Gertie was surprised to hear Palestrina whistling Marching Through Georgia as they rode in one of The Grand Babylon's mirrored lifts; for her friend to be whistling at all was a surprise in itself, for Gertie had always associated whistling with fellas, and to hear her whistling a jaunty Shermanesque marching song from the American Civil Wart, which she would have associated with Soldiers, was a double-surprise, but then Pal caught her eye in three of the mirrors and winked; “we'll have a good chinwag once we reach our suite,” she said, “I know you are a pretty astute judge of character, Gertie, and I am hoping that you will be able to assist me in my Mission – but please believe me when I say that I will not expose you to any unnecessary danger,” at which Gertie's eyes widened: was Pal referring to her casual remarks on the train about Herr Hitler? although she sure that the name should mean something to her, Gertie's memory of anything before waking on the train was shrouded in mist – it felt like being in arrears of rent but having no hope of ever raising the money: on one level a source of anxiety, and on the other a release, for there is no point in worrying, it never achieved anything, only action would do, and Gertie determined that she would do everything in her power to help Pal, no matter what the consequences; she supposed that she must have been in love before, but she knew that her feelings for Pal were True Love and she would do anything asked of her; now the suite, when they entered, was exquisite, the furnishings and window drapes in Regency stripes of rubine red and gold damask, the wood painted in delicate ivory, and the view of the Square was charming – apart from the former Jewish shops boarded up and empty, with yellow stars painted on the doors and Juden Raus - Gertie felt a sudden sadness, she wondered what had happened to the shop-keepers and their families; there was so much she didn't know, couldn't understand; Palestrina opened the doors to the two bedrooms, one on either side of the sitting room and Gertie noticed a little Stieff teddy bear on each bed, leaning against the pillows, and she felt suddenly, utterly, exhausted!
To Tavish, as he gazed out on the valley, with the little river babbling past, the arable land seemed unused, and he had to remind himself that this is the 13th Century and not the 21st and so it lacked all the common sights and sounds which he had become so used to – they were yet to come, before the scene he beheld would be parlayed into the productive farming of his own lifetime; but, he had to admit, this era held it's own ambrosial sensations – his nose twitched, as the aroma of fresh-baked bread reached him; his mouth watered and he turned back into the kitchen where Father Boisel's wife Greta was just placing the new loaves on the table; she smiled shyly at him: she had spoken little since her new lodgers had arrived, but Tavish had heard her speak with her husband and the children, and she had a musical lilt to her voice, more of an accent than Boisel and harder for Tavish to always decipher, though he felt that after a fortnight he was better attuned to it: “Mistress Greta,” he now said, addressing her formally, for he knew instinctively that she would be startled if he used any other tone, and she smiled at him, her face lighting up in that instant, before settling into it's usual placid expression, as she waited for him to continue: “I wondered if you would teach me something from your knowledge of herbal medicine?” and he waited to hear the nuances of her reply: “well, Master Tavish, I do not consider myself a Herbalist, I have never studied, as my husbandman studies, I can read and write,” she added hastily, lest there be any doubt in his mind, “and count,” and she smiled disarmingly, holding up her fingers, “the Lord was wise to give us ten fingers and toes, for it makes arithmetic simple, but so many letters in the alphabet, I grieve for my little ones, so much to remember, to put in the right order for one word, for another, one letter out of place and Oh! the opposite meaning, or at least one very different from that intended, but, Hush! mistress, it is not your place to lecture such a learned gentleman,” and she slapped her wrist, but playfully, and Tavish, surprised and delighted by this first conversation, sat down and encouraged her to join him in a goblet of small beer and some of her own bread.
She was only a traveller in an arable land,
A student of zoosemiotics:
Who suddenly noticed a cow had stopped mooing,
In the midst of it's morning balletics!
A caesura, she wondered, that flaxen haired lass,
As she gazed o'er the wide valley floor,
A hiccup, forsooth, I will let that one pass,
And listen to spot any more;
But then she observed, a mighty Bull rear,
And muscle rip over his bulk;
And as he advanced and his lover drew near,
He preened like a great Bovine Hulk;
She perched on a stile and watched the advance,
And while sitting up high on that stile,
She couldn't but notice from her vantage point,
That this Bull was a well-hung Gentile!
She was only an arable farmer's outdoorsy daughter; But when the milkmaid made an animadversional comment on her bahooky, she ostracised the outspoken wench with the pithy retort: "ye're fired, ye lactatin auld hoor!"
I am only a minister's daughter; my father, at home in his fane - The Lord's House - cared naught for a puissant, powerful life, for riches, éclat, or fame; he taught me to value ethics, morality, honesty, decency, truth, simplicity, beauty and Light - and never to walk away from a fight; a principled man, who knew life was tough, but who bore it with calm stoicism, he never flinched, never ran, never blamed, never railed, just accepted his lot, in fact he wouldn't shout if a shark bit him: but me? I'd howl and bawl and scream and roar and roll in the floor and right out the door and grab a sledgehammer and bash it's fucking brains out!
She was ostensibly a mad scientist's daughter, But one morning, luxuriously natant in her bath, and discovering the lost pentaquark, she was hailed by the vox populi as the best thing since Marie Curie's sliced bread and is now a fixture on Day-Time TV!
She was only a campestral cowherds daughter, But the gust with which she performed her jobbery as Gnome Secretary till the cows come home made her the ideal choice to succeed Dodgy Dave as Prime Minister!
She was only a longhauler's probative daughter,
But, tweedled along in a liminal state, she eventually told the hearse driver, Mike, that she'd rather hike, or ride a bike, than listen to one more bar of The Dead March from Saul!
She was only the iconoclastic daughter of the gnomic Keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse,
But Grace Darling's flamboyant rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked Forfarshire brought her fame, fortune and fan-mail, although, sadly, the Postie had to stick several prposals of marriage in the nixie drawer, because it was impossible to deliver them to her at High Tide!
Obeah is only a gnomic, but strangely jovial, North Sea Trawlerman's unmarried daughter,
But oh, my, goodness gracious me, her Bloomers is so sockdolager, the Sea Scouts want them for their Windsurfing World Record Attempt tomorrow!
Which was how it came to pass the Peter Boo WS arrived early, if not quite bright, at Police Scotland (Borders) HQ in Hawick; for those who do not know it, Hawick is a former centre of the Scottish Knitwear Industry, a town with a proud heritage in the production of all forms of woollen knitwear, from socks and gloves to cover the hands and feat, all the way up to luxury cashmere, sold the world over; but now, like so many former manufacturing towns throughout Britain, it has suffered from the prolonged recession and has a gloomy aspect, made all the more palpable from it's town centre being low in the valley of the River Teviot as it passes through to join the Tweed at Kelso; but the Cop Shop isn't in the deeper part of the valley, it sits – just off the A7 approach road – in a declivity below the housing estates of Silverbuthall and Stirches which rise behind it, and Burnfoot, which glares down from the hillside opposite; and here it was that his new client sat waiting – an elderly man, some would – in his youth – have described Ranulph Ochan'toshan as a 'Lad o' Pairts', a Scottish term for a talented youngster, with many strings to his bow and the world at his feet, perhaps still to choose which particular path to pursue: born and christened plain Rab Tosh, he had never felt his name a hindrance till his first poetry was published, in a monthly Scots Magazine, when he experienced the first barbs of contempt from critics who scorned the work of such a meanly-named young upstart – which was when he transformed himself into Ranulph Ochan'toshan (a nod to his birthplace at 17 Ochentoshan Terrace in Springburn, Glasgow, just a stone's throw – and as a boy he threw with the best and worst of them from the famous and now long-gone Railway Works, where his father, Big Rab Tosh, was an engineer) and the world, as it is said, was his Lobster! but success can bring it's own sorrows, fame and fortune in early life can bring frenzy and futility hot on one's heels, but Ochan'toshan paid no heed to the warnings of soothsayers and expanded his career, with recordings, radio and then television, where he had his own programme, the producers finding his easy facility with words and charcoal appealed to a young audience and so it was that he found himself adored by mums and toddlers alike; his records topped the charts, his books went into many editions, and he was trailed, wherever he went, by his groupies; being by nature a somewhat gnomic person, he was at first at a loss to explain his feelings about his entourage – oh, he bedded many a mum and sometimes three at a time, but though he found his erection seemed to benefit from a kind of selenotropism, so night-time frolics in a moonlit garden became a regular part of his pleasures, he was never a rapist, never even considered himself to be a seducer, never forced himself upon anyone, preferring to be the one responding to the other's advances, and he said – oh, much, much later than now, oh yes, for this is far to early in our story – that it was the children who began to move ever closer, to seek him out for cuddles, then kisses, then other explorations with their 'wandering hands' and when he will give this in his defence, everyone will see through the tissue, the bubble, to the truth, that he was an unreconstructed Predator, the kind who blames his victims for forcing themselves onto him, poor man, unable to fight them off, and succumbing to their ravishment of him; and that will be how his career, his identity, his whole being – friend of Popes and Queens, of Presidents and Prime Ministers, adored by the Nation, the Commonwealth, the World – will, in time be decommissioned; or will it? for Peter Boo WS has just arrived in Hawick, parked his car in the space allocated for Legal Representatives, and is at this very minute walking towards the entrance to the Cop Shop: his Brief, to defend Ranulph Ochan'toshan OBE and facilitate his release from custody and do his very damnedest to prevent his client from being charged with anything other than being the innocent victim of an over-zealous Police Scotland operation which was based on fallacious information which had not been checked properly and was not, as he had discovered on his journey, supported by a properly issued Warrant to 'enter, search and detain', and therefore, he would argue, an example of loutish and brutal trampling over innocent civilians in a desperate and misguided effort to improve the Crime Reports for this area! HA! Put that in your Pipe and Smoke it!!
A Poem for Plebiscitical Referendummies
By Henry Gibson
The vagaries of adhocracy.
May wrick a man's democracy,
While velleitistical epistemocracy,
Beats hoity-toity aristocracy!
Yah, Boo, Sucks To You!
Inertia Rules, KO!
Martin Elginbrod QC replaced the handset of his telephone and scowled: what on earth, he wondered, is going on? seeing Duncan Doubleday's face on CrimeWatch had been one shock, but it had been followed by others, as the blurred images of George Gill, Ranulph Ochan'toshan, Knickers Lauderdale and Christiane, had followed, all identified by name – then the other two he recognised from their portraits in his possession: Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday, both of whom had been murdered by person or persons unknown in Melrose Abbey in 1265, but now apparently alive and well in the foothills of The Eildons, close to Melrose; and then an official Police Scotland ID photograph of PC Caber Lauderdale (of course they didn't call him Caber, for they had probably never seen, let alone handled, his legendary penis, but Elginbrod had, indeed he'd been fucked by it and that in itself had been a legendary experience) either kidnapped, coerced or involved in the disappearance of the others, with the exception of poor old Ralphy, who was, the narrator said, “helping Police with their enquiries,” as were the seven children who had also been at Hill House; poor old Ralphy, he didn't have the constitution to withstand an intensive bout of “helping Police with their enquiries!” he'd spill the beans, of that Elginbrod was sure, which was why he'd begun monitoring the Police – with the technical assistance of The Economic Migrant, though he was sure that particular individual was probably triple-crossing him; he'd never met the chappie himself, they had only communicated in the Dark Web, but he had paid well for the advice and technology he was now using and was persuaded that the mysterious Mr Migrant wasn't in cahoots – as his Old Man used to say – with the Rozzers; Public Service certainly never paid as well as the Private Sector, which was why bribery and corruption – or again, as his Old Man termed them, Incentive Bonuses – were always welcomed by Public Servants; now Caber was certainly a case in point: he'd never been a Full Member of The Ring of Gold, because there was something inherently shady about him; that is, Shady in a different way from the Full Members – Elginbrod had always felt that even when being fucked by Caber's prodigious cock (which should have been a Full member in it's own right) the policeman was wearing a wire, although in truth there would have been nowhere to hide it, unless a transceiver had been inserted in his rectum, which wasn't quite as far-fetched as it sounded, nowadays, when the Forces of Laura Norder (named after the Home Secretary now running for leadership of the Unionist Party and simultaneously the office of Prime Minister) and the very thought gave him a Hard On – she was a Fine Woman (the term his Father had used about a particular kind of Dominatrix, as, for instance Saint Maggie Thatcher) and the thought of shagging her made Elginbrod's head swim – were snooping around his Business and Pleasure interests; it was enough to turn a Wise Man to drink, but at least he now knew that the elopers (as he had referred to them even on a secure line, routed through North Korea and The Vatican – it always intrigued him that States with so few obvious common interests, were usually such good working partners and he supposed, though Elginbrods were all Calvinists, that the Roman Catholic Church and more extreme Communist Parties, were actually so far apart on the spectrum of belief that they met round the back of the circle, rather like Red and Violet on the colour spectrum which was really a continuum, not so very unlike Life and Death and Sex and Taxes) were safe and well in that sweet little Shepherd's Cottage he had purchased when the Estate was going through a difficult patch and badly in need of some small capital, with a bonus for keeping the transaction strictly cash and off the books; the company based in the Cayman Islands who were now the owners could only be contacted through a Letter Box in Aberdeen and none of the Directors were presently alive, let alone well and living anywhere the Police could reach them; he was only sorry that poor old Ranulph had been taken and held for questioning – he was a venerable elderly gentleman, not at all interested in shackles and restraints (for himself) and the infamous Third-Degree would reduce him to the consistency of a liquified jelly, but what could he, Elginbrod, do for him? certainly not act as his Brief, no, that would be to invite far too many questions – if they were not already being asked, don't bring them on – so he probably needed a Solicitor so far away in practice and person from himself as possible, which was where his thoughts were when the name of Peter Boo popped into his head and he actually laughed out loud and slapped the surface of his desk, just where the knar glowed darkly, with his open palm, causing it to sting and redden; “Rankine!” he called and, just moments later, his Chief Clerk, Riddle Rankine, entered the chamber: “I have a brief for Peter Boo,” said Elginbrod, so casually that he never noticed Rankine spotting that his employer's trousers were open at the fly and his penis, still semi-aroused, hung fully out, but Rankine, as is the way with Chief Clerk's, never missed a beat, and simply replied, “yes, sir, Peter Boo – the Writer Peter Boo?” although Elginbrod had never heard of another Peter Boo than the WS – Writer to the Signet, then turned on his heel and walked back to the Clerks' Office and ordered one of his Juniors to trace the Solicitor; which was when Elginbrod just chanced to glance down and see that he had been visible; “oh, fuck,” was all he said, and quickly replaced the errant member in it's own chamber! and that was when a call came through from Peter Boo WS, who seemed rather surprised to have been contacted by Elginbrod's office, and even more surprised when Elginbrod said that he wanted to give him a brief to represent Ranulph Ochan'toshan: “is he not the person (said with considerable distaste, as befitted the utterance from a son of The Manse, who's father had been Moderator of the Free Kirk some years ago) apprehended by the Police today when they raided a gathering of Sodom and Gomorrah in Bowden?” and Elginbrod responded, smooth as silk: “poor old Mr Ochan'toshan had been to the BGH for his radiotherapy, he has a rare cancer of the part of the brain responsible for a sense of responsibility, so of course is not quite himself, and when he and his nurse, Sister Christiane Lauderdale returned to his home (deliberately chosen rather than house, for it carried an image of hearth and family) he found that Christiane's husband, a Police Sergeant, and several other experienced theatre directors and stage managers were putting some of the children they have cast for a forthcoming production of Peter Pan through their paces; the director is an exponent of Konstantin Stanislavski's Method School and they were coaching the children in building individual characters, when suddenly! Mr Ochan'toshan's home was invaded by a group of what they took to be Terrorists, armed with automatic weapons and wearing Balaclavas, like one might see on television, but never dream of encountering in Bowden! and they shoted commands made unintelligible by their Balaclavas and poor old Mr Auchan'toshan almost had a relapse, so terrified was he, and now he sits in the cells in Hawick and is in desperate need of representation, and who was the first person I thought of, when he called me? why, Peter Boo WS – the best solicitor in the South of Scotland,” and after taking a single breath, the gullible and easily flattered solicitor said, “thankyou, Mr Elginbrod, of course I will accept the Brief and, even though it is Eid al-Fitr, and my wife, the mother of my chiuldren, is Muslim, and we observe the Festivals, Feasts and Fasts of both Religions, I will travel immediately to Hawick to act for Mr Ochan'toshan and, I have every hope, negotiate his release from custody – actually, at school, I played Wendy in a production of the play; it was, of course a Boys' School, although I am sure I need hardly tell you that,” and Elginbrod, perfectly satisfied, murmured, “no, indeed, Mr Boo, you do not,” but Boo felt impelled to continue, “our Drama Teacher was also the Religious Studies Master, and I suspect was a rather hidden Roman Catholic, he had a penchant for candles and incense and I felt at the time that Wendy's night-dress in the opening scene was adapted from a Priest's surplice, but like Mr Ochan'toshan's friend, Mr MacQueen was also influenced by Stanislavski, and spent a lot of time helping me to believe myself to be a rather pretty girl, and some of his dedication rubbed off on me, but perhaps you are not interested to hear all this skerrick?” and Elginbrod smiled to himslef and made a note in Peter Boo's file, open on his desk: Closet Queen!
Gertie was extremely relieved when the train arrived in Berlin exactly at the announced time – achieved, it should be said, by a twentythree minute stop just two miles before the station, during which several passengers were seen alighting from it and walking along the track, but when she pointed this out to Palestrina, her new friend gave that tinkly laugh which reminded Gertie of the indescribably sweet WPC Isa Urquhart, her cousin and mentor, and Gertie wondered what had become of all her family and friends, and whether they were missing her; but then they arrived, to all the bustle of a great terminus, and the two girls found themselves, in the company of a hulking porter, pushing their way through the mass of humanity which always seems drawn to such a place, lovers to plight their troth, and enemies their wroth – though, in all probability, they are only other travellers in the process of arriving or departing, just like oneself – and then they were flung into a taxi, with their luggage strapped into an open space beside the driver, and en route to The Grand Babylon Hotel, which Pal confided, was not quite so Babylonian as it used to be; “alas, old Felix Babylon has semi-retired to sunnier and more amenable climes, you'll remember him from Arnold Bennett's tale set in the London establishment, which sadly has gone down in the world and now belongs to that vulgar man, Hilton, but although Felix has left, this Grand Babylon, which was the first and most opulent of his Hotels, still has something of the lustre it possessed of old, and is now managed by Felix's heir assumptive, Ferdinand, Count Tantamount – a Palatine, and, whisper it, reputedly a 'love-child' of Old Kaiser Bill, so that's tres felicitous – still draws guests from all over the known world, and beyond! but, forsooth, we needs must send up our trousseaux to our roomsand then we can take a few minutes for a little drink in The Rotunda, to calm our frayed nerves after that nerve-racking taxi ride, but la! Gertie – you see there,” she pointed towards a fine orthographic depiction of Babylon in which the calligrapher had been able to represent the famous Hanging Gardens in his (or her!) Arabic lettering: “oh,” breathed Gertie, “it's abso-bloody-lutely Divine!”
“Splendid!” cried Maude, clapping her hands, “just as in Miss Brodie's Unparalleled Production of 'The Scotch Play' and remember we even got a mention in the Evening News with a photograph: “oh! what knavery – perhaps we could base MacBeth himself on Michael Gove, now that would be topical and contemporary, and toss a few spareribs into the cooking pot, or does that smack a little too much of Yankee egalitarianism, hmmm?” and Crist pointed out that they were only desired as The Witches, not as Directors, despite their previous success in their roles, and Daphne, for her part, pointed out that as they surely were already word-perfect, they could certainly give tips on stage-craft and Actoring, to the children and even their Teacher, Miss Laverock, who was renowned for her solo soprano voice, rather than classical dramatics: but Dramatics was the one thing that Daphne, Maude and Crist could do without descending to Queenliness, nor resorting to Banality; it was the one area in which they had found they could work together selflessly, co-operatively, and with no need for daggers, drawn, at dawn: for as someone had once said, and the three loving cousins had taken to heart, with all seriousness: “The Play's The Thing!” and all three turned to me and said that, as we were all going to the Seaside, on Saturday, for a week, and I would therefore have no need for 'gainful employment,' almost as if that state of affairs would have me marked out as a Pariah, and I could set my mind to breaking down the play into chunks, or Acts, and each chunk into Bits or Scenes, and make a storyboard, and perhaps block out each scene on a sheet of paper, so that rehearsals could start as soon as we all returned to Melrose; the arrangement would enable me to use my free time beneficially, without the need to spend it in eating and drinking to excess and chasing after any 'bit of skirt' that came my way; there was no opportunity to refuse them and so the spell was already wound up and I could see no way otu of it!
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