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Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Brilliant Mind

Time and the elements (electricity and ISP charges) and SPAM cause me to occasionally change email addresses. I dropped an old one a year back but kept the freebie version as a junk mail filter. Other emailers may thank me for magnetically attracting the endless pleas for financial help from distraught Thingumbobbian princes. Though it's not very likely.

Somehow this dead account still retained emails sent by friends three or four years ago, including this marvelous piece of writing by John McCartney. Those of you who did not work with him or know him can get some idea of his really superior writing skills and brilliant mind from this short piece.

I only wish I'd thought of this obsolete account's 'saved' folder a few months ago when John asked me if I still retained a copy of this essay. Since I'd changed addresses the old files were quite naturally not there. My forgetfulness, in this case, was inexcusable.
The tale of the rat poison was located this morning. Here it is, in John's original English (far superior to the American). Enjoy.

Here's a short story, my first essay in about 40 years, and it concerns an incident that occured in another time; during my first marriage.
For about 3 years my wife Brenda & my 31/2 year old son James had lived in our fine Victorian semi in West London; she, a highly-qualified catering manager, and I, a musician, endured moderate prosperity.
Working mostly at night, it seemed common sense for me to look after our son, James, during the day.
Now, there are advantages to role reversal; e.g. most dads don't have the chance to spend that much time with their kids, pity, because you get to wear out the blade of a key-ring pen-knife digging up stones, chase seagulls across sodden fields, & convert a regular 10 minute round-trip for groceries into a 2 hour exercise in orientation... and here's the plus... your kids get out of coffee mornings.

Numbers 33 & 34, the semi-detached houses had been built for his family by our next door neighbour's grandfather, and he, when he married in 1927, had emigrated from our house to the one next door, where he had remained.

Solitary, tough old buzzard, that World War 1 infantry captain, had lived with his grey muzzled mutt pretty much alone since his wife had died a couple of years before we arrived.
Stone deaf. We knew what was on one of the other TV stations, because of the huge volume on his set thundering through the adjoining wall. When his grand-daughter came to collect him , the dog howled until he returned; the old man couldn't see... this duo was ill-equipped to deal with what was to come.

...mice; all that sound & fury wasn't going to put off these guys.

Across the vast waters of Fray's* river they had come in their thousands to pick clean the lean pantry that was our Rosecrucian neighbour's storehouse.
Once the mice had found that there was little to feed on; I suppose the old boy had been living out of tins & his dozy old dog couldn't waddle them away (the mice were safe but starving), their attention turned to our easy-access vegetable rack, and the battle was joined.
Impressive in its simplicity, their plan was to pilfer the supplies & relieve themselves in our house, whilst consuming the stuff in his. Soon at night we were to hear the shifting shale of their mass scamperings under the floorboards.

They're unhygenic, leaving their droppings all over the place & urinating at will, & when their activity naturally increased as Winter set in, I decided to wait up for the little bastards.
Rewards come to the patient it is said, & so it happened one night, mid-February, there I stood in the shadows of the kitchen, slightly pissed, small cylindrical waste-paper bin poised on my right hand, & the backing cardboard from an A3 sketch pad in the other.
With one deft & dare I say, rather elegant inversion of the bin, I nabbed one cheeky miscreant, as it dashed across the kitchen floor, & I slid the cardboard underneath to secure the fellow, then strode off, purposefully, to the local playing field through the snow.

....some quietetude comes to you from the gentle creak of your steps in freshly settled snow, especially in the early hours, the sound cannot escape & no other noise permeates the perfect acoustic to inerrupt the half-remembered sensations of childhood. Especially when you've just captured a small furry animal that you intend to dump into a totally hostile environment, in this case, the concrete base of a demolished changing room.

Mousey looked at me & shivered, I looked back & offered the cardboard, onto which the mite meakly climbed, and stayed until I had found it some suitable alternative accommodation. Soft as shit...these characters are threatening to destroy my family with cholera & Christ knows what else, & here I am, with one of them at my mercy, striking up some drunken understanding with the damned thing in the dead of night & the depths of Winter.

When I chucked the next one into the river, I had to remark on how aerodynamic they are, & how well they can swim.
Returning from a particularly late gig, alone on the sofa in the front room; a comfortable & wonderfully un- cluttered place, glass of Fleurie in one hand, bag of chips in the other, I became aware of the presence. Like mounds of small shingle being swept about under the floor they scuttled in concert. As I mellowed it occured that leaving the bag of chips in the middle of the carpet might be a jape, so I lowered the lights & waited. Not for long. Three of the little beggars put in an appearance within about 5 minutes & shot into the open bag, filling it with squabbling & snaffling. What a hoot, in the half-light the bag agitated, crinckled & rolled round the floor, tails flailing as these lumps machined their way through the contents. Yes, still chuckling, I realised that they had worked their way into my affections. It was at this point that I vowed to kill them all.

One of us bought some rodent poison, a sort of impregnated barley, dyed blue as a warning, which we left about the house in small trays on their most regular routes; my part was to prevent any of this ending up in the James.
We never saw or heard the mice again. We cleared up the poison, & thought no more about it, that is until just a few days later.

Shopping with James was always an exercise in patience; I must say that I found it therapeutic. Being an artist & musician, I'd always been an impatient, solipsistic sod & I found this business of constantly giving over to someone else an unexpectedly refreshing, if knackering, experience.
So it was that hot & hungry, we returned from Tesco. I went straight into the kitchen, filled the Le Creuset with tagliatelle, & began to unload the bags. Perhaps I should explain that the 'fridge-freezer stood alongside the gas cooker & that the top of it was a mass of clutter; there was a world of stuff up there, all above head height. Placed one of the two bottles of wine, together with a plastic bottle of oil on it with safety, but when I put the second wine bottle up there...I found the only remaining tray of rat poison. Of course as the mice had been climbing up the back of the freezer to get at the crisps on top, my wife had put a tray up there & we'd forgotten it. Wine bottle no. 2 was too much, pushing the tray of blue pellets off at the back towards the cooker.

It was perfect, showering the lunch, the cooker & the back of the 'fridge. This was an ideal time to panic, so I siezed the moment; first thing...throw away the pasta, where? how? this stuff is lethal, suppose James gets hold of any. No, get James into the back garden, then throw the lunch, damn, I was looking forward to that. What about that poison behind the freezer?
This is where mastermind here decides to waste no time & move the 'fridge/freezer away from the wall...with all the bottles still in place. The 'fridge, because the floor was eneven, stood on a thin wooden plank wedged underneath at the front to stop it tilting forward & to keep the doors closed. In moving, it came off the plank. The first bottle of wine fell & broke in half on the edge of the hob, spilling wine & broken glass into the well of the gas cooker, the bottom half continuing to the ground, where it sat with sharp pointy bits facing upwards, waiting for the bottle of oil which obligingly landed, sideways, on top of it shortly after. Two litres of sunflower oil now mixed freely with the wine & shards on the floor, soon to be joined by 75cl of a not indifferent Sainsbury's claret. The soup was coming together nicely; the poison now floated merrily from behind the 'fridge, around the cooker hob, while my jaw froze in disbelief. Leaning forward, the 'fridge door gently swung open as a full pint of milk slid out & crashed to floor, followed by an open pot of cole slaw, which inverted it's contents into the moat with a little plop. In the brief silence, as I paused for breath, I heard my son in the back garden telling old Charlie on the other side of the fence, 'my daddy's shouting'.


* In the early Georgian period, A man called Fray cut a spur from the ancient river Colne; no-one knows how old that name is, it preceeds the Romans, to power water mills, long since gone...

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