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Letter From America: The Antidote

You're a Yorkshireman, living in Arizona. You go to the dog park one morning, taking your friends Frankie and Belle for their daily gambol. Then an angel speaks to you. An angel with a Texas accent. Not only does she speak. She hands you six tins of Ben Shaw's Dandelion and Burdock - a fizzy drink that every true son of the County of Broad Acres regards as nectar...

Ronnie Bray tells of an astonishing encounter.

I’m hearing things, and I’m seeing things! I am not crazy, unless you count being crazy with delight as clinical evidence of lunacy. Like the best surprises, this one came out of a clear blue sky, and from an unexpected quarter.

It was early in the morning when Frankie, Belle, and I arrived at the Dog Park for our daily gambol. The doggies reached the outer gate before me, and Frankie had opened it with her muzzle and gone inside to open the second gate so she could begin her overture whirlwind run across the warming gravel to the cool grass.

Belle stood patiently outside the outer gate. As her sister sneaked through the gap she made with her educated muzzle, Belle turned to ask with her beautiful eyes whether I had seen what Frankie had done. As this is the normal pattern for arriving at the Dog Park I was not surprised. Until, that is, I heard from behind me, a voice soft and pleasant with a hint of Texas song, but without the drawl. The voice said pleasantly, "I have something for you!" That was a surprise.

The voice could have been that of an angel, for I know of no theological objection to angels speaking in the accent of oil and cattle folk. I turned, and, sure enough, it was an angel! "I have something for you," cooed the angel again, and held up a cardboard carrier that held six tall tins of something. The smiling angel’s name is Brenda; she is a regular at the Dog Park, a doting mother to Punky and Buster, and foster mother to other people’s canine children when required. And, sure enough, she is a Texan.

I stepped closer to see what it was she held aloft. That was when I knew for sure that I was dreaming. Not only was I dreaming as I read the lettering on the tins, but it was an extremely cruel dream, such as is sent from Pluto’s Infernal Regions to torment tortured shipwrecked souls, lost beyond human ken, and far from home with no hope of return.

To these terrified and tempest tossed tars the Evil One sends visions of their cottages, smoke curling from their chimneys, roses blooming around the latticed windows, children playing in the paddock, the wan faces of their forlorn wives with eyes shielded from the dayglare by a hand on the brow scouring dusty lanes for the return of their lost loves. When the marooned are shocked into wakefulness choking from the dusty heat of their desert island, that which was so readily within their grasp is snatched away to the accompaniment of the hollow laughter of the Mocker.

As the letters on the tins came into focus, I feared any second to awake and find myself eight miles south of the locus of my reverie, in my bed, and I could almost taste the bitterness of disappointment. I read:

Ben Shaw’s

Dandelion & Burdock

Produced in the UK for

Benjamin Shaw and Sons Ltd

Willow Lane Huddersfield.

Brenda was still smiling as I began to unravel. "What … How … Where … Are they full?" I stammered. "Are they for ME?" "Where … ?" The beaming seraph put me out of my misery. "I read your story about how you couldn’t get Dandelion and Burdock any more, so I went online and found a store that sold it and ordered six cans for you. The guy hand-delivered it to my home from his store in Scottsdale!"

My brain had gone into underdrive as it tried to assimilate the gargantuan proportions of what was before me. "You got them for ME?" The cherub confirmed with her customary generous grin that she had indeed taken pity on a stranded traveller, lost in the desert, and parched for one of the basic comforts of home. I was amazed, gratified, surprised, bewitched, and bewondered at what had unfolded before my very eyes.

I am still – two tins down and four to go – overwhelmed by her thoughtfulness, her kindness, and her benevolence. It is difficult for those who have not tasted Ben Shaw’s D&B to comprehend what all the fuss is about, but for those of us who have been regular quaffers of the velvet brew no explanation beyond the name of the refreshment is necessary.

Those of us who are as yet unable to embrace fully the native offerings of our homes in exile as fulsomely as we espoused the comestibles and libations of the places of our sowings and raisings, this story will not only pluck at a heart string or two, but will revive memories of things in the dim and distant past whose recital evokes the ghosts of yesteryear when we imagined ourselves immortal with all our wants supplied and no end to their availability. Now, we know better.

We remember with perfect pitch the pork pies from the little shop over the bridge at Skipton, the dainty teas at Betty’s in Ilkley, tripe at Gothard’s Café in the Beast Market, Black Pudding from the Busy B Butcher’s shop in the Shambles at Huddersfield, Hazlett from Redmond's in the Top Market, fish and chips from Harry Ramsden’s, whelks and mussels from the garish hut on Whitby harbour, lettered rock from Blackpool, rice pudding topped with grated nutmeg, mushy peas, ginger preserve, Cadbury’s chocolate, Blackberries, Ribena, and the thousand and one things that made our homes what they were when we were there still innocent that at some point in time unborn, our feet would take us from familiar, cosy, and comfortable things to the abruptnesses of high mountains, level deserts, strange foods, peculiar accents, funny money, an odd vocabulary masquerading as English, and an array of confusing things that we properly regard as foreign.

There is an accommodation, an adjustment, to be made by us transplants. We search for the familiar, but we do not find it. We next search for substitutes, and in this quest enjoy some small success. Finally, we eat – but do not inhale – the Lotus Blossom to make us forget what life was like when we were young half a world away among the places, people and things that we were sure would always be there when we turned to find them.

Yet, like the bizarre denizens that inhabit the dark dank pools in the antipodes of our minds and create noiseless clamour in our ids, we are sometimes stirred by half-remembered passions for something we can no longer name or describe, but which disturb our slumberings with vague but desperate yearnings that rob us of contentment.

How easily these demons could be exorcised, I did not know, until I stood before an angel in the dog park, holding in her hand the restorative in cans bearing the enchantment assured to despatch Circe’s spell and free the reckless argonaut with the herbal antidote born of Hermes, but this time, borne by Brenda.

It is true that kindness can heal all our ills and wounds, even those that are, perhaps, only imagined.

© 2006 Ronnie Bray


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