Monday 8 August 2016

Moments One

Are little bits of fiction that don't really rate being called a short story and are unlikely to ever be incorporated into a longer work. Needless to say they still constitute a finished work and I assert my copyright etc.

The young lady in the picture is Erlin Ibreck posing for the Ghananian photographer James Barnor for a Drum fashion shoot in 1966.

Nightingale: London 1966
By Ben Aaronovitch 

Since the war it had become impossible, during his infrequent visits to London, to persuade Hugh to visit the Folly we naturally gravitated to the Navy and Military. The food was not a patch on Molly’s but like most of the survivors Hugh complained that there were too many ghosts at Russell Square for him to be truly comfortable.

‘I’m surprised that you stay there yourself,’ he’d said on an earlier trip. ‘But then you were always made of sterner stuff than us mere mortals.’

The chaps have always needed to set me on a plinth this way. I can see it in their eyes. If the Nightingale can take it so can I, they say and who am I to disabuse them or tell them of the nights I have spent pleading with the spirits for some peace. If only there were ghosts in truth, after all I had been educated in a dozen different ways to rid myself of those.

I, of course, could not abandon the Folly without first abandoning Molly and that was not something I was prepared to do. This duty had proved a strong enough thread upon which to hang my sanity, that and the stubborn streak I had no doubt inherited from my mother.

Hugh was in fine fettle that afternoon his son had recently taken a position with an old established firm in Hereford.

‘One had feared that he would be drawn to the bright lights of the Metropolis,’ said Hugh. ‘Instead I am graced by his presence most weekends. He’s taken a great interest in the bees of late.’

‘And how are the hives,’ I asked.

‘Thriving naturally,’ said Hugh. ‘I have a talent if I do say so myself.’

I’ve always thought Hugh’s desperate striving for normalcy was undermined by that strange quixotic urges of his. I’ve seen photographs of his ‘tower’ in Herefordshire and his interest in insects predated the war. David used to rag him unmercifully about his frequent field trips abroad. 

‘Hugh is our modern Darwin,’ he once said. ‘Only he takes his inspiration from beetles not snails.’

I remember Hugh in those dark forests on the Ettersberg. He’d dropped his staff and picked up a rifle and with every action of the bolt he swore at the German infantry as if they were responsible for the things we’d seen. 

We all reached the limitations of our art that night.

‘And speaking of our mighty capital,’ said Hugh over our Castle Puddings. ‘I’ve been hearing the most extraordinary things. The gypsies who came for the harvest this year said that there was a woman who's claiming to be goddess of the River Thames. A coloured lady no less.’ Hugh grinned and waves his fork as if it was my fault. ‘Is this true? Is it even possible?’

I said that it seemed entirely possible and that I had met the young lady in question and she seemed entirely agreeable if somewhat forceful. Hugh expressed interest in how the Old Man of the River might be taking this new turn of events and I told him with the same indifference he’d shown to events below Teddington Lock these last hundred years or so.

‘I thought the old town felt different,’ said Hugh and a I felt a sudden moment unwarranted alarm.

‘Different in what way?’ I asked.

‘Oh I don’t know,’ said Hugh. ‘A certain frisson, a sense of excitement, youth, energy,’ he trailed off and shrugged.

‘The miniskirts?’ I said because Hugh had always had an eye for the ladies.

‘You don’t feel it then?’

‘I can’t say that I do.’

‘And yet you seem much more cheerful,’ said Hugh. ‘Has something changed?’

‘You remember what David used to say –“ everything is change”?’

‘I remember that you invariably responded with plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose,’ said Hugh. ‘Perhaps you were both right.’

After lunch I gave Hugh a lift to Paddington to catch his train. During the drive he suggested that I might trade in my perfectly serviceable Rover P4 for something more modern and went as far as to quote Marcus Aurelius – in the original Greek no less.

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.

I hardly saw what that had to do with my choice of automobile but once he’d put the idea in my head I began to see the advantages of perhaps acquiring one of the new model Jaguars. At the very least it would impress my colleagues at Scotland Yard.

And perhaps a new suit in the modern style to go with it.


Susan said...

I wish more authors would record and print these types of moments. They add significantly to my enjoyment of the characters' world. I would never have thought that Hugh would visit London, as frail as he is. And Nightingale - nightmares? Wow.

Unknown said...

Lovely piece Ben, thanks. I assume that Hugh was a little less frail 50 odd years before Foxglove Summer, he's aging normally isn't he?

Rachel Green said...

Gee, I love this. It's so nice to have a bit of backstory and humanity to them both.

Unknown said...

This is lovely - it's so nice to get a glimpse inside Nightingale's head. And I'd pay good money to read about Nightingale's first encounter with the new goddess of the Thames!

1966 - presumably the point at which Nightingale (like Varvara) started ageing backwards? (And I do like the theory - not mine - that relates this to the first Notting Hill Carnival and the revitalisation of British culture by the influence of Afro-Caribbean immigrants. Not that expect you to comment on this...)

Unknown said...

Brilliant. An amuse-bouche for the mind. Thank you.

gkbowood said...

Bring more of Hugh and Nightingale's back-story to light- this is good stuff, don't leave us in a wonderland of pondering! Super excited for the release of The Hanging Tree.

Dave Heasman said...

Oh dear, dodgy grammar first sentence. You use "since" to mean "after", not "due to". So it should be
"Since the war it had become impossible, during his infrequent visits to London, to persuade Hugh to visit the Folly *so* we naturally gravitated.."

I recall being appalled by dodgy grammar in "Whispers" but by the third reading they'd disappeared from me. Perhaps the same happens to you and your editors?

Knug Lidi said...

For Dave Heasman, the sloppy grammar is intentional, as it is Peter's voice, who often sets himself against the rules. Having said that, I do not find this sentence upsetting.

Although I am happy to have a bit more from Hugh, I found myself wishing the visitor to London was one of the other survivors, if nothing else, to whet the appetite.

Sadly, the Hanging Tree seems to be moving even farther away.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I have been waiting so so so long for Hanging Tree that a bit like this gives me hope that it is actually out there, somewhere. At this point, I'm not sure that it can possibly live up to my desperate expectations, but darn it I certainly hope so. Lovely bit, doesn't give a thing away does it?

CharlotteK said...

Really enjoyed this little sketch, especially hearing Nightingale's thoughts. More, please! ;D

Unknown said...

Please, sir, may we have some more?

Dave Morgan said...

A lovely glimpse of history.

I think it very unlikely that the nightingale would have used a word like 'normalcy' unless, as is not the case here, he was referring to a mathematical property. It's a jarring as the VW Rabbit. Please, do your readers a favour and throw out that dreadful Merriam-Webster. Buy yourself a proper dictionary.

But... don't ever tidy up Peter's grammar - his apalling colloquial modern English keeps me smiling.

Ben Aaronovitch said...

I have no idea who this Miriam Webster you speak of is. I rely on nGram to help avoid anachronisms. Normalcy became popular in post war Britain particularly with reference to the period prior to the war. :)

EmilyPeabody said...

I agree that 'normalcy' doesn't sound right coming from the Nightingale. Love the little snippet of story, though.