Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Idler, Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Barely a dry eye

THERE was barely a dry eye in the house at the St Clement's arts soiree the other evening, where we had a reading of Paul Gallico's novella, The Snow Goose. This is a most affecting and emotional piece of work, the reading coming after a lovely bit of Vivaldi.

The blonde gal who was seated beside me is a tough cookie. She regularly smacks me about the ears for various misdemeanours, not least lapses from today's norms of correctness. But even she had the weepers gushing.

The Snow Goose is of course the story, set on the Essex marshes of England, of how a reclusive hunchback artist and a young girl from a nearby fishing hamlet rescue and nurse back to health a Canadian snow goose that has been wounded by hunters.

A three-way bond develops over the years. The goose migrates along with the other geese of the marsh, but regularly returns. The girl grows into a woman, and that's when things get a bit complicated.

Then comes World War II and the crisis of the British troops stranded at Dunkirk; the rescue mission by the "little ships" from across the English Channel. The hunchback artist sets off in his own small sailing boat and, as the girl anxiously waves him goodbye as he heads down the Thames estuary, she sees the snow goose flying circles around his mast.

Then it cuts to soldiers describing in their rough way how they were picked up off the beach at Dunkirk, in the midst of shot and shell, by an odd hunchback fellow in a small sailing boat with "a bloomin' goose" flying about the mast as if to guide him. He took them to a larger vessel standing offshore and went back again and again, picking up more soldiers.

The hunchback artist does not return. The girl is standing by the old lighthouse where the hunchback artist lived when she sees the snow goose return. She realises what must have happened. The snow goose flies three times round the lighthouse then sets off. She suddenly realises this was love; that she's saying farewell to the hunchback artist's soul …

As I say, barely a dry eye in the house – a tribute to the reading by retired drama prof Pieter Scholtz, Philippa Savage and Rodger Knowles. Gallico's story is exquisitely written. They put it across superbly.

Marsh hermit


THE Essex marshes are just as Gallico described: vast, salty, running into the Thames estuary; clumps of grass, clumps of reeds; between soggy underfoot and being actual quicksand, depending on the tide and the weather. They teem with birdlife but not with humankind. Go on the marshes and you feel you could be the only person on earth.

I know this because, in days of yore, I worked for a newspaper group called the South Essex Recorders (read in every quarter of the globe). One morning my news editor beckoned to me.

"They say there's a hermit living in a car out on the marshes. I'd like you to find him and interview him."

"Find a hermit on the marshes? How many weeks are you giving me?"

"'Til three o'clock this afternoon."

One learns how to cut corners. I went to a pub on the sea wall called the Ship and Shovel, to inquire about the marsh hermit.

"Oh, old Bob," said the barman. "Why d'you want ta see 'im? Mad as a fiddler's bitch, 'e is."

It turned out just about everyone on the fringes of the marsh knew Old Bob the hermit. They used to give him grub, see that he was OK. They gave me directions.

Soon enough I was at Old Bob's clapped-out old Vauxhall, its tyres flat as pancakes. He was indeed completely bonkers but friendly enough. He made me tea and expounded on his views on life and why he lived on the marsh.

'Twas weird stuff. It's on the Essex marshes that you get a proper balance. I was back at the office by two o'clock.



A SCOTSMAN is on a fishing trip in the wilderness of Canada with relatives.

"Wha's that yonder?" he suddenly asks.

"That's a moose."

"A moose? I'd hate tae see yer cats!"

Last word

We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics.

Bill Vaughan

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