Monthly Archives: June 2017

Restless Spirit

Queen Silvia of Sweden believes that her palace is haunted …. and she’s right…

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Night fell, and proper night at that, not the brief darkness of the middle latitudes, but the deep, fathomless blackness of the Arctic Circle, as winter again descended, cold, bitter and snow-laden, upon Sweden.

Through the Royal Palace came a long, low moan, as if the wind was whispering, taunting the residents with warnings of the months-long night ahead.

It was the ghost of Beowulf, sighing in deep, soul-withered boredom, and in despair at what his country had become.

Over fifteen hundred years had passed since he had defeated and killed the monster Grendel and then, well, the monster’s mother, because women back then were warriors too, magnificent helmeted creatures with breastplates the shape of hearts and voices that could shatter ice. He had then ruled as King for fifty years until he’d been mortally wounded whilst fighting a dragon.

Whilst. Fighting. A. Dragon. Small wonder that his spirit had refused to pass on.

So he had watched proudly as his legacy had been carried on by the Vikings, sweeping their way across both Europe and the Atlantic with their longboats, long swords and long, long poems, standing proudly on North American soil centuries before Columbus. Men like Ingvar the Far-travelled, who had travelled far, Eric the Victorious, who had been victorious, and Magnus the Three-balled, about whom we know very little.

By the sixteenth century Sweden had had its own Empire, and then it had all come to an end. Some blamed the Black Death, some blamed the increase in the power of neighbouring Russia, but Beowulf knew the real cause.

It was the Swede.

Once you have named after you a vegetable with the shape, consistency and taste of a bowling ball then it’s impossible to be taken seriously. Other nations stopped fearing Sweden, and over time its influence waned.

Once, very briefly, it did take over the world again, as Abba swept the globe, gathering riches beyond the Vikings’ wildest dreams from places that they’d never even heard of. But in time they, too, faded. Their leader, Agnetha the Pert-bottomed, went into exile, as all great heroines do (see the Irish princess, Enya the Baffling), living out her days high in a tower staring out over a great lake, and again Sweden fell into mediocrity.

Occasionally a great warrior will rise, like Zlatan the Arrogant, with Viking blood in his veins, Viking spirit in his soul and Viking hair in a bun, but in general Sweden is now best known for gloomy films, great healthcare (Beowulf wanted to turn in his grave at this, if only he’d been in it) and a jolly good record in the Eurovision Song Contest.

So Beowulf wanders the palace at night, dreaming of the old days, when the building itself didn’t look like a stock-broker’s house, when it had slits to fire arrows through and ramparts to pour boiling oil from, and when warriors like himself could look forward to a flaming boat burial, as Valkyries bore their proud souls off to Valhalla.

 

 

 

The Call Of The Sea

The waves gently rolled the hull, like a mother softly rocking a cradle. She smiled, tiredly, and closed her eyes.

She was woken just minutes later by loud knocking and shouting from the starboard side of the yacht. She leapt from her bunk, banging her head against the ceiling and her shin against her locker because, as she reflected grimly, unlike the Tardis a yacht’s cabin is not certainly not bigger on the inside.

She climbed up onto the deck and looked over the side. A man was at the wheel of a small motor-boat, looking up at her.

“Hello,” he said cheerfully.

“Hello back,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”

“Good question,” he said. “I was about two miles away, heading east, when my boat suddenly changed direction, ignored all my wheel-turning and swearing, sped over here and parallel-parked beside your yacht far better than I could ever have done.”

“I see,” she said. “Well, go away again.”

“I can’t,” he said. “My engine’s completely dead. It’s really odd. Do you have a giant magnet on board or something?”

“Of course not,” she said, “why would ….”

Her voice tailed off as she thought back over the last half-hour. She’d been pondering her perfect life – no people, no stress. She’d been lulled by the swell of the sea. She’d been warm, and tired. She’d been happy.

“And so,” she muttered bitterly, “I started to hum.”

“I’m sorry?” said the man in the boat.

“Er,” she said. She looked down at him, then sighed. “You’d better come aboard,” she said.

He climbed the ladder and stood up onto the deck, holding out his hand. “I’m James,” he said.

She shook his hand. “Sharlana,” she answered. She saw his eyes widen. “Yeah,” she said, “well, women in my family don’t tend to get names like Jane or Mary.”

“Because?”

“Because….” she said, and took a breath, “because I’m a siren.” James’s eyes widened further, though she hadn’t thought that possible. “Yes, yes, my ancestors used to lure sailors onto the rocks.”

“With the beauty of their singing,” nodded James.

“Exactly,” she said. “Of course, the fact that they were naked also helped. Anyway, I’m a descendant. The last of the line.”

“From men and women sirens?”

“You haven’t been listening. The female side of my family have an ability to attract sailors. There’s so much sailor in my genes it’s a wonder I wasn’t born with a parrot on my shoulder and a wooden leg.”

“So that’s why you were on about humming,” said James. “You lured me here.”

“Yes, well I didn’t mean to,” said Sharlana. “I’m sorry about that.”

“I’m not,” said James, and to Sharlana’s surprise she felt her sun-tanned face blush. “And the big yacht?”

“Sunken treasure, pieces-of-eight, blah, blah, blah,” said Sharlana. “My family’s been very rich for a very long time.”  

“I see,” said James. “And you’re telling me all this why?”

“Because no one will believe you,” said Sharlana sweetly. “You might as well go back home and say you were abducted by aliens.” She looked at him quizzically. “You seem to be taking it all very calmly,” she said.

James shrugged, “I’m a marine biologist,” he said. “I’ve seen fish that look like shuttle-cocks, turtles that look like coffee-tables, jellyfish that look like, well, jellyfish. I’ve learnt that there’s nothing that the sea can’t throw up, or make you want to.”

They talked, then, as the sun slowly set, a huge red ball sinking beneath the waves. He told her about his life and his studies, and she saw the light blaze in his eyes as he talked passionately about his work and his love of the sea. She told him of storms she had fought, and dawns she had watched, and of the simple joy of a life spent swimming, and sunbathing, and watching box sets of Game of Thrones on the yacht’s computer.

At dusk James got back onto his boat, and Sharlana towed him back to the mainland. “The engine will work again once I’m gone,” she said.

“Great,” said James. “I don’t fancy rowing around the sea for the rest of my career, I’d end up with biceps the size of that thing on a spit you see in kebab shops.” He looked up at the lights of the town behind the pier. “While you’re here,” he said, “will you have dinner with me?”

She shook her head. Don’t get involved, she told herself. You have a perfect life.

“Please?” he said. “I know a place that does seafood.”

She suddenly felt a pang, and thought about the small doubts she’d been having lately, about the increasing number of nights when she’d felt unexpectedly empty, like an emotional Marie Celeste. She thought about how she’d been trying to ignore the small clouds that had been gathering on the horizon of her soul, like a warning of an impending storm, or of a deep depression.

And she wondered why indeed she had told him her secret, so readily, instead of fobbing him off with some explanation about local currents, or faulty navigation systems, or the Bermuda Triangle.

Marine biologist, she thought. It’s basically just a sailor with an IQ of two hundred.

She smiled then, and nodded.

“Arrr, Jim lad, “she said.

The Fairest Of Them All

The Queen of May crossed the room to the Magic Mirror, then spoke.

“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,” she said, “who is the fairest of them all?”

The Mirror looked at the woman in front of it, at the slightly wild hair, the slightly wild eyes, the almost visible air of panic that surrounded her. It spoke.

“You are, my Queen,” it said calmly.

And there it was. The Mirror had provided the same re-assurance to every leader since the dawn of time – to Margaret the Iron-blooded, to Tony the Smooth, to Gordon the Mumbler. It had even given the same answer to King Winston the Two-fingered, who’d had a face like a bulldog that had run into a brick wall.

It called this white lie the “Yes Minister” policy, and it had enabled the Mirror to provide unbroken, in every sense of that word, public service for centuries.

The Queen of May looked relieved, then leaned forward suddenly, causing the Mirror, though it would not have thought this possible, to retreat slightly before her eager stare.

“I have a plan,” whispered the Queen.

The Mirror sighed. An unexpected part of its job was to act as confidant to rulers who felt they were could not trust anyone else, believing that they were surrounded in court by rivals conspiring against them. In fairness to the Queen of May, the Mirror felt that she had a point. She herself had become ruler less than a year previously, after all of the serious contenders to the throne had simultaneously stabbed each other in the back, leaving her standing alone and bewildered in the throne-room, slightly hurt that none of them had felt her important enough to bother with.

Since then she had proven to be a surprisingly tough leader, breaking off ties with neighbouring Europia, and bringing in more schools for the wealthy whilst cutting aid to the poor, and was planning a measure where elderly people would lose their home if they started to lose their marbles.

The Mirror was thus a bit worried about what her new plan might be, but put on what it hoped was an eager face (basically, the Queen of May’s face reflected back at her).

“Yes, my Queen?” it said.

“I want a hard Brexit,” said the Queen.

“Um, is that something like a ginger-nut?” asked the Mirror.

“Of course not,” said the Queen. “It’s a way of dealing with Europia. We’ll have none of them coming here, and we won’t be going there. It will be like having a wall around us.”

“A wall?” said the Mirror.

“Yes,” said the Queen. “I got the idea from my cousin in Yoosa.”

“The Grand Covfefe?”

“Indeed,” said the Queen.

If the Mirror had had its own eyes it would have closed them in pain. Instead it focused the Queen’s eyes back at her. “An excellent plan, my Queen,” it said.

“Oh, that’s not the plan I came to tell you about,” said the Queen. “I want to hold an election.”

The Mirror banged the back of its head against the wall in surprise. “Er, what?” it said.

“I’m giving the people the chance to show how much they love me,” said the Queen.

“Why?” asked the Mirror.

“So I can rule them more forcefully, and introduce tougher laws” said the Queen.

“O-k,” said the Mirror slowly. “But what happens if they say no?”

“I don’t understand,” said the Queen.

“What happens if they say they don’t love you?”

“Why would they say that?” snapped the Queen. “I’m strong and stable.” She turned a glare on the Mirror, a glare that was, in what the Mirror desperately hoped was just a turn of phrase, both sharp and piercing. “Aren’t I?”

“Strong,” agreed the Mirror. “Definitely.”

“And sta-”

“Look,” interrupted the Mirror. “Why risk it? Why have this, this -”

“Election,” said the Queen. “Or plebiscite, if you like.”

“Oh, dear Lord, don’t call them plebs,” said the Mirror, in the first piece of political advice it had ever offered.

“Why, Mirror,” said the Queen, “you’re worried. You needn’t be. Remember, I’m the fairest of them all, aren’t I?”

“Er, when we use the word ‘fairest’, we are talking about looks, aren’t we?”

The Queen smiled. “Say it again,” she breathed. “Tell me one more time.”

“You have to use the phrase,” said the Mirror.

“Very well,” said the Queen. “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

The Mirror sighed inwardly and was preparing to reply when suddenly it felt dizzy. Its glass clouded over and began to swirl. Slowly another face began to appear.

“Who is it?” shrieked the Queen, in so high-pitched a voice that the Mirror developed a shattering headache. “It’s not that cow Snow White, is it?”

The image slowly settled. The Queen was now looking, not at herself, but at a shy-looking man with a wispy beard and a look of slight puzzlement, like a geography teacher on the day the USSR split into fifteen countries.

“It’s Corbyn the Tie-rant!” gasped the Queen.

“Tyrant?”

“No, Tie-rant,” said the Queen. “He doesn’t wear ties.” Her shoulders slumped. “This is terrible,” she said. “I will never be able to keep my throne now.”

In the Mirror’s mind, two millennia of obsequiousness fought with the urge to make a smart remark. The millennia lost.

“Well, at least you got your policy through, my Queen,” said the Mirror. “An elderly person who’s beginning to lose her marbles is going to lose her home.”

Corbyn the Tie-rant

The Queen of May

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Canada

So, see you in a fortnight has turned into five weeks.

A combination of jet-lag, odd working schedules, Big Brother being back on TV (I haven’t watched it yet this year, I’m just thinking up excuses) and, well, laziness, has meant that it’s only this morning that I’ve finally got back to my favourite occupation, staring at a blank screen with a blank mind.

Plus, Mrs Tin has gone away for the weekend with her two sisters (what a jet-setting life that girl leads) and I’m at home with nothing to do.

Part of the reason I haven’t written yet is that I felt that my first post should deal with our trip to Canada, and frankly I haven’t the words (nor the pictures, they just don’t do it justice) to describe just how wonderful it all was.

We went on a helicopter ride, we walked on a glacier, we travelled on a gondola (no, a kind of mini cable-car, we weren’t in a narrow boat with a man with a long pole (stop it) singing O Sole Mio). We sat in a rooftop hot tub while the temperature was five degrees. We saw mountains, waterfalls and frozen lakes. We saw bears, moose, elk, eagles and, well, chipmunks (just because they’re small doesn’t mean we weren’t impressed).

And we saw Tinson2. We saw where he works, where he lives, we met his friends, caught up with his life, and listened to how happy he is, and how, even during the dead season of October, when he was getting few shifts at work (actually, in Ireland that phrase has two possible meanings, but I’m leaving it, because both meanings were probably true) and had no money, and the months of unrelenting cold were just beginning, he always felt that he was exactly where he wanted to be.

And we met many young people like him, from Canada itself, but also from Australia and New Zealand, all there for two years, working in the shops and restaurants, and having an experience that they will never forget.

So, thank you, Canada, for the astonishing beauty of your scenery, and the warmth of your people, and the niceness of your beer, but most of all thank you for taking in so many people like Tinson2, for letting them each leave their own small imprint on your country while your country leaves such a huge imprint on their hearts.