Que Sera Sera [and era era]

This time last year I posted a rambling, meandering piece about regret. Once you get into what I shall call somewhat older age the achievements you have not made may have begun to assemble into a substantial and growing heap. They may even have become a mountain. Ambition and regret are linked together like health and sickness.
As children we might begin with some outlandish and bizarre ideas about what we would like to do as adults. I still remember the cruel taunts and guffaws of laughter from my family that met my announcement at the supper table that I would become a missionary. I would have been about six years old at this point. There followed a series of ambitious plans for my adult occupation: ballet dancer, show jumping champion, vet, model, make-up artist, graphic designer. These aspirations followed my childhood devotions, each being thwarted by the arrival of the next love-of-my-life. It seemed as if I went from worshipping Margot Fonteyn one week to reading every book penned by Josephine Pullein-Thompson the next. ‘Wish for a Pony’ was one of my favourites.
After we’d moved to the flat, bleak, backward countryside of the fens my mother was fond of saying I could have had a pony if we’d stayed within the environs of the New Forest, from whence we’d come. This was small comfort to my pining, desperate, pony-mad self. Four years later, once we’d moved again [to the horse-friendly environment of Kent], I was able to indulge my passion by saving up two weeks of pocket money to buy one hour of horse riding every fortnight. My mother advised that my ballet dancing legs would be ‘ruined’. During one thrilling ride involving leaping ditches and straddling an unreliable steed I was thrown, resulting in a broken arm and three months of being encased in plaster of Paris from finger to shoulder. During this enforced separation from the realms of horsedom I underwent a metamorphosis and became interested in the mysterious creatures that were boys.
In a simultaneous bid to influence my career choice, my father, frustrated musician that he was, foisted a clarinet upon me [plus an abusive teacher-but that is another story] in hopes that I, the last of his three children might become a maestro. Sometimes it is possible to influence or shape your child’s destiny. More often it is not. Tennis players often come from a fanatically tennis-mad background, but to me it seems a selfish and egocentric policy to expect your child to achieve what you could not; better to support them in whatever pursuit they show aptitude or interest in. For me, this was not the clarinet, or any other instrument.
Ultimately I did what the vast majority of people do and drifted into a career that would do. In fact teaching did serve very well. I was able to do it adequately, but to ‘job’ rather than career level. It allowed me to spend the holiday periods with my own children and eventually paid out a reasonable pension; therefore no complaints. Career options shrink with age. I shall not, now be winning Wimbledon, dancing the lead in Swan Lake or painting any masterpieces. Still-if dementia can hold off for a bit there is an outside chance I may get a novel published. Just published will do; it doesn’t have to top the Waterstone’s chart-don’t want to be too ambitious at my age!

Mystery on the Dwarfdale Flyer

  “How do Verna! By ‘eck, its cold in that waiting room this morning!” An icy blast accompanies Jacob Hutton into the compartment as he settles himself opposite Verna, unbuttoning his jacket to reveal his customary navy blue dungarees. Verna chuckles, brushing imagined flecks of dust from her sackcloth apron with large, work-red hands.

“Morning Jacob! Warmer in here, I don’t doubt.”

She turns to glance at the basket beside her, lifts the blue and white cloth to check its contents and, satisfied, nods back at Jacob.

“I haven’t seen Arthur lately. Do you think he’s alright?” Jacob shakes his head, the habitual pipe in his jaw wobbling like a signalman’s flag.

“Nay, I said to my Mavis, it’s a while since Arthur came up to town, though now I come to think of it, he’s been looking peaky, so he might of come down with summat.”

“He works too hard, that’s what. He’s wearing himself out, all that digging, it must be a worry competing with all them new fangled machines they have nowadays. I saw one arriving only yesterday where that new bridge is getting built, all painted up, some digger or suchlike. Nothing stays the same, does it? Happen one day eggs will be factory made and then me and my hens will be out of a job an’ all!”

Verna, soothed by the rhythmic rumbling of the carriage, leans back to watch the passing scenery, as familiar as parlour wallpaper, the paint-bright emerald of the trees interspersed with a red and white signal box or a water tower. She catches a glimpse of station huts and a whiff of acrid smoke as the train begins to round the bend on the approach to Dentlake Junction.

“Poor old Arthur. I know how he feels. We’re none of us getting any younger, and I feel a bit worn out me self, what with getting up at crack of dawn every day. Them cows don’t milk themselves do they?”

Now she scrutinises Jacob, Verna realises that he does indeed look worn out. There are greyish patches emerging on the tip of his nose and his cheeks, his hair is more white than youthful chestnut, even his clothes have taken on a frayed and faded appearance. Worse still, on taking a closer look down at her own, solid form there are worn, shiny areas on her stockinged legs, an alarming, deep gouge in the brown, woolly sleeve of her coat.

The train grinds to a gentle halt as they pull in to Dwarfdale, where half a dozen passengers are preparing to board. Jacob gets to his feet, pulling his shabby jacket together, and opens the door to see a figure they both know, and yet almost unrecognisable in his renaissance.

“Arthur!” They shout, gladdened by the sight of him, vibrant, bright-eyed and fresh, as moments later they are lifted up and placed gently on a table amongst the paints and brushes behind the toy shop window.