Specks In The Sky

While I struggle manfully with a patch of desolate-wasteland-between-the-ears syndrome, here is another blast from the past, from this day exactly seven years ago. I have made a few little amendments, as is my whim:

A letter arrives from our Antipodean researcher Glyn Webster.

Dear Uncle Dan : Recently my dreams have been full of boredom and drudgery. The work is hard, the company is dull and I’m thoroughly relieved to open my eyes in the morning. Sometimes I wake up to find myself hauling my body out of the bed the way a shipwrecked sailor might haul himself ashore. What is happening to me? Yours in all simplicity, Glyn.

Devoted Hooting Yard readers may remember Uncle Dan, who used to pen a column here entitled Ask Uncle Dan. He was always generous with his advice on matters such as leeks, vim, and an old bag full of crocuses, and you can revisit his wise words by checking under ‘A’ in the 2003-2006 Archival Index.

Alas, this doyen of agony uncles is no longer with us. I always wondered what had happened to him, and coincidentally, on the very day Mr Webster’s letter arrived, the post person’s sack also contained this missive:

Dear Mr Key : You don’t know me, and I prefer to remain anonymous. I can tell you that I have a waxed moustache, but I hope you will not take the same view as Robert Baden-Powell, who wrote ‘I was once accused of mistrusting men with waxed moustaches. Well, so, to a certain extent, I do. It often means vanity and sometimes drink.’

I am not vain. I drink only lukewarm tap water, dandelion and burdock, and occasionally Tizer. I try not to preen my moustache overmuch, but I confess that waxing it has always been a small pleasure of mine, and Lord knows I deserve a small measure of pleasure, as who does not?

But to business! I am writing to you to pass on greetings from a fellow I met up in the hills last Thursday. Like me, he was unwilling to divulge his name, but he said that you would know who he was. He was dressed in billowing cloth which looked as if once it had been a parachute or part of a parachute, and his face had the pallor of bean curd. He too, sported a waxed moustache, but I did not smell drink on his breath, nor did he seem to be puffed up with vanity. It makes one wonder if Baden-Powell had any kind of grip on reality, quite frankly.

Anyway, as I say, we were up in the hills, this fellow and I. He was standing upright on a boulder, peering intently at a speck in the sky in the far distance. ‘What do you see?’ I asked, when I was close enough for him to hear me above the wild and wailing wind. For answer, he merely pointed, and I turned to look at the unmoving speck. Neither of us had binoculars, more’s the pity.

‘I hear the sound of mandolins,’ he said suddenly, in a voice which, curiously, reminded me of television presenter Dale Winton, ‘For wild is the wind. As for what I see, look!, that speck is what I see. I have been watching it for three hours and it has not moved. It is a very mysterious speck.’

I offered him a plum from my fruit-bag, but he refused it because, he said, it was bruised, and he would not eat bruised plums. Instead, he took a Surgeon’s Biscuit from some pocket or pouch concealed within his billowing cloth, and began chewing on it. The wind was howling with even more violence now, and I bid the man come shelter with me in an ornithologist’s hide I knew of not a hundred paces away. He jumped down from his perch on the boulder with surprising sprightliness, and then took me by the arm. It was an overfamiliar yet somehow reassuring gesture.

And so we sat in the hide, me with my plums and he with his biscuits, and we waited for the wind in the hills to die down. To pass the time, we played a game of Tea Strainers, improvising with broken twigs.

When we parted, an hour or so later, he returned to his boulder and pointed out that the unmoving speck was still there. I looked, but now I could not see it. I preened my moustache and said farewell, but not before promising to write to you. Yours faithfully, Mister X.

There is no doubt in my mind that the man my anonymous correspondent met in the hills was Uncle Dan. He was always seeing still specks in the sky that were invisible to almost everyone else, and was forever lamenting that, in all his years as an agony uncle, no one wrote to him reporting a similar experience. I once asked him how he would reply, if someone did, and he muttered something in his Dale Winton voice about paralysed chaffinches caught and cushioned in air pockets.

As for Glyn Webster’s heartfelt plea, I have placed it in a cardboard box along with many other unanswered letters to Uncle Dan. One day he may return to us, in his billowing cloth, with his waxed moustache and his pallor of bean curd, and his mighty, towering wisdom.

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