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Another Brilliant Review for the Christmas Compendium!

I'm really pleased that people seem to like the new collection of seasonal stories 'A Christmas Cracker ' .  This latest 5 sta...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Sorry young man, you can't turn that fancy round 'ere

This is a tale of unrequited love.

Now unrequited love can be painful at the best of times (and even more so at the worst of times).  It can devastate the teen-aged, frustrate the middle-aged and put quite a damper on old-age.  Yet, all of this is as nothing to the sheer agony of being hopelessly in love when you’re seven years old.  I know because, reader…I was that seven-year old.

Our story begins in the Cherry Orchard, just over the Andressey Bridge, on one side of the River Trent in Burton upon Trent, for no other reason than it is as nice a place to start as anywhere.  At least, it was in the early 1960s.  Myself and my grandmother (the same redoubtable lady who took me to visit Santa in Derby on the trolley-bus) were on one of our regular walks from Uxbridge St., via Ellis the Butcher’s in Branstone Rd., to the Ferry Bridge and back through the Cherry Orchard and the Gardens of Remembrance.  I think it must have been around this time of year, as Nanna was telling me an ‘old wives tale’ that related to finding out the name of your true love.

As I remember it, the legend went as follows.  If a young man or woman wanted to know the identity of their putative beloved, they needed to pick a leaf from a certain bush (a laurel I think, but I’m sure the readers will be able to correct me) and write their name on one side.  The inquisitive romantic in question then had to place the leaf under their pillow overnight and the next morning they would find the name of their intended on the other side of the leaf.  Now this rather intrigued me.  I found the idea of words magically appearing on a leaf during the night quite exciting and I never doubted, for a moment, that it would happen.  Nanna had a fund of ‘old wives tales’ (not that I knew them as such) and I always felt that she had an unequal relationship with the supernatural (the supernatural had no chance against my Nanna!)  Whether Nanna noticed that I doubled back and plucked a leaf from the bush, I don’t know. 

In my defence, I have to say that I wasn’t expecting some form of mystical revelation.  In fact, I rather hoped to have my deeply held belief confirmed.  You see, my best friend since I was pretty well able to walk, had been a little girl (I know we were both little, obviously – I just always thought of her as even more little) who stayed with her grandparents, next-door-but-one from where we used to live in Anglesey Road.  My expectation was that this was certain to be an enduring relationship, which would neatly avoid all that messing about, meeting other people and so on, later in life (I was pretty antisocial in those days, or crippled with shyness, depending on your point of view).  I very much doubt that she had the same view of our friendship but I had every faith in our predestined fate and simply expected the magical leaf to confirm this situation.

That night, I smuggled my leaf up to my bedroom, along with a pen.  Before mum came up to tuck me in and switch off the light, I settled down to inscribe my name on the greenery.  I realised then that I had not ensured that I had the full story from my Nanna.  Should it be your full name, forenames and surname, or just your first name?  If it was just your first name, would whatever was writing on the other side know who you were?  Could you, for instance, be confused with some other Philip from who knows where else in the world?  Should it be in capital letters for the aid of the more myopic supernatural being or just normal lettering?  What should you write with?  Pen, pencil, quill dipped in blood?  Being as short on specific instructions as anyone with a flat pack manufactured in a Far Eastern country, I decided to do what people have done down the centuries – I winged it.

Digressing slightly, I don’t know if it is just me but I think there were few more comforting moments in my childhood than the sensation of ‘being tucked into bed’.  I suppose children today would have no idea what this means, now that duvets and central heating are more or less ubiquitous, but in my day bedclothes consisted of many layers of sheets (flannelette or otherwise), blankets (cellular or standard), eiderdowns and counterpanes, the number of layers being in direct proportion to the external temperature.  On particularly frosty nights, overcoats would be brought into play.  ‘Being tucked in’ was a necessary means of avoiding certain frostbite in the ice-laden air of the typical 1950’s bedroom.  However, for me, ‘being tucked in’ conveyed a sense of warmth, security and, most of all, love.

Anyway, back to my leaf.  With my tongue firmly pressed against my upper lip and my eyes screwed up in intense concentration (I really didn’t want to get this wrong), I carefully inscribed my name.  It soon became obvious that the problem of how many names to write down was not going to be an issue, as my infant scrawl filled up the available writing space on the leaf.  With great care, I wrote:

Philip

Holding the leaf at arm’s length, I checked my spelling and legibility.  Overall, I was fairly pleased with the result.  The green and speckled background was something of a problem and the veins of the leaf had led to some wobbly moments but I could make out what it said and if I could, surely the supernatural entity would have no problem?  Satisfied with my efforts, I hurriedly placed the leaf under my pillow and scrambled into bed.

That night was like Christmas Eve all over again.  I was desperate to find out if anything had emanated on the reverse of my leaf but, just like Santa Claus, I felt sure that if I sneaked a peek I would irrevocably wreck whatever spell I was trying to conjure up.

The following morning, I woke bright and early.  This, it has to be said, was unusual for me.  I was not, and am not, a morning person.  It would usually take the equivalent of several tons of TNT to prise me from my pit.  This day, however, I was eager to get supernatural confirmation of my romantic fate.  I ferreted under the pillow and found my leaf.  With pounding heart, I turned it over, fully expecting to find the legend ‘Elaine’ in gothic script inscribed on the reverse (that being the name of my childhood friend, so it would be fairly perverse to expect anything else).  Instead, I found the word,

Philip

inscribed backwards.  I studied it closely.  I tried screwing my eyes up and squinting at it.  It still looked like,

Philip

backwards.  I turned it this way and that.  I even looked on the first side to see if the supernatural had made a mistake and added the name of my betrothed against my name.  Nothing!  No matter how long I stared at it or how active my imagination, there was no way that this leaf contained anything other than my name. 

If memory serves me correctly, I tried the leaf under my pillow for a few more nights, on the off chance that my particular supernatural entity was on holiday, but all I finished up with was an increasingly withered leaf and a difficult to explain green patch on the underside of my pillow.  Finally, I gave up in disgust and my nocturnal greenery was consigned to the dustbin.  Clearly the supernatural didn’t know its arm from its elbow and had singularly failed to deliver the goods.  I did have this nagging doubt that I might have missed some vital part of the ‘spell’ but I could hardly ask my Nanna without giving the game away.  From my point of view, if this was romance, then they knew what they could do with it!

Perhaps the power of the leaf was more subtle than my infant imaginings would allow, because a few weeks later a new teacher joined our school and, whereas my friendship with Elaine had seemed a handy means of getting all this romance business over and done with in a straightforward and logical fashion, when I first saw Miss R. I knew what it meant to be hopelessly and completely in love.  I didn’t need a leaf, withered or otherwise, to tell me that this was the ‘real thing’.  You can probably guess how it turned out but all will be revealed in the next exciting (?) episode - Cuddly Dudley?

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA and now read the new bumper collection of stories, including this story, Crutches For Ducks at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com