Well, I always wanted to know.
All posts for the month June, 2013
Posted by reverend61 on June 29, 2013
The other day, a blogging acquaintance of mine posted about local legends – not the stuff of werewolves and monsters, but the more unorthodox members of a community. The former mental home patients released into sheltered accommodation but still free to roam the streets. The war veteran who has forgotten that he hasn’t seen combat since before the Berlin Wall came down. Society would label these people freaks and weirdos, and by the standards of accepted normality they would be right. But some of us don’t see it that way. If nothing else, it’s surely the very concept of normality that we should be questioning, perhaps by referring explicitly to the words of Fox Mulder, who once memorably asked “How do you define normal?”.
My aunt’s four-up two-down was perched halfway up a gentle hill, crammed in a row of terraces. Her sister lived opposite, although they seldom spoke. She knew many people in that busy corner of Folkestone, and knew the life stories of several – but no one knew the story of Doris, who would wander down the road twice daily carrying bags of shopping, heralding “I’M FED UP! I’VE HAD ENOUGH!” at the top of her voice. As children, we would mock this woman until the day my father pointed out that perhaps there was a reason she was fed up, whereupon the room grew eerily silent.
Meanwhile, Reading – where I lived – housed two locals who had the dubious honour of also being household names. The more famous of these was known to the rest of us as Lenny the Tramp (not to be confused with the other Lenny the Tramp, who currently resides in Enfield). Lenny was an eccentric who lived entirely by choice underneath the railway bridge near the river, despite offers of housing – a man who was once nominated for the post of town mayor by his fan club, and who eventually died one winter when his mattress was set alight (although the story goes that he survived the attack, likely a schoolboy prank, before dying of pneumonia some days later). At the time I was appalled at the notion that anyone could do such a thing. These days I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner.
Lenny’s bridge was about three miles away from our house, but much of the local eccentricity could be found no more than a stone’s throw away (if you were an Olympic discus champion), because that’s where Julia lived. Julia had been jilted when she was younger, and this had given her an unending distrust of male relationships. As a mark of almost ritualistic protection she would only ever go out once she had plastered her face in white flour, giving her a haunted, pallid appearance, designed to make her as unattractive to the opposite sex as was humanly possible. She would roam the streets like a suburban banshee, in threadbare skirts and old shoes and always the same gabardine mac, belted at the waist and falling to bits, and the local children – and their parents – would call her Raggy Annie.
Annie’s wanderings were usually confined to our own district, although I once saw her at some town centre traffic lights sipping milk from a carton with a plastic straw. In any event she frequently had to walk along the Oxford Road, past its pubs and council estates and discount electronics stores, to reach the Kwik Save where she did her shopping. The trolley would come home with her, up the hills and along the narrow alleys, before she dumped it in the nearby playing field. My friends and I would often walk home from school that way, and would look for the tell-tale signs of one of her shopping trips: an upturned cart, lying amongst the grass, the metal glistening in the afternoon sunlight. All creatures leave their tracks.
For a time, Annie would make these journeys with a dog, who always rode in the trolleys that she pushed up the hill. This was before the mange, and the court appearance and injunction that barred her from keeping any more animals. Neglect charges notwithstanding, she paid more attention to her dog than she had her mother, whose rotting corpse lingered in the rear bedroom for weeks before the neighbours rang the police to complain about the smell. None of this would have necessarily seemed strange to Annie, who lived in her own world, and who cared not a jot for the trappings and conventions of a society she’d more or less abandoned.
Her story ends with death, of course, probably at the hands of hypothermia or malnutrition, and the charred remains of the shed where her body was found – although the fire that destroyed it would not happen until after the burial. To most people, she was the local nutcase, an image she was apparently happy to let sit. But I remember her as a cultivated and intelligent woman who stopped to chat with my mother one afternoon when she was out walking and I was still in my buggy. She spoke about horses with an affection and awareness that betrayed her haggard and ghoulish appearance. “Something clearly turned her head,” my father reflected, when I asked him, before describing her as articulate and “well-spoken, probably well-educated, but sadly an object of ridicule and someone most people avoided”. She lived on welfare and managed without electricity, but if nothing else perhaps we should think of her last years as a final chapter in a tragic and unbalanced life story – the closing act of a Hollywood drama, rather than the sum total of her time on this earth.
Even so. These things resonate across the years. Some images stay with you. That’s why I can’t bring myself to refer to her as Julia, even though that was her name. That’s why I look at pictures of wizened, elderly ladies and find myself recalling a shuffling woman passing lamp posts and trees on an untidy street. And that’s why, whenever I see an abandoned shopping trolley, I always find myself thinking of Annie, or perhaps the ghost of Annie, strolling away into the darkness, with a couple of bags of discount groceries, and a dog under her arm.
Posted by reverend61 on June 26, 2013
Some people think this is funny; some don’t. Either way it’s a good illustration of how telling jokes on Facebook can backfire drastically.
Posted by reverend61 on June 23, 2013
Posted by reverend61 on June 21, 2013
Because some days, orchestrating the Ninja Turtles’ next mutation needs to be top of your to-do list.
Posted by reverend61 on June 14, 2013
I was about to open a bottle of Speckled Hen, which seemed as good a time as any to mention this little find from Gareth.
What we’d both like to know, of course, is whether it’s lager on the inside…
Posted by reverend61 on June 12, 2013
Posted by reverend61 on June 10, 2013
Oh, you know. You see them all the time and they irritate the hell out of me. There are plenty of ‘inspirational’ pictures that are full of platitudes and cliche and generally enough corn to feed a small African village for a month. I deal with those – and those sickening pictures with sleeping babies lying on top of puppies. I deal with those on a weekly basis on one of my other blogs, Glurgewatch, and I am always open for more at the usual address.
But there are others. There are trends, and I’m not just talking about the stuff that George Takei posts (most of which, I admit, is pretty funny.) There’s stuff you see a lot, certainly in this country. Fads come and go – Grumpy Cat seems to be this week’s phenomena – but some seem to have been floating around for years. You’re all aware of them, of course, so I won’t elaborate too much except to note that we may divide them into four kinds:
1) Exhibitionist pictures of babies afflicted with cleft palate / Downs / whatever, ostensibly to point out that “all children are beautiful”, but really this is just setting up another kind of freak show
2) ‘Comedy’ pictures of the elderly celebrating individuality and a person’s right to be unique, which are then shared en masse by three million Facebook users
3) Batman slapping Robin
4) Gene Wilder looking incredulous.
It’s that first one that bothers me the most, I think, because it’s finger-pointing masquerading as compassion. These people really ought to watch The Elephant Man.
Pastiches of the Gene Wilder one have been done to death, so I left that alone, but others are represented below. I may be about to breach the standards of personal taste with one of these, but I think you can see my point.
Any suggestions, please tell me. I can make more.
Posted by reverend61 on June 6, 2013
Posted by reverend61 on June 4, 2013