24 February 2018

London

We are down in London for a long weekend - seeing our sprogs - so normal blogging service may well be interrupted. Actually, this post is a bit of an experiment. For the first time I am "scheduling" a post so it should post itself while I'm away. We will see.

23 February 2018

Ending

After the journey, I woke to find myself on a grassy knoll, bathed in honey-coloured morning light. Albert was snuffling my chest. 

“We’re here. It is time to get up my friend.” 

“Where? Where am I? Where’s here?” I asked, still half-asleep. 

I sat up and surveyed the scene before me. We seemed to be on a ridge that overlooked a luxuriant green valley peppered with acacia trees. There was a river down there, glistening in the sunshine. And as I focussed in, I could see animals moving lazily about the landscape – grazing from the treetops or drinking water at the riverside. And what is more they were all giraffes, green ones like Albert. 

“It’s The Land of the Green Giraffes”, smiled Albert. “My home. Come – let’s go.” 

I clambered aboard and Albert began a careful descent to the valley below through aromatic foliage where butterflies shimmered and purposeful bees hummed amidst milky blossoms. The air was as still as stillness can be. 

At the bottom of the ridge, we came across a group of green giraffes dozing in the shade. There were perhaps fifteen of them of various sizes. Albert stopped to ask if they knew where Acrux and Gacrux might be. One or two looked up at me with only vague interest. We were directed westwards to the river. 

And that’s where we found them foraging. Acrux was Albert’s father – a mighty bull giraffe who stood some eighteen feet above the ground. Perched on his hind legs he seemed to be able to reach the topmost leaves by extending his long blue tongue. His mother, Gacrux, was of smaller stature with big brown eyes as shiny as polished garnet. 

They greeted Albert with tender affection and bent in to smell the unfamiliar traveller on Albert’s back. Acrux was so big he was quite intimidating at first with bony green horns protruding from his skull. 

“What is it?” asked Gacrux. 

“It’s a human being,” said Albert. 

The days I spent in The Land of the Green Giraffes were the most magical days of my life. 

I swam in the river, picked sweet fruits from the bushes and trees and drank creamy giraffe milk from an old coconut shell. At first I explored the territory with Albert and later I went alone. I was never afraid. I came to realise that the green giraffes would never hurt me. They lived gently and quietly, at peace with their world as no doubt they had been for century after century – each generation passing the baton of existence to the next. 

At night I slept with Albert’s family beneath the branches of an umbrella tree, watching the phases of a silvery moon drifting above and gradually learning to stop asking questions. It was enough to just lie there listening to the cicadas and the breathing of my gentle companions before sleep took me into unconsciousness. 

Apart from feeling a little like Gulliver in Brobdingnag, my overwhelming memory of The Land of Green Giraffes is of the quietness and the peace. Every day had a familiar rhythm and the majority of communications between the giraffes happened non-verbally. I found my own word count reducing day by day and noticed that Albert was also much quieter than he had been back in Sheffield. Or had I simply dreamed that other life? 

Consequently, I was rather taken aback when Albert came bounding down to the riverside on my penultimate afternoon, yelling that there was going to be a necking competition and I needed to get my proverbial skates on if I wanted to see it. He waited while I put my clothes back on. 

It seemed that every green giraffe was in attendance. All were gathered about a large and grassy open area that strangely reminded me of Whirlow Playingfields. The two combatants were Albert’s father Acrux and another mighty bull called Mimosa who only the day before had picked me some delicious masuku fruits from an impenetrable thorny grove. 

Of course I had never witnessed a necking competition before. The crowd were hushed as battle commenced. Acrux snorted and Mimosa mooed. They vaulted towards each other in lumbering strides and then their necks connected with a thump. They appeared to be trying to force each other to the left or right in a show of mighty strength that was greeted with murmurings of approval and accompanied by clouds of dust. 

But as the contest continued, it seemed more like a ritualistic dance – something like that. There was no real aggression. It was indeed just a show of strength. Mimosa and Acrux were in fact the best of friends. They had nothing to prove to each other and there was no kudos to be won. You might say that it was a demonstration for the younger giraffes – the demonstration of an ancient symbolic game designed to fortify green giraffe society. At least that is how it seemed to me. 

When it was over and the physical battle had been drawn, the two great bulls nuzzled each other in mutual respect as the spectators rose awkwardly up onto their legs in a show of mass approval. 

“Did you enjoy that?” asked Albert and without waiting for my reply added, “I’m taking you back home tomorrow.” 

My heart sank much more than a little. I had half-forgotten that I was human. 

I thought of that other world of constant chatter. Vehicles rumbling along motorways and politicians gabbling on television screens. Inflatable Mediterranean migrant craft and plastic bags hanging limply in hedgerows. An exhausted polar bear trying to swim to a distant ice floe he will never reach and an eighteenth century ink drawing of a dodo. A homeless woman huddled in a doorway as a stretch limo roars past with urban beat music blaring. And of broken lives and pills for depression and hypodermic needles dropped by park benches where children play. The guns and the bombs that maim. I saw it all and felt ashamed. 

One last night in The Land of Green Giraffes. One last morning. One last dip in the river and one last handful of succulent berries. 

Gacrux leant down to rub my cheek. Her tongue moving tenderly through my hair. Acrux followed suit and so did Albert’s brother Limahl and his sister Cheryl. They were saying goodbye as tears filled my eyes, threatening to overflow. 

I didn’t need to say “thank you”. They knew it already. 

Gripping Albert’s green neck once more, we rose above the verdant valley and as we did so, all the other green giraffes descended on the necking arena to witness my departure. There were hundreds of them all looking up and diminishing in size as we headed back up into the clouds. 

22 February 2018

Four

"Wanna come for another ride?" asked Albert.

I was back in the woodland clearing where I had first met him. Grey-white clouds scudded over  the canopy. My memory of that very first ride remained vivid. In the end, it had been a truly beautiful experience. The stuff of dreams.

"I would love to try another one Albert but please don't gallop as hard as you did on the playingfields! It hurt like hell!"

Albert grinned mischievously. "Okay I promise." And he stuck out his big blue tongue as if threatening to lick my face again.

Once more I clambered up on his back  and hugged his neck as Albert stood to his full height.

"We're going further this time. Much further!" he chortled.

He ambled along the woodland path and over the stream. Soon we were back at the sports ground.

"Are you ready?" Albert asked over his shoulder. It was a question that slightly perturbed me and with good reason.

Have you ever seen that children's fantasy film, "The NeverEnding Story"? There's a scene in that where the little protagonist Atreyu rides on the back of the dragon Falkor. His quest is to save Fantasia from the malevolent force that is "The Nothing". They ride high above the clouds for thousands of miles to The Southern Oracle.

I was reminded of that scene that second time Albert took me for a ride.

This time we weren't running on the earth or bounding through moorland heather. We were above the ground and then we were above the trees. We were flying and Albert was laughing like a maniac.

"Hold on!" he yelled back but that command was absolutely unnecessary. Not wishing to die like a parachutist without a parachute, I was desperate not to fall. 

Soon we were pushing up through the clouds that swirled around us like fog in a Sherlock Holmes story. And then we were up in the blue. Albert had no wings. He literally seemed to be running on air. There was no logic to it. It seemed impossible but it was really happening.

"Are you okay?" Albert asked.

"Yes. I'm fine Albert. But where are we going?"

"You will see my friend. You will see."

And he started to hum. At first I didn't recognise the tune. But then it dawned on me that Albert was humming "Homeward Bound" by Paul Simon. How the hell did he know that song and where indeed were we going?

21 February 2018

Three

How Albert knew where our house is located, I shall never know.

Shirley had left for work at seven thirty. As usual I rolled over and promptly went back to sleep with John Humphrys and Mishal Hussein still rabbiting away on Radio 4's "Today" programme - courtesy of the radio alarm clock at our bedside.

Some time after eight, I was disturbed by a rhythmical brushing sound on our bedroom window. I thought it might be a pigeon and tried to ignore it. But that became impossible. Wearily, I donned my dressing gown and edged back the curtains. 

And yes - you have already guessed it - staring right back at me was a big green giraffe's head. Albert had come to call. He was standing on our wooden decking below but with his long neck he was able to look in through our first floor window which I promptly unlatched.

"Good morning," said Albert. "I thought I would pay you a visit."

For some reason, I was panicking in case our neighbours spotted Albert. I ran downstairs to let him in, forgetting that at fourteen feet tall with long, gangly legs, just getting inside a suburban semi-detached house might prove very challenging.

I opened our French doors and Albert ducked as low as he could go but he still managed to smash the light fitting in our dining room as he skidded on the laminate flooring.

"I'm terribly sorry. It was an accident."

There was glass everywhere. 

I ushered him into our hallway. Such a tight squeeze through the dining room doorway with me pushing from behind but finally Albert could stand up comfortably with his feet at the bottom of our stairs and his head up on the first floor landing. 

I mounted the stairs to talk to him.

"This is the first time I have been in a human house," said Albert. "You have lots of things."

I asked him if he wanted a drink and something to eat.

"Yes please Neil but I only eat leaves and I only drink water."

I went back downstairs for a bucket of tap water and some branches from the bay tree that grows outside our back door. Albert was delighted.

"Mmm...delicious. Thank you."

He wanted to see photographs of my family, asking innumerable questions and he wanted to see my Times Atlas of the World - again asking so many questions that my brain was befuddled. Albert was especially interested in Africa, keen to know the names of all the countries which he repeated after me, all fifty four of them from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

"Oh-oh!" said Albert. "Can you get that bucket? I need to do a big doo-doo!"

I ran upstairs and got back just in time to catch an enormous steamy giraffe turd which emerged from  Albert's anus like a young crocodile slipping from the banks of  the Limpopo. The smell was quite noteworthy.

"So sorry," he said. "I normally just drop my doo-doo on the ground."

"No problem Albert," I grinned. "When you've got to go, you've got to go."

I was speaking from personal experience.

20 February 2018

Doubt

I was about to press the "Publish" button having written the third instalment of  the story of  "Albert The Green Giraffe". However, having sifted through the various comments the story has received so far I decided at the last minute to pull the blogpost.

You see, Albert's story is a true one. The events to which I referred really happened. 

I thought that I could trust visitors to this blog to accept the story at face value and yet the comments are imbued with disbelief and thinly-veiled mockery. I even had previously trusted blogging friends like Lee and Jennifer accusing me of smoking mind-bending drugs. Arizona immigrant Catalyst even suggested "waccy baccy".

Such remarks are extremely hurtful. As a former member of the teaching profession, I have lived a largely blameless life and have certainly never dabbled in any recreational drug activity. If discovered such behaviour would have been professionally disastrous so a long time ago I chose to avoid any contact whatsoever with illegal substances. In that direction, if I ever sinned at all it was through quaffing pints of foaming Tetley's bitter which I should point out, remains entirely legal in this island nation's pubs.

Other doubters made annoying quips that undermined my self-confidence and made me almost regret deciding to tell visitors about Albert in the first place. However, I am very aware that a handful of visitors were genuinely happy to accept the story at face value and to them I forward my respectful gratitude.

Now I have a quandary. Should I continue with the true story of "Albert The Green Giraffe" or simply store it in my memory bank where  nobody else will see it? No one likes to be the target of mockery and doubt. Some of the comments made me feel like a medieval peasant sitting in the village stocks. And yet through it all, I remembered Albert and smiled. They were such special days.

19 February 2018

Two

Have you ever ridden on a giraffe? If you have you will also know how invigorating such an experience can be. The second time I met Albert, I got to ride on his back, my arms wrapped round his neck, intent on survival.

It was two days after the initial meeting. I waited in the clearing where I had first met Albert. Grey American squirrels frolicked around as rooks cawed from the treetops. A jogger in a bright fluorescent vest ran by. Where the hell was Albert?

That's when I heard the chuckling. Albert had been watching me from the undergrowth all the time. I just hadn't seen him what with his green pelt and all.

Albert bent down and with his big blue tongue, he gave my face another rough lick.

"Nice to see you again Neil. Do you fancy a merry jaunt?"

Wiping the giraffe spittle from my face, I said, "What do you mean? A merry jaunt?"

"A romp. A canter. An outing or what did they call it in Africa? Yes! A safari!"

I was none the wiser but Albert splayed his legs and instructed me to "Get on board!"

It wasn't something I had been expecting but it would have been ungracious to say no. With some difficulty I shuffled up Albert's spine and following his advice embraced his neck.

Albert stood up and twisted his head back "Christ Neil! You weigh a ton! Are you ready?"

Not knowing what was about to happen, I said, "Yeah! I'm ready!"

And then we were off. At first the pace was gentle. We moved along the woodland path with Albert dodging overhanging branches. Then we reached a long slope that descends to Limb Brook. Instead of galloping down, Albert chose to slide down on his arse, yelling "Whee!" as I bounced up and down like an amateur jockey in a steeplechase.

Albert crossed Limb Brook with one mighty stride. Then like lightning we were up the opposite bank, through the trees and out into a big, green clearing which .I recognised as Whirlow Playingfields. He waited at the margins and scanned the open area but there was nobody else around.

"I love this place!" he laughed.

Then he went galloping around in the deceptively leisurely manner that is typical of giraffes in flight. Lord knows how fast he was going but I was hanging on for dear life with my buttocks bouncing painfully on his spine as I tried to press my feet into his furry green shoulders. Futile. It would have been better with a saddle and stirrups but bareback riding was scary. I was terrified of falling off.

Finally I had to cry out, "Stop Albert! Please! Stop!"

He pulled up in the middle of the sports ground - right in the centre of the cricket pitch.

"Did you enjoy that?" asked Albert breathlessly and I had to explain that he had frightened the bejesus out of me and that my sore bottom felt as if it had been kicked repeatedly by a donkey.

Albert sounded crestfallen and offered an apology before promising to cut out the crazy galloping from now on.

When there was a break in the traffic we crossed the A625 and lolloped through the entrance to Whirlowbrook Park, hiding in the trees at one point as a couple of joggers trotted by.

Past the duck ponds and the old hall then out through the back of the gardens.

"Keep your head down!" Albert advised as we dodged branches in the beech plantation. 

Then back over the bubbling Limb Brook and on to the long path that leads to the moors. I was starting to enjoy my vantage point and Albert's more leisurely pace. Soon we were out on the moors,  gambolling through the heather and the gorse. When grazing sheep looked up they did so with astonishment but there was hardly time for them to run away. No sooner had we appeared than we were gone. I have trudged across those moors so many times but that day, high on Albert's back, it felt as if I was flying. It was a huge privilege.

At Lady Canning's Plantation, Albert stopped for a snack of deciduous leaves from the topmost branches. His long blue tongue gripped entire bunches which he masticated briefly before gulping  them down his long neck. "God! I love sycamore!" Albert confessed.

To be continued

18 February 2018

Albert

Once upon a time there was a green giraffe called Albert. He lived in woodland not so far from here. When dog walkers or joggers passed by, he simply stood stock still and blended in with the woods like a chameleon. 

Not many people knew of his existence. In fact, the day that  I first met him, I could have easily walked on by but I stopped to take a photograph of a squirrel. That's when I saw the background move.

I scrunched up my eyes and did a double take. Yes. there was no doubt about it. Blending in with a swathe of unkempt holly bushes and giant rhododendrons  and the green moss on the tree trunks there was - no it could not be, could it? - a green giraffe.

With trepidation, I tiptoed over to him. I know this may sound stupid but when I was but a few feet away from his spindly green legs, I looked up and said, "Hello!"

To my astonishment and after a deep exhalation of aromatic giraffe breath, the lofty creature whispered, "Hello!"

"Do not be afraid," I said, for I could sense that he was equally nervous. "I won't harm you!"

Then with a self-concious and slightly mischievous chortle, he said, "And I won't harm you!"

We both tittered and this seemed to break the ice.

He bent his long neck downwards. He was snuffling my hair in the same way that a dog gets to know people. Then, much to my surprise, he suddenly licked my face. It was as if I had just been sandpapered. 

"Urgh!" he exclaimed. "You taste of soap!"

Again we both chuckled.

I told him my name was Neil and he told me his name was Albert. At that first meeting, I didn't wish to unnerve him by bombarding him with questions. Of course there were many things I  wished to ask. After all, it's not every day that you meet a fourteen foot giraffe in the woods - especially a green one. But I didn't wish to put him off through interrogation.

Just then we saw two dogwalkers approaching along the winding woodland path. Instinctively, Albert edged back into the undergrowth , bent his head down and stood like a statue - as if frozen.

A wire-haired Jack Russell bounded towards me, sniffing inquisitively at my boots.

"Stop it Nipper! Don't worry! He won't bite!" said the older dogwalker who had a powdery white face and favoured blood-red lipstick.

It was a surprise that the little terrier seemed oblivious to Albert, standing no more than three yards away.

"Got any good pictures?" asked the younger dogwalker, noticing my camera.

"Just squirrels," I replied. She seemed unimpressed.

After they had  moved off, Albert said, "Thanks for not giving me away Neil. I am sorry, I have got to go now but may I see you another day?"

"Yeah. No problem," I smiled.

We made an appointment and just before Albert lummocked deeper into the woods he allowed me to take his picture. The resulting image is at the bottom of this blogpost. See below.
Albert