he was talking about really complex issues. And there was humour laced throughout. A sort of Mel Brooks-type dry wit.

Truth be told, I had never watched a single Larry King Live interview, in all those 25 years, so I was not attracted to the book. Now I wish I had.

It was a lovely day; a day of presents.

Only when I got into the book, did I understand and appreciate the present my contact/interviewee had given me. And if I remember, he sent me the loveliest thank you note, the only one I have received so far in this paper. I don't know what I did with it. I should have kept it.

And when I went for lunch, I received another present, Antonia Fraser's Must You Go? about her relationship with Harold Pinter. My aunt had read a story about it in one of her magazines and I happening to light upon her with an oven emergency, I baked what I had to, and the two of us took off for Kinokuniya to look for the book in question (it not being there, she ordered two, one copy for me, for my birthday....it's wonderful that I'm still receiving birthday presents in January).

Then when I got home, Chubs was here, having brought the D-man home from church and I asked if he wanted his presents now...I had ordered them off eBay and they had arrived already....and them being the old Jennings books (not the new editions, mind you, the old ones) he would like to enjoy them sooner. Of course he did. So he opened the two presents I had wrapped yesterday, stretched himself out on the sofa to read, and that was that.

A day of presents.

A day of presence.

Some days are like that.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Things I Learned Last Year That Will Be Of No Possible Use To Anyone But Me

1. Do not listen to Goodnight My Angel (the Libera version) when attempting to write a Coffee Break.

2. Do not leave laptop in the hall unguarded. Maggot may chew threw cable, throwing life into disarray.

3. Write down passwords somewhere safe because there are too many and you tend to forget them. Look what's happened with PayPal?

4. Always shop at least two months ahead for birthdays. Otherwise you'll either be too late, or it will be a rush job and not palatable.

5. Do not leave present in plastic/paper bag in Aunt's house when she is not there to open the gate and accept it or it will be torn to shreds by her naughty pup.

6. Transcribe and write stories as quickly as possible; those that hang over your head for a long time tend to take on gargantuan proportions. It doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be done.

7. One small bag is enough; make each thing you've packed work hard to justify it's place in your bag. And if it doesn't, don't pack it the next time.

8. Raincoats which double as trench coats are cool.

9. Sometimes making a list helps; sometimes it annoys the bejezus out of you.

10. Never bring your pay slips when you are first viewing a car. And for heaven's sake, don't sign anything.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Bloom of the Present Moment

There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of words. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.

Instead of singing, like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so I had my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest.

Thoreau, Walden

Friday, 13 January 2012

Poem Written When Drunk

Red wine, vodka lime
Blue lights, blue smoke
Mark singing...

And underneath it all
The bridge of sighs
As time stretches taut
and disappears into eternity.

And still we drink
Voices raised in song
Pushing away the moment
Pushing away tomorrow.

We raise our glasses
We drink to you
You are all you need to be.

Be well.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Letter from Nessa

You know what's really cool? Coming home to find I have a letter, an actual letter from someone I haven't heard from in a long time. A letter from Nessa. Who was one of my favourite bloggers and part of my tribe before. It was such a fun letter too, recounting what she did that day, newsy, full of stuff. You know, the kind of letter I like.

So I sat down and tossed one off to her.

Because this year, one of my resolutions is to write a letter a day.

It's all about creativity.

And connection.

N'um saying?

And if you're wondering about the design, those are angel wings.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Some Cool Stuff

Backyard on Monday, first time this year. I had a blast and drank too much (five red wines, my limit is two), wrote two poems, completely shitfaced (because that's what people like me do when drunk, either poems or letters), gave them to Sham (pictured above)....met Chelvi (also pictured above) for the first time, and basically just had the best time.

Mark was at his best because the place wasn't busy (how he likes it) and he could play a string of requests (also shout-outs, specifically, me shouting out) and I was so high I even smiled at a former enemy, though I stopped short of shaking his hand and wishing him a Happy New Year.

Ah well.

It was so worth coming home and throwing up all over my bedroom floor (and leaving it till morning to clean up) and staggering through the next day like a delicate piece of china, liable to break if even the slightest pressure was applied.

(It wasn't).

Instead, I recovered to conduct a really cool interview at 3, and make a new friend in the process.

Do I have the best life or what?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Nice Doggie, Daddy

My wife prepared breakfast as I stood at the dining room window gazing beyond a sentinel row of palm trees at the early morning sun forcing its rays through wisps of Texas fog. Our three-year-old daughter, Becky, was in the backyard, her attention riveted to the antics of a pair of quarreling blue jays.

Suddenly I snapped to attention. An awesome creature, ugly and misshapen, was meandering up the alley. In the hazy light of the early morning, it appeared like a monster out of the past. It was a huge thing, armed with long, curving tusks; down its high, arched back ran a great ridge, crowned with stiff bristles. I realized suddenly what it was: a pugnacious javelina, the fierce, wild hog of the Southwest plains country.

I took no time to ponder where it came from or how it had managed to penetrate a thickly populated residential section, for it was progressing slowly, grunting, sniffing and rooting with its long snout as it ambled along. I started to shout to Becky to run inside, but I was too late. She and the animal had sighted each other simultaneously. The grunts shifted to a low, menacing rumble. The tip of the long nose was an inch from the ground, gleaming button eyes were fastened on my daughter, the beast's four stubby legs were braced to charge.

I started to dash upstairs for a gun, but I knew I could never get it in time. As though hypnotized, I stared at the drama that was unfolding just a few yards away.

Becky approached the javelina, hands outstretched, making gurgling childish sounds as she advanced. The hog stood its ground, its grunts even more threatening. I looked at those fearsome tusks and the sharp even teeth - one slash could lay a man open.

I started to call to my wife, but something held me mute. If she should look out the window and scream, a chain reaction might be touched off that could end in terrible tragedy.

Becky, who had been only a few steps away from the beast when they first sighted each other, closed the distance between them with calm deliberation. With hands still outstretched, she reached the side of the beast. One small hand went up to a tough, bristly ear and scratched it. The deep-throated rumblings gradually turned into a gravely, almost purring sound. I thought irrelevantly of the idling of a powerful motor. The top of the round, wet nose was gently nudging against Becky's ankle. Unbelievably, the animal seemed to be enjoying the attention he was receiving, and my pulse beat slowly dropped to normal. Some perception within the ugly creature must have told him that he had nothing to fear from this tiny child.

The encounter ended as abruptly as it began. Becky suddenly turned away and came toward the house. The javelina seemed to realize that the short love fest was over and slowly ambled on its way.

Becky passed me as she came through the room. "Nice doggie, Daddy," she said nonchalantly.

By Henry N. Ferguson

Monday, 9 January 2012

Grey Day, Pink Feelings

The sky is a vague memory of blue
The rain incessant, unheeding
Even the telephone wires seem to hang
sad and limp

A grey day
A morbid day
A day for Sylvia Plath
and Anne Sexton


a loved one is healing,
becoming whole
Each new day a blessing
Every day a new miracle

a friend is waiting
for a hug, a shared meal
Love expressed in
Saffron rice, herbed potatoes
Chicken vindaloo
And a chocolate raspberry streusel bar

Somewhere, someone is falling in love.

Grey day.
But pink feelings,
Pink, pink feelings.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Coming Home

All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal-miners, bee-keepers, sword-swallowers, all of us, all the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way to go home.

It's hard to describe how I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in a driving snow. You don't even know you're walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts. Your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel. How far away home can be.

Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination.

The storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or, as the poet Dante put it: "In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood for I had lost the right path."

Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place.

From Patch AdamsAll of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal-miners, bee-keepers, sword-swallowers, all of us, all the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way to go home.

It's hard to describe how I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in a driving snow. You don't even know you're walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts. Your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel. How far away home can be.

Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination.

The storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or, as the poet Dante put it: "In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood for I had lost the right path."

Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place.

From Patch Adams

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A Week Later

It's a week into the new year. I didn't think I was going to make any real resolutions. I mean, I had been doing them for years, and look at the results? That big stagnating lump of coal in the corner? See that? Yeah, that's me.

Feeling tired all the time and not doing anything about it...setting my alarm for 5 in the morning and waking up at 11 (work starts at 10), staying up late doing really important things like playing (and losing) endless games of Spider Solitaire or reading....

And then close to Christmas, I had not one but two stories rejected. Back to back. Not good enough. Did not fit the criteria. And I was so tired. Running on empty. Wishing it was all just over so I could get into the car, drive back to JB and go to sleep for a while.

Anyways, since I had no leave for Christmas, I had to come back pretty soon after. And I had no leave for New Year's either, so I just cooled my heels in KL, cleaned my room. tried to find some semblance of organisation in all this chaos. And then, as things settled down, the dust cleared and I was thinking again. Not much, just a little. And resolutions formed themselves almost despite of me.

On the night before New Year, I opened my Starbucks planner (procured with much effort and 15 handmade coffees) and started writing down things I would do and ticking them off.

1. Write a letter
2. Meditation
3. A Course in Miracles
4. Tackle Jackie's origami set (one of my birthday presents)
5. Take dogs for walk.

and so on, and so on.

I saw the New Year in watching Field of Dreams. I wanted it to be symbolic...what you start the year doing continues the whole year round. I wanted this year to be about listening to strange and unexplainable voices in my head...but ones that led to ultimate good.

I didn't finish watching it. Just at the part where Ray and Terence go in search of Moonlight, I switched off the tv, went back to my room and started working on my list some more.

If you do the Christine Kane programme, you know that she recommends you have a "word of the year". Well, my word of the year is "follow through". Because, most times, I don't. I start with all possible enthusiasm and then "...I write, I paint, I find, I do not care..."

So yeah, the two things that would make a tremendous difference to my life? Increasing my energy level so I could actually wake up on time...and following through on whatever I had decided to do.

When out with George on Jan 2, and nodding off in the plush seats of Smokehouse, I decided that for energy, I needed vitamins. Lots of them. So I walked into GNC and walked out with over RM300 worth of them. And I have been taking them faithfully every morning. George thinks they are so much voodoo - if I believe they'll work, they will...but hey, I feel better, and I actually wake up early (er).

The meditation has been calming me down (but that's a long and winding road considering how knotted up I actually am).

But you know what's the best thing?

The feeling that even if I'm screwed up, at least I am doing something, a little, every day, to address it.

And that is worth all the resolutions in the world.

Friday, 6 January 2012

A Beauty Bomb

Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A Beauty Bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air - explode softly - and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to the earth boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn't go cheap, either - not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination.

Robert Fulghum

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Jennings And Darbishire (The Search Party)

As the five o'clock bus from Dunhambury left the town and sped along the Linbury road, Mr Carter turned to his colleague in the seat behind him.

"It's as well I ran ahead and stopped the bus. There isn't another one for two hours," he said.

Mr Wilkins nodded. He was still breathing heavily from the exertion of shepherding his flock along the road to the bus stop at a brisk eight miles an hour. Now, at last, he could relax.

"I suppose you counted to make sure that all the team were with you?" Mr Carter asked.

"Well, actually, no, I didn't," Mr Wilkins admitted. "What with you holding the bus back for us, and the conductor waving to us to get a move on, I didn't have time. But you needn't worry, Carter; they're all here, right enough. I'll count then now, if it'll make you feel any happier."

The magenta-and-white caps of Linbury Court School were easily distinguishable in the crowded vehicle, and Mr Wilkins could see them all from where he sat - Venables and Atkinson in the front seats, with Temple and Bromwich major just behind: across the gangway he noted Rumbelow, and Martin-Jones, Binns major and Nuttall, and in the back row were Parslow and Thompson.

"That's queer! I can only see ten," muttered Mr Wilkins. "There must be one I haven't counted."

"There should be two more," corrected Mr Carter. "Eleven in the team, plus a linesman makes...Linesman! Yes, of course; where are Jennings and Darbishire?"

Mr Wilkins looked baffled for a moment. Then he said: "They must be on the bus, somewhere. Perhaps, they've gone upstairs."

"Upstairs!? Mr Carter's voice rose in shocked surprise. "This, Wilkins, is a single-decker bus!"

"Eh, what's that! I...I.. Corwumph! Good heavens, so it is. I never noticed!"

"Well, really Wilkins! You were responsible for seeing every one off the platform. Surely I can leave a simple job liek that to..."

"All right, all right, all right!" Mr Wilkins was inclined to grow excitable at times of crisis. He leapt to his feet for a rapid recount, calling loudly: "Hands up, everybody! Put your hands up; I want to see who's here."

The Linbury boys obeyed, and a middle-aged lady with a shopping basket shot both hands towards the ceiling, under the impression that an armed hold-up was in progress.

"Quickly, now. Hands up all the boys who aren't here - er, I mean, has any one seen Jennings and Darbishire?"

Again he counted, but the total remained obstinately at ten.

"Are you sure they're not here, sir?" queried Thompson.

"Of course I'm sure, you silly little boy. They wouldn't have put their hands up if they were; or rather, they would have put their hands up if they ... oh, be quiet!" Mr Wilkins was feeling rather confused. Action, prompt and immediate, was called for, and he pushed his way along to the door at the back. "I say, conductor, stop the bus! You're going the wrong way - I mean, I want to get off!"

By now, the team was agog with excitement and the other passengers were seething with curiosity.

"Just like old Jennings to go and make a bish of things!"

"Perhaps they were in a hurry, so they've run on ahead."

The bus buzzed with wild speculation, and the lady with the shopping basket crouched low in her seat, expecting any second to hear the sharp crack of revolver shots. She had spent the afternoon watching a gangster film at the Dunhamnbury Empire, and the memory was still vivid.

It was Mr Carter who restored order and persuaded his colleague to return to his seat. He pointed out that no useful purpose would be served by alighting on a deserted country road two miles from the town. By the time they had walked back, it would be dark and they would probably miss the boys in the maze of streets near the station. Far better, he reasoned, to return to school first and telephone the station to see if they were still there.

"They may even have got back on the train to retrieve their belongings and been carried on to the next stop," he pointed out with brilliant guesswork.

"And where's the next stop - Brighton?" snorted Mr Wilkins.

"Oh, no. It's only a local train. The next station is a little place called Pottlewhistle Halt."

"I'll Pottlewhistle Halt them if they have! I tell you, Carter, when I get hold of Jennings and Darbishire I'll...I'll...well, they'd better look out!"

"Quite. But if you'd looked out at the bus stop it would have saved a lot of trouble," Mr Carter reminded him.

Soon the bus drew up at the school gates, and when the remaining five-sixths of the team had been hustled indoors, the two masters made for the telephone in Mr Carter's study and put through a call to Dunhambury station. Unfortunately, no one there could throw any light on the whereabouts of the two boys and the senior master wore a worried frown as he replaced the receiver.

"I'll go along and tell the Head at once," he said. At the door, he turned and added: "If you want to be useful, Wilkins, you can phone the next station down the line and see if they got off there."

"Yes, of course; I'll do it right away." And Mr Wilkins strode over to the telephone as the door closed behind his colleague.

The next station down the line! That would be...Mr Wilkins paused in the act of picking up the receiver. What was the name that Carter had mentioned in the bus? Whistlepottle Halt?...Pottlewhistle Halt?...Or was it Haltpottle Whistle? Mr Wilkins could not be sure.

"It's either Whistlehalt Pottle or Pottlehalt Whistle," he muttered to himself as he sat with the receiver to his ear, waiting for Enquiries! to come to his aid.

When it did, he said: "Oh hullo, Enquiries! Can you put me through to a station called Whistleport Hortle please? ... What's that? There's no such place? Well, try Haltpottle Whistle, then?"

The operator regretted that she couldn't find that place either, but after Mr Wilkins had suggested Haltwhistle Pottle and Pittlewhostle Halt, she said she thought she knew where the caller meant.

"Oh good - that's more than I do," said the caller thankfully; and a few moments later the voice of the elderly porter sounded on line.

"Hullo, are you Whistlehalt Pott? I want to speak to the stationmaster, please," said Mr Wilkins.

A burring Sussex accent replied that the stationmaster had gone home to his tea.

"Well, never mind, you'll do just as well if you're the Whistlehalt Pott porter. Can you tell me whether the last train from Dunhambury halted at Pottlewhistle Stop? Er, stopped at Pottlewhistle Halt? Oh, good. Well did you notice if two boys in school caps alighted at the station?"

The voice replied that there wasn't much at Pollwillall for any one to feel pleased about.

"No, no, no. I said alighted, not delighted. I asked you whether they got off."

There was a pause at the other end of the line, and then the voice declared that it was a funny thing that he should be asked that question: for bless his soul if he hadn't seen two boys walking away from the station towards Cowpatch Wood just after the train had left. He had thought to himself that such a thing was queer - distinctly queer seeing as how he hadn't seen them get off the train - but there it was!

"Thank you very much. Good-bye!" Mr Wilkins replaced the receiver, and heaved a sigh of relief.

Now, at least, they knew roughly where the boys had got to. All that was needed was for some responsible person to walk over the Downs towards Pottle-whatever-it-was, and meet them.

He hurried from the room and along to the Headmaster's study where he found Mr Pemberton-Oakes frowning over Mr Carter's news.

"But this is ridiculous, Carter," the Headmaster was saying. "Surely we can win a football match without losing part of the team in the process! I shall telephone the police station immediately."

"It's all right - I've found them," Mr Wilkins burst out. "Or rather, I know where they are."

"Oh, good! You got through to Pottlewhistle Halt then?" asked Mr Carter.

"So that's what it's called, is it! You could have told me," replied his colleague. "Yes, I've been through, and the Pottleport Halt whistler - er, the Whistlehalt Pott porter - er - the man in charge of the station saw them making for some woods."

The Headmaster continued to frown thoughtfully. It was quite dark now and the boys might easily lose their way - if, indeed, they ever knew it in the first place - among the criss-crossing footpaths which led over the Downs to Linbury. Now, what would be the best course to pursue, he wondered? ...Ah! He had it! A search-party of some half-dozen or more persons equipped with torches and whistles would be the best way of contacting the missing boys in the darkness.

The rest of the school were having tea, and time would be lost in selecting and briefing suitable boys for their task; but the 2nd XI, still in their outdoor shoes and raincoats, could set off at once. They were the obvious choice, for they had had their tea at Bracebridge and already knew the purpose of the search.

Five minutes later, the ten remaining members of the team were standing in a group on the quad, listening to their instructions.

"We're going over the Downs towards Pottlewhistle," Mr Carter told them. "Jennings and Darbishire are bound to be approaching from that direction, so we'll all keep together until you're given the order to spread out and search. Then you'll keep in touch by listening for whistle signals. Three long blasts will mean that you're to report back to Mr Wilkins or to me at one. Now, have you all got torches?"

"I told them to go and collect them," said Mr Wilkins. "We shall need them too, because...Oh, I say, Carter, I haven't got one myself! In the heat of the moment I quite forgot to go and fetch it."

Mr Carter sighed. He felt that the search-party would get on much better if only Mr Wilkins would agree to stay at home; for with his colleague playing a major part in the expedition, there was always the chance that they would lose the rest of the team instead of finding the two who were missing.

But Mr Carter didn't say so. Instead, he asked: "Has any boy got a torch to lend Mr Wilkins?"

"Yes, I have, sir. Here you are, sir; you can have this one," said Temple generously.

"Thank you," said Mr Wilkins. "Are you sure you won't need it yourself?"

"Oh, no, sir, that's all right. It's no good to me, sir - it hasn't got a battery."

"I...I...Corwumph! But, you silly little boy, what's the good of..."

"I think we'd better be going," said Mr Carter hastily. "Just stand still while I count you all."

He switched on his torch and checked carefully; ten boys, plus two masters. Satisfied, he gave the order. "Right; lead on down the drive, Venables!"

The search party was on its way!


The network of lanes and footpaths between Pottlewhistle and Linbury offer a choice of picturesque walks on fine summer afternoons. On dark November evenings, however, they lose much of their charm, and by the time Jennings and Darbishire had covered three miles they were beginning to tire of the Sussex countryside.

If only they had followed the road, they might - with luck - have found their way back to school unaided; but unfortunately Jennings trusted to his sense of direction to guide them safely through what he hoped was a short-cut.

It wasn't; and very soon they had to admit that they were hopelessly lost. For twenty minutes they followed a footpath which led them to the summit of a grassy hill. Then, for no apparent reason, the path stopped short like an escalator disappearing below ground level.

"Oh fish-hooks, this is feeble!" lamented Darbishire. "We must have walked about a thousand miles and I'm so hungry I'm beginning to rattle. What couldn't I do with some more re-fills of that shepherd's pie!"

"If only we could be sure we were going the right way," said Jennings in a worried voice. "We may be walking round and round in circles like chaps in a fog."

"Or, in the desert," Darbishire added gloomily. "They walk for miles through never-ending sand and then, when they're just about dead from hunger, they see supersonic oasis-es with masses of stuff to eat like boxes of dried dates and palm trees."

"If I saw a mirage I'd rather it was bulging with shepherd's pie."

"M'yes, but you wouldn't be able to eat it, because you can only see the mirages properly when they aren't there," Darbishire explained. "Or rather, when they are there, you can't see them quite plainly, if you see what I mean. That's why they call them mirages, and my father says..."

"Oh don't talk such aerated eyewash, Darbi," said Jennings, coming to a halt. "The only thing I can see quite plainly is that it's too dark to see anything at all. Why, I can hardly see my hand in front of my face."

Darbishire sank down on the damp grass for a rest. "I shouldn't strain your eyes trying to. It's only..."

"Oh goodness!" Jennings abandoned his hand-raising experiment and turned towards his reclining friend in dismay. "I say, Darbi - what do you think?"

"I don't know. Whatever I think, it's bound to be wrong - it always is," came in complaining tones from ground level. "Go on, you tell me what I think, if you're so clever."

"I've lost my glove again!"

"You can't have lost it again, because you never really lost it properly the first time. I expect you've got it on. Have a look and see."

Curtly Jennings pointed out that if it was too dark to see his hand in front of his face, there was little chance of seeing his glove there, either. He turned back along the way they had come and followed the path down the hill for a few yards. He knew his glove couldn't be far away, for he remembered twirling both of them round and round like propellers, less than five minutes before.

Wearily, Darbishire rose to his feet and followed his friend down the path. He was cold and hungry and very unhappy; but as he was lost anyway, it mattered little to him whether they went forward or retraced their steps.

For a hundred yards, they wended their way, feeling with their feet and stopping now and again to investigate some black shape which turned out, on closer inspection, to be a mole-hill or a tussock of grass.

"I'm just about fed up to the eardrums with all this mooching about," Darbishire complained. "I wish there was someone we could ask; if only there was a ploughman homeward plodding his weary way, or even a double-decker bus winding slowly o'er the lea that we could catch."

"You've got a hope!" Jennings retorted. "We're more likely to catch frostbite from being marooned all night with only one glove. I bet there isn't another person about for miles."

It was then that they heard the whistle - three long, low blasts sounding distantly from the bottom of the hill. Jennings gripped his friend's arm and his voice throbbed with excitement.

"I say, Darbi, did you hear a whistle just then?

"That wasn't a whistle: that was a moping owl," Darbishire decided.

"But there were three of them!"

"All right then, three moping owls; or the same owl moping three times. Besides, owls don't whistle; they go tu-whit to-whoo and to the moon complain, of such as wandering near..."

"Oh, shut up! I wish you'd leave Gray's Elegy out of this. Listen, there it is again!"

There was no doubt about it. The blasts were nearer now, and with a sudden start of joy, Jennings recognised them. "Oh, wacko! It's Mr Carter's referee whistle."

Darbishire was sceptical. "You're bats! How could it be? You must be hearing things."

"Of course I'm hearing things. I just heard Mr Carter's whistle."

"No, I mean you're hearing things that aren't there. It's probably a mirage, only as it's too dark to see, it's affecting your ears instead of your eyes."

But a few moments later the 'mirage' grew more distinct and the whistles were followed by distant shouts and the flashing of torches. Then the shouts sounded closer, and the boys recognised Venables' high-pitched voice and heard Atkinson call in reply. Temple and Martin-Jones coming up the grass slope at right-angles to the footpath. Another torch flashed away to the left, and Mr Wilkins' stentorian bellow could be heard telling Bromwich major to look where he was walking.

"The whole team's there," Jennings gasped in surprise. "Fancy meeting them wandering about miles from anywhere. They seem to be looking for something too. I wonder what on earth it can be!"

Oddly enough, it never occurred to either Jennings or Darbishire that they might be the object of the search. To them, the most likely explanation was that the team had missed the bus at Dunhambury and were walking back to school over the Downs. Perhaps, they, too, had tried to take a short-cut with unfortunate results.

"Wacko! We're rescued! Let's beetle down the hill in top gear and join them," cried Darbishire.

But Jennings advised caution. It was just possible, he reasoned, that in the scurry of missing the bus and hampered by the approach of darkness, no one had noticed their absence. After all, who could tell, without a careful check, whether they were ten boys or twelve in the party? If, then, he and Darbishire announced their return to the fold with joyful wacko's and hearty back-slappings, Mr Wilkins would realise that they had not been amonsgt those present during the past hour. He would probe into the matter; unpleasant facts about accidental train rides would emerge and a whole chapter of misfortunes would come to light which would be better forgotten.

"Yes, there's something in that," Darbishire agreed. "What had we better do, then?"

"We'll just join up with them quietly, one at a tine, and not say much, for a kick-off. They won't notice in the dark; and when they've found the way, we'll all get back to school without any one knowing we haven't been with them all the time. Go on, you hoof off and join them, and I'll follow in a minute."

Darbishire set off down the path, taking care to keep out of the beams of the torches sweeping over the hillside. Jennings watched until his friend was swallowed up in the darkness: then he strolled slowly after him.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Jennings and Darbishire (The Shades of Night)

Halfway up the hill, Mr Wilkins paused to rally his forces.

"Keep together, you boys. Don't straggle, or you'll get lost. And if any one thinks he hears a ...Be quiet Venables, when I'm talking!"

"I was being quiet, sir?"

"Well, don't be quiet so loudly! It's difficult enough to keep track of you in the dark without...Now, where's Mr Carter got to?"

"He's still over by that barn, sir. I heard his whistle a moment ago," said a voice in the darkness.

"Good! I'll give an answering whistle so he can join us, and the we'll press on." Mr Wilkins searched through his pockets in vain. "Tut-tut-tut! I seem to have left my whistle behind at school."

"I can lend you one, sir," said another disembodied voice. "It isn't much of a thing though. I got it out of a crackers last Christmas, sir."

"Never mind where you got it, so long as it works," Mr Wilkins groped in the gloom and found himself holding a thin wooden reed, barely an inch long.

In the distance, three long, low blasts boomed out light a lightship's siren as Mr Carter sought to make contact with the main party. Immediately, Mr Wilkins put the toy whistle to his lips and blew with all the strength of a north-easterly gale. A thin, high-pitched pheep-pheep, like the chirrup of a newly-hatched chick, was audible at a distance of three yards, and the boys around the whistler collapsed with laughter.

"Oh sir! What a feeble whistle, sir!"

"Golly, sir! Is that your famous jet-propelled, short-wave radar transmitter, sir?"

"I...I..Corwumph! Be quiet and listen to me. When we get to the top of this hill, half of you will go with Mr Carter towards Haltpottle and the rest will come with me towards...Who's that boy straying about? I said no one was to go wandering off."

"I think it's Atkinson, sir," guessed Temple: though, in point of fact, it was Darbishire making a roundabout approach.

"No, it's not me; I'm here, sir," Atkinson's voice piped up from the outer darkness.

Mr Wilkins strained his eyes trying to identify the shapes milling around him. "I can't see who's here and who isn't. Stand still, everybody - I'm going to count you."

He marched round the little group, prodding each boy in the chest and calling his number aloud. A note of bewilderment crept into his voice as he reached the end of his census. "...eight, nine, ten, eleven!"

Eleven! It couldn't possibly be eleven: they had only ten to start with!

Mr Carter arrived at that moment. He was followed at a discreet distance by Jennings, who passed unseen into the midst of this group, as Mr Wilkins turned to his colleague in despair.

"This is hopeless, Carter! I'm trying to count these boys and they keep moving about in the dark."

"Is any one missing - apart from the two we're looking for?"

"I don't think so. The last time I counted it came to one more than it should have done." The master's voice sounded strained as he started his check all over again. "One, two, three, four, five...tut-tut, I don't know whether I've counted that boy over there. Is it you, Bromwich?"

"I don't know, sir; I can't see."

"You don't have to see, Bromo. You know if it's you, don't you? said Venables.

"Oh yes, this is me all right, but I don't know whether I've been counted," Bromwich major explained.

The note of strain in Mr Wilkins' voice grew more marked as he grappled with his counting.

"....six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, TWELVE!"

The last word was uttered in a strangled squeak, as though the speaker's vocal chords were strung to the tension of a violin's E string.

Twelve! The thing was fantastic! Somebody must have moved twice; or perhaps two people had moved once; perhaps...Mr Wilkins gave it up. At any rate, their numbers were not short, so now they could press on with the business at hand.

The party moved slowly up the hill, straining their eyes and ears for any sign of the missing boys. But they did not look behind them or they might have observed that the objects of their search had attached themselves to the fringe of the group. As they wandered on, Jennings peered about as keenly as the official searchers, for he was still hoping to find his fleecy-lined glove.

At the top of the hill they all stopped to pick up their bearings and the two masters held a short conference.

"This seems to be the end of the path, Carter," said Mr Wilkins doubtfully. "Now I wonder what lies over there to the north?"

"I think it's the way back to Pottlewhistle Halt, sir," said Jennings helpfully.

"Don't interrupt, boy, when I'm talking to Mr Carter. I've had enough of Whistlehalt Pott for one evening, and besides..."

Mr Wilkins stopped abruptly. The voice from the darkness had had a familiar ring. For a moment he could have sworn it was...But how could it be? "Which boy spoke just then?" he demanded loudly.

"I did, sir," replied seven boys who were enjoying a lively discussion about how far cats could see in the dark.

"No, no, no...not you people! Somebody else; I was almost sure..." He turned again to his colleague. "I say, Carter, I'm hearing things. Somebody spoke just then, and it sounded like Jennings."

"That's just wishful thinking, I'm afraid."

"Yes, I suppose it must have been. This business is getting me down. I tell you, Carter, I'll be thankful when this wild-goose chase is over. I wouldn't be surprised if those two silly boys have turned up at school by this time, and he we are traipsing about all over the countryside, and..."

A loud shout came from a patch of shadow a few yards to the right.

"Ooh sir! Quick, sir! Come over here, sir - I've found something."

"Who's that?"

"It's me, sir - Temple. I've just found a glove this rabbit hole, sir."

Instantly, torches clicked on and beams of light were focused on the speaker. Temple was kneeling on the turf a few paces down the hill, and in his hand was a fleecy-lined glove. He screwed up his eyes as he held the name-tab up towards the torchlight.

"J.C.T Jennings. I've found Jennings' glove," he shouted in triumph.

"Wacko!" cried the owner, but his exclamation was lost in the stampede to investigate the find at close quarters.

The discovery put new heart into the searchers. Here was a clue which proved that they were on the right track after all. Why, with any luck the absentees might even be within earshot, and Mr Wilkins lost no time in giving his instructions.

"We'll all shout together at the top of our voices," he commanded. "Take a deep breath, every one. Now! One, two, three..."

"JEN-NINGS!" A vast wave of sound rolled over the quiet downland, scaring the wild creatures of the night, and setting the farm dogs barking in the valley below. Faintly,the echo returned from the surrounding hills..."JEN-NINGS!"

"Yes, sir?" said Jennings, briskly.

He was standing just behind Mr Wilkins, and he had to sidestep smartly as the master recoiled from the shock and swung round like a rotating gun-turret.

"I...I...I...Corwumph! Who spoke then? Who said 'Yes, sir'?

"Me, sir - Jennings. I thought I heard you calling me, sir."

"But...but...you're standing right here in the middle of us!"

"Yes, sir. I wondered why you were shouting so loudly, sir."

It was perhaps as well that Mr Wilkins' features were obscured by the shades of night, and that the emotions searing through him were not visible to the naked eye. His jaw dropped through thirty degrees and his lips moved as though he would speak. But, for the moment, the fount of speech was dry.

The rest of the party were equally surprised by Jennings' unexpected appearance. They surged round him, voicing exclamations of disbelief.

"I say, it's not really you, is it Jen?"

"Of course, it's me. And old Darbi's about somewhere, too. We've been here some time."

"Why didn't you say so before?"

"Well, nobody asked me before."

"If you want to know what I think, you've no business to be here at all. You're supposed to be lost," grumbled Martin-Jones. He felt, somehow, that he was being cheated.

Mr Carter rescued Jennings and Darbishire from the jostling crowd around them. He listened to a brief outline of their misfortunes, and wisely decided to leave the details until they had returned to school.

"Well, I'm glad we've found you at last," he said. "We've been searching high and low."

"Yes, sir; so have I," Jennings answered.

"You've been searching? Whatever for?"

"For my glove, sir. Wasn't it a good job Temple found it! Matron would have been awfully fed up if I'd gone back without it, sir."

"Doh!" An anguished gasp of exasperation rang out loud and clear as Mr Wilkins found his voice again. "I...I...Really, Carter, it's too much! Any one would think we'd got nothing better to do all night than grope our way round the rural parish of Whistlepottle like a pack of moles."

"Never mind, Wilkins; we can start making for home now."

"Yes, yes, yes, I know, but the whole thing's too ridiculous, Carter! Here have we been traipsing round looking for two wretched little boys, who have been traipsing round with us looking for a wretched little glove!"

As they descended the hill, Darbishire sought out Jennings and fell into step beside him.

"I say, did you hear what Mr Wilkins said just then, Jennings?" he asked. "If we're still somewhere near Pottlewhistle we must have been walking round in circles like chaps in a mirage."

"Huh! A mirage is nothing to get excited about," his friend answered as he pulled on his newly-found glove. "Just look at Old Wilkie - he's walking round in circles like a chap in a trance!"


It was late when the search-party reached Linbury Court and later still before the boys had finished their supper. But despite the lateness of the hour, Jennings and Darbishire were summoned to the Headmaster's study before they were allowed to go upstairs to their dormitory.

They spent an uncomfortable twenty minutes listening to Mr Pemberton-Oakes' reproving words, and wondering what action he was going to take when he came to the end of them. Many of his observations they had heard before, and it was no news to them that he was "somewhat at a loss to understand" their motives, and that he "asked himself why they should fail to observe the rules of civilised behaviour."

But behind the Headmaster's ponderous words was a feeling of relief that the boys had come to no harm. her was a fair-minded man and he realised that the escapade was due more to muddle-headed reasoning than to disobedience. However, as the culprits had caused a great deal of trouble, neither of them would be allowed to accompany a school team to an "away" match for the rest of the term.

Jennings and Darbishire went upstairs to their dormitory in a subdued frame of mind.

"Talk about mouldy luck!" Jennings complained. "It's not so bad for you because you're not in the team, but there are at least four more 'away' matches I shall have to miss; and some of those schools dish out a supersonic tea after the game."

"Never mind, you'll be able to spend more time on our mag," Darbishire consoled him. "We ought to be getting the next number out pretty soon, now."

"With a nice front-page picture of the winning goal in the Bracebridge match, I suppose!"

Jennings wasn't going to let his assistant forget his shortcomings as a press photographer. "Honestly, Darbi, you're about as handy with a camera as a carthorse on stilts. You turn up when the game's half over, and load yourself up on three refills of shepherd's pie before any one else can even get their forks on the job. If you want to know what I think, you've bished up the whole day. I should have never left my glove in the train if I hadn't been worrying myself bald-headed about what you were going to get up to next."

"But you didn't leave it in the train. And besides..." Darbishire stopped. The criticism was grossly unfair, but perhaps it might be better not to argue about the photographs of the Bracebridge match while the little matter of shepherd's pie still rankled in the minds of the team. They would have to think of something else for the front page - the story of their accidental train ride, for instance: that should make good reading!

In his mind's eye he pictured the banner headlines: Jennings and Darbishire Discover Search Party...And underneath, in smaller type: Search Party Discover Fleecy-Lined Glove.

The story sounded so promising that he reached for his diary and began writing a rough draft as he sat up in bed.

An enthusiastic gathering took place near Pottlewhistle Halt last Saturday evening, when the mysterious disappearance of a missing glove led to an interesting episode, he wrote. Asked by our Special Correspondent to comment on the proceedings, Mr L.P. Wilkins, the well-known schoolaster, said...

But at that moment, Mr Carter put out the dormitory light and the observations of Mr L.P. Wilkins were, fortunately, lost in the darkness.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Jennings and Darbishire

So, what better way to start the year than with some Jennings. And Darbishire. Children's books. The leading promoter of joy in the world.(I mean come on, Harry Potter?)

The following scene was from Jennings and Darbishire by Anthony Buckeridge. When I read it, I think I spat out what I was eating because I was laughing so hard. If you're thinking of buying the Jennings books, try to get the original versions rather than the watered down later ones, which were updated and sanitized out of all recognition.

OK nuff preamble. Let's get on with it! This will carry us over the next three days. Day One: Destination Unknown

If only Darbishire had made his escape a little earlier, he could have taken a photograph of the winning goal, which was scored by Temple in the opening minutes of the game. But by the time the linesman had arrived painting at his action station, the play had settled down to a level struggle between two well-matched sides, and no more goals were scored.

It was a good,, fast game; too fast for Darbishire to make much use of the camera, for when the play was near his touchline he was too busy with his linesmanship, and when the ball veered across the pitch the players were too far away to be photographed.

Jennings did not discover this till they were in the railway carriage on their return journey.

"Smashing game, wasn't it, Darbi!" he said. "Did you get a photo of the winning goal?"

The camera-man had to confess that the only photograph he could be sure of was a snap of Bromwich major sucking a lemon at half-time.

"Well, you're a bright sort of character, I must say!" Jennings complained. "For all the help you've been, you might just as well have been back at the school sitting in the classroom."

Hastily, Darbishire changed the subject. "Supersonic tea, they gave us, wasn't it? That shepherd's pie was the wizardest garbage I've tasted for months. I had three refills."

In the corner seat, Mr Carter raised a painful eyebrow. "You had what, Darbishire?"

"Oh, sorry, sir. I mean I had three helpings of that delicious dish, sir."

A mumble of protest arose all around all round the carriage. "Coo, that's not fair, Darbishire wolfing three helpings. I only got one," complained Venables bitterly.

"Same here," grumbled Temple. "They told me they'd run out of shepherds by the time I'd got enough space for refuelling; and no wonder with old Darbishire belting into it like nobody's business."

"I don't think linesmen deserve any tea at all," added Atkinson. "After all, any one can prance up and down the touchline like a lobster in elastic-sided boots, and wag a flag till he's black in the face."

"Hear, hear!" said all the players who had had less than three helpings.

It was clear that linesmen as a class were unpopular, so Darbishire turned to admire the scenery through the open carriage window. But his critics would allow him no peace.

"There you go - bishing up all the regulations," bristled Atkinson, "There's a warning about people like you over the door. Can't you read?"

Darbishire glanced upwards. It is Dangerous for Passengers to put their Heads out of the Window, he read.

"I didn't put my heads out," he defended himself. "I've only got one head to put. That notice is bats. It ought to say - No Passenger must put his own head out."

"Fair enough! That means we can put somebody else's head out," said Bromwich major. "Whose shall we put?"

"Darbishire's, of course - he's only the linesman," was the unanimous verdict of the critics.

Jennings rallied to his friend's assistance. "It's jolly well not fair, all setting on one chap. The trouble is the railway people aren't very good at bashing out notices. What they should say is All passengers must not put his, her or its head out, respectively."

"You couldn't put your head out respectively," Atkinson objected. "What you mean is, reflectively." Because if you did, and another train came along with a supersonic whoosh-doyng, it wouldn't half give you something to reflect about."

Mr Carter groaned quietly. One of the disadvantages of being a schoolmaster, he maintained, was that one had to listen to idiotic nonsense for long periods. However, the train was approaching Dunhambury station by this time, so his ordeal would not last much longer.

"Start getting your cases down, and don't leave anything on the rack," he ordered. "Have you got your gloves, Jennings?

"I think so, sir. Here's one in my pocket, and the other's about somewhere, sir."

"Where are your football boots, Venables?"

"In my case, sir. I wrapped them in my clean towel because they were a bit muddy, sir."

The train slowed and stopped, and Mr Carter led the way on to the platform, while from the next carriage stepped Mr Wilkins and the rest of the team.

They had no time to waste, for the bus back to Linbury was due to leave in less than two minutes; so Mr Carter hurried ahead to detain it at the bus stop, leaving his colleague to marshal the boys on the platform and bring them along as quickly as possible.

"Come along, you boys, come along," commanded Mr Wilkins in a voice which could be heard clearly above, the explosive wheezings of a goods engine standing at an adjoining platform. "Get into line, Rumbelow, you silly little boy. This is no time to go loco-spotting."

He turned and marched rapidly towards the barrier, with the team trotting obediently at his heels.

Jennings and Darbishire hurried along at the tail of the procession, but after they had gone a few yards, Jennings suddenly stopped. He dropped his suitcase and started beating his raincoat pockets as though coping with an outbreak of fire.

"What's the matter?" asked Darbishire.

"It's my glove. I've lost it! I must have left it in the train."

"Oh, fish-hooks! Are you sure?"

"Yes. I've got this one in my pocket, look, but there's not a sausage of the other one anywhere. Let's bettle back to the carriage and see if we can find it. We'll soon catch the others up, if we run."

Hastily they retraced their steps along the platform, as Mr Wilkins and the rest of the team disappeared through the barrier and out of the station with never a backward glance.

It took the glove-hunters some seconds to find their compartment. "Here we are," cried Darbishire, tugging at a door. "This must be the one, because it's got that notice about not sticking heads out of windows."

"They all say that, you crumbling clodpoll! Ours was much further down."

Very soon they identified their carriage by a toffee-paper sticking to the window. In they jumped and searched frantically on the racks and beneath the seats. They found a newspaper, a bag of peanut shells and an empty tea-cup. but there was no sign of a fleecy-lined glove.

"It must be somewhere. Look harder!" Jennings urged.

"I am looking harder. My eyes are popping like balloons, but it just isn't here. I think we'd better get out now. The train will be starting in a ..."

It was at that moment that a porter slammed the door behind them and waved a "right away" signal down the platform. The electric engine which, until then, had been mumbling "jigger-jigger-jigger" suddenly became silent and pulled smoothly away from the platform.

"Oh gosh, it is starting!" yelled Darbishire in wild alarm. He made a dive for the carriage door, but was thwarted by the raised window from reaching the handle on the outside.

Jennings had leapt, too, and for a few feverish seconds all was confusion as he pulled downwards on the strap while Darbishire pushed upwards to lift the window-frame in its socket. By the time they realised they were working against one another, it was too late. The window came down with a bang as the end of the platform streaked past their horror-struck faces.

"Oh golly, whatever shall we do?" moaned Darbishire, while Jennings leaned out of the window uttering vain cries for help.

"It's no earthly good doing that, Jen. No one'll hear you. Besides, it's dangerous to put your head out; the notice says so."

Jennings withdrew his head from the danger zone. "I'll pull the communication cord," he cried in reckless despair. "That's not dangerous, at any rate."

"It wizard well is! Unless, of course, you happen to have four pounds nineteen and tenpence ha'penny on you. Go ahead and pull it, if you have, because I've got the other three ha'pence to make up the five pounds fine."

A moment's reflection showed that Darbishire's advice was sound; pulling communication cords would only lead to more trouble. But something would have to be done for although the situation was desperate already, it would become even worse when Mr Wilkins discovered what had happened. To miss the bus by accident was nothing less than a catastrophe.

Now that the first shock was over, Jennings felt cold and empty inside, but he refused to allow his feelings to get the better of him. He must keep calm and plan out the next move.

"Don't worry, Darbi," he said with forced assurance. "We'll just have to stay where we are till we get to the next station and then we'll walk back and hoe we haven't missed."

Darbishire flapped his fingers and hopped from foot to foot in agitation. "But how do we know the train's going to stop at the next station? It might be an express - next stop Land's End or John o' Groat's, or somewhere."

"It couldn't be both - not unless it went different ways at the same time," Jennings pointed out. "The real trouble is that Mr Carter's got our tickets, so it may be a bit tricky getting off the platform."

"Oh, fish-hooks! I hadn't thought of that. Why do these frantic hoo-hahs always have to pick on us to happen to? My father says that..."

"Never mind what your father says! And stopped jigging about like a cow on an escalator - you're giving me the fidgets. We'll manage all right."

Darbishire slumped into a corner seat and watched the rolling downland speeding past the carriage window. In his mind he compiled a gloomy catalogue of their troubles: (a) Prosecution by railway company for travelling without ticket; (b) Persecution by Mr Wilkins for disobeying orders and being absent without leave; (c) Listed at local police station as Missing Persons with no visible means of support. And all because that prize bazooka Jennings, had achieved new heights of clodpollery by losing his...Darbishire abandoned his catalogue and sat bolt upright, his eyes staring in amazement.

"I say, Jennings; there's your other glove, look - on your hand."

Jennings shook his head. "No it isn't. This is the one I haven't lost."

"But it can't be. You said you'd got the other one in your pocket."

Jennings' hand shot up to his mouth in guilty realisation. Then he felt in his pocket and produced the missing glove.

"Oh, heavens! Yes, you're right, Darbi. I was so busy searching my pockets for the second one I didn't spot I'd got it on all the time. What a decent bit of luck you noticed it."

Darbishire thumped the carriage cushions with exasperation. "Luck! Gosh, I like the cheek of that! You land us slap-bang-wallop into the most supersonic bish since the Battle of Hastings and then sit there calmly talking about decent chunks of luck! Dash it all, Jen, here we are, tearing off towards Land's End or somewhere at a hundred miles an hour, and before we know where we are, we'll find ourselves - goodness knows where!"

"No, it's after we know where we are that we'll find out where we've got to, because..."

Just then the train slowed down and both boys swivelled round to the window. A platform came into view, then a station sign-board marked Pottlewhistle Halt.

There was no doubt about it - they were stopping, and Jennings felt his spirits rising with renewed hope.

"Well, it's not Land's End, anyway, or we'd be able to see the Scilly Isles," he observed with an attempt at heartiness.

"Don't talk to me about the Scilly Isles. I could make a frightfully witty remark about a silly something else I can see, but I don't think this is the moment for jokes, somehow. My father says there's a time and place for everything."

"He's right for once, too," Jennings replied, as the train stopped and he opened the carriage door. "This is the time and place for getting out of the train."

It was a very small station. From the wooden shanty which served as booking-office and waiting-room an elderly porter came out and shouted what sounded like "Pollwillall!....Pollwillall!"

But nobody else left the train in spite of this invitation, and Jennings seized Darbishire's arm and drew him into the shelter afforded by a stack of milk churns. The porter was looking towards the front of the train and had not noticed them, but with no other passengers to cover their retreat, caution was necessary.

They crouched behind the milk churns hardly daring to breathe, and a moment later they heard the scrunch of heavy boots as the porter marched flat-footedly down the platform to the guard's van.

There was a thud as a sack of fertilizer was dropped on to the platform, and an even louder one was a crate of eggs was heaved into the van. Then the train moved on, the footsteps appraoched the milk churns, passed by and died away as the porter lumbered back into the booking office.

Jennings heaved a sigh of relief. "Phew! He never spotted us, thank goodness! Come on, we'd better beat it while the coast's clear. It'll be dark in two shakes of a lamb's tail."

Behind them a low wooden fence ran the length of the platform, and the boys had no difficulty in climbing over and on to the country lane beyond. Jennings was beginning to enjoy himself. It was, he felt, something of an adventure.

Not so, Darbishire. The camera slung round his neck might have been a millstone and his linesman's flag hung limp and dropping as though in surrender. In addition to his other troubles his conscience had started to worry him about travelling the extra distance without a ticket; he made a mental note to send the railway company sixpence in stamps at the earliest opportunity.

"I've had enough of this," he complained, peering shortsightedly into the gathering gloom. "Strikes me it's more dangerous than sticking your head out of the window. Still, it's your fault we're here, so you'd better start leading the way back."

It was a reasonable suggestion: the only snag about it was that Jennings had not the slightest idea which way to go, and could see no signpost to guide him.

Pottlewhistle Half was a station which seemed to have been built with no clear purpose in mind, for it was situated in open country, some distance from the nearest village. No bus route served it, few passengers used it, and only the slowest of trains ever stopped there. It did, however, possess an old-world charm, and the view from the platform was delightful.

The South Downs lay on either side and a country lane wound its way past the station, up the hill, and through a little wood. After that it climbed the steep slope of the Downs and branched out into a network of footpaths.

"I vote we follow this lane. We're bound to strike the Linbury road after a few miles," Jennings decided.

"A few miles - phew! You seem to forget I've been hoofing up and down the touchline all afternoon, wagging my flag. I think we ought to ask someone if it's the right way first."

"How can we? There's no one about to ask."

"Ask the old porter - he's about."

Jennings shook his head. "Don't be such a prehistoric remains, Darbi! We've got to keep out of his way in case he finds out about the tickets. Why, it'd be a wizard sight more dangerous asking him than putting your head out of the window."

It was growing dark as they set off up the hill and there was a peaceful stillness in the evening air which did much to comfort Darbishire's anxiety.

"It's supersonic scenery round these parts; rather like Gray's Elegy that Mr Carter was reading to us last week," he observed. "I can just imagine the lowing herd winding slowly o'er the lea and the ploughman homeward plodding his weary way; can't you?"

"Better wait till we've actually plodded home before you start nattering about weary ways," Jennings advised. "If we don't get weaving a bit faster than this the curfew will have tolled the knell of parting day before you can say 'Fossilised fish-hooks.'"

Monday, 2 January 2012

Deep Peace

So Libera is one of my new favourite groups. And scrolling through their stuff, as one does, when beguiling the wanton hours (not so many and not so wanton, but you get what I mean), I came across this. I couldn't believe it. One of my favourite Celtic blessings coupled with one of my favourite groups.

How serendipitous is that?

So I know I've said it before, in these pages, but I'll say it again.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Or, if you prefer it in full:

Deep peace I breathe into you, O weariness, here:
O ache, here!
Deep peace, a soft white dove to You;
Deep peace, a quiet rain to you;
Deep peace, an ebbing wave to you!
Deep peace, red wind of the east from you;
Deep peace, grey wind of the west to You;
Deep peace, dark wind of the north from you;
Deep peace, blue wind of the south to you!
Deep peace, pure red of the flame to you;
Deep peace, pure white of the moon to you;
Deep peace, pure green of the grass to you;
Deep peace, pure brown of the earth to you;
Deep peace, pure grey of the dew to you,
Deep peace, pure blue of the sky to you!
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the sleeping stones to you!
Deep peace of the Yellow Shepherd to you,
Deep peace of the Wandering Shepherdess to you,
Deep peace of the Flock of Stars to you,
Deep peace from the Son of Peace to you,
Deep peace from the heart of Mary to you,
And from Bridget of the Mantle
Deep peace, deep peace!
And with the kindness too of the Haughty Father
In the name of the Three who are One,
And by the will of the King of the Elements,
Peace! Peace!

The Dominion of Dreams : Under a Dark Star - Fiona Macleod - 1895

And again, Happy New Year. Feel free to share these thoughts.

Peace, peace, peace...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year

I thought long and hard about what to say, starting a new year, everything sort of washed clean, new resolutions to make, to keep, to break, new dreams to dream...and thought that as I grow older, I realise that learning to appreciate the ordinary, to see the world in a grain of sand...that is all there is...that is what matters.

All ordinary moments dissolving into each other, dissolving into light.

And I thought nothing exemplified this so much as Mary Oliver's Mindful. Happy New Year. And I hope you enjoy it.

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for—
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these—
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?