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The Scrivener: As Fresh And As Near As Now

The welkins of the heavens clashed…hailstones bounced on footpath and lawn…and Nature’s turbulence carried Brian Barratt back sixty years to the cab of a rusty old lorry.

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As we watched, the vault of the west darkened from a faint glimmer to a doleful grey. This was to be a Thunresdæg we would never forget. The thunder god had been humiliated by his failure in Utgard. He now realised that the Outer Place, each of its halls more vast than Asgard, the home of the gods, was merely an illusion created by the frost-giants.

The massed welkins of the heavens above us shifted, came together, and clashed as Thor moved across Midgard, the place of the mortals, our home. They released their torrents upon our land, the stinging rain swiftly followed by frozen darts. The fearsome god threw down his lightning bolts and roared in the thunder. The fowls of the air retreated in feathered haste to the drier sanctuary of their trees. We mere mortals trembled in our roofed timber shelter.

Our conversation turned to angels when my friend wondered if the hail-stones, each the size of a marble, were the dandruff flakes of angelic wings. We'd somehow shifted from Germanic and Nordic myth to Judæo-Christian myth. Then we came back to Earth, to a back garden in Australia. And here's what had really happened:

It was indeed Thunresdæg, Thursdæg, Thursday — the day named by the Anglo-Saxons in honour of Thor. We were having a quiet cup of tea and a nice chat in my good friend's conservatory. That's what I call it, though she calls it the back porch, which sounds far less grand.

The sky darkened, the clouds gathered, and there was a torrential downpour. Huge raindrops were overtaken by hailstones which bounced around on the footpath and the lawn. The thunder was loud but the noise of hailstones on the roof was deafening. We fantasised about the movements of the gods but not in quite as much detail as implied above. When it was all over, the birds ventured forth from their leafy hideaways and started pecking around in the wet earth to see what tasty wriggling morsels they could harvest.

We had a comforting feeling of safety and protection from the rain and hail. It reminded me of a similar experience 60 years ago when I was staying for a few days with my sister in a Nottinghamshire village. Her father-in-law was a coal merchant; he was also a keen hunter and shooter of game-birds. His lorry (truck) was parked in an untidily spacious garage behind the cottage. Two or three older lorries in various states of disrepair were scattered around the yard. His dogs, three or four retrievers, were not indoor dogs — they lived in their own fenced area next to the garage and always welcomed a bit of attention from a visiting schoolboy. Actually, I felt sorry for them, out there in all weathers.

With a book in my hand, I had wandered down the yard, climbed into the cab of one of the old lorries, and settled down to read. The brown smells of rusting metal, rotting upholstery and old oil leaks permeated my snug hideaway. The book wasn't particularly interesting and my mind wandered. And then the rain came.

Seated in solitude in that musty old cab, protected from the elements, dry amidst the downpour, I had a feeling which has stayed with me across the years. It is a memory which remains as a living experience, akin to the feeling expressed by Richard Llewellyn in his memorable novel 'How Green Was My Valley':

It is strange that the Mind will forget so much, and yet hold a picture of flowers that have been dead for thirty years and more... Thirty years ago, but as fresh, and as near as Now.'

The family members in this story have departed. The wagging-tail retrievers have gone long since. There are no more rusty old lorries. The yard area has been 'developed'. But the cottage still stands, as does the memory. It can be surprising what comes to you when you're just chatting over a cup of tea on a friend's back porch, sheltered from a storm.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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