Waistcoat Buttons & Mutton Pies

a world of wondrous nonsense.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Immortal Cocked Hat!

What joy was mine to see old Eldridge's tottering chariot shudder to a stop beneath the vast umbrella of the old oak on such an eve as that! My dusky tormentors frowned, hissed, shot dagger-eyes at me, and fled, for no Romany can long bear to keep tershins with a Punch & Judy man like Eldridge. Of course, my happiness was tempered, for I knew that they would curse me and that I would have to be watchful: their fury at being thwarted would drive them to desperate and occult deeds.

But soon, as the dusk began to gather about us, I was sharing a flask of rough wine and a hunk of bannock with Eldridge, as his team built up the House of Punch. We swiped away the midges and listened to the plash of the stream, and Eldridge spun wondrous tales of his adventures since he last breathed our balmy airs.

The same old gang was with him: Ned Thodder, bluestubbled and tattooed, did the heavy work, and grunted expletives while he heaved the ropes and hurled the planks and hefted the boards of the House; Janger and Tommo made short work of the more complex tasks of assembly. Mrs Froul, face as ruddy as the sandstone of Horne Edge, hair as yellow as butter, bosom cleaving the evening air like Victory's prow at Trafalgar, tended to the assembly of her dressing-rooms and galley; soon she was among her blackened pots, shrouded with steam and glistening with honest sweat, as she set to to bake the billet-bread and stir the podish and construct the nango soup for which she was renowned. Little Timiny, her short-cropped black hair framing a face as pale as porcelain, silently helped her mistress, performing wondrous and ineffable services as essential as they were unnoticed amid all the clatter and rattle. Westy Nazarene, 7' 8" tall, the 'Highest Punch Man in Christendom', was at his puppets, setting them out as soon as their lean-to (always the first thing to be put up by Thodder & co) was standing, talking to them in his metal-pipe voice, an extraordinary vision in black stovepipe hat and 'devil's-tail' coat; black as night his garb, thin as wire his limbs, like the great puppet himself he seemed to dance on strings and his puppets were more alive than he (such is the great art of the Punch & Judy Prince that he was). Mad Carter and his daughter Jess (a plain and good-hearted wench, always dressed in respected blue) tended the beasts - the Toby Dog, the Serpent, the Egypt Cayman, the Armadillo & the Eohippus; and this year, notwithstanding the Turkish War, they had acquired from a Levantine Captain a herd of Pygmy Aleppo Tortoises, whose ghostly lime-hued faces peered through the fine mesh of their wicker baskets. Ardal Finn and his wife Niamh had come over from Roscommon for the summer season and were unpacking and trying out their instruments after the long journey: the sky was bruising and the old night was falling and through the veins and nets of the ancient trees drifted the intoxicating pulse of the bodrhan, the delicate skirl of the uillean pipes, and the heart-rending soft breeze of Niamh's caressing voice: these were but fragments, as the couple practised amongst the furious activity of the camp, but they meant a world to me, and promised so much on that unforgettable evening.

Ah! Joys to come!