Day 73 of #100daysofwriting and I am looking at cholera, specifically the fascinating account John Show gave of the Broad Street outbreak which claimed 500 fatalities, within 250 yards of the water pump that was killing them. I wonder in the age of climate change, flash floods and desertification of areas of the UK whether this will rear its head again. I wonder also with the decline of the NHS what kind of future we will give our children and the horrors of having to be old, and possibly witnessing it. Cholera is in my story, and the terror is exacts in Victorian England is back nearly 200 years later.
‘There’s sloughing down the river, the floods have come early this year and hit the sewers hard, there were floaters washing through peoples’ doors. You can spot them with their sunken eyes, thirsty like a mad dog and crawling towards; when I was a child, when we still had sheep and the council bought them, Grandad told me to get in the house. There was this mangy dog in the yard and I sees it, and goes running towards it because I reckons that Grandad has got me a pet. Grandad yells. He curses some but nothing I’m not used to, so there’s probably more ticks on this dog then fleas, and his hair matted but I thinks, I’ll comb it well and wash the froth from its lips no matter what Grandad is saying. By then the air is four lettered and I am closer to the dog then you are to me now, and I’m reaching out, thinking that I have a friend, we’s can go everywhere, round up the sheep. Then the earth opens up with deafening crack, like the bowels of God have decided to settle on our farm, and then the dog is flying, he’s holier than thou, so holy that he’s spurting the red stuff and he can’t fly so well and he crumples against the open gate, and that’s that. No dog. Just God emptying his shit on my head as Grandad rages, rifle in hand. He’s screaming water mad, its water mad. It’s sloughing? I ask and he fixes me over his broken glasses and says, ‘Yous be dumb fucker, that be rabid. It bite you, you’d be dog now’. I look at the dog, the glass eyes, the hole in its side and we can hear the sheep bleating and curning, and just going on a racket and Grandad goes out into the field and there’s three more shots. Three dogs that could have been my friends if they weren’t mad and frothing. We find one of the sheep in the upper field, it must have been cornered in the shepherd’s keep, it’s belly ripped out, it’s tongue lolling out to meet the flies brimming nasty over it. I remember that sheep, I remember how its inners ran down to meet a beck and when I think of sloughing down river I thinks of guns, of dead sheeps, and dogs flying up to the arsehole of God, ands I think, that’s life, that’s it in a nutshell and those poor bastards who slough knows it, knows the water they drinks is full of God’s shit. So, when the sewers flood out, and the floaters knock at their door, that’s death just a calling and it’s a shit end coming your way.’
I am simplifying, even generalizing, and my story isn’t really about that.
It’s about a lad and his Grandad living in a loft, in a house that is over populated, with little water and in the midst of a cholera outbreak. It is part myth, part real, part hope that the grandson will get out and will simply, survive what is survivable. It is hope, and my stories always brim with it at some point.
I grew up in the 80s and I remember at that point a lot of Americanisms crept into our culture and then we had a summer where the entire world fell in love with Australia, and I saw a blending of words and slang. I spent my childhood watching American films because at that point there wasn’t a British cinema, years later I discovered Ealing Films and remember in my teens sitting through a three day festival of them. That opened the doorway in other films, I watched German films, German TV, French films, French TV and skipped around the continent in a way only teenagers can do. My reading reflected that from Adams to Camus, from Dostoevsky to Rushdie.
I began to realise that much of the output of literature in the 1980s in my home town revolved around Jackie Collins books and salicious novels in which natives cut the cocks of colonialists and wore them as necklaces. I remember being banned from picking that book up. However, it was okay for me to pick up Milton.
It’s odd how voices stay with me, I read Vonnegut discussing Cheever and how his early life had been dominated by his mother. I grew up in a strong matriarchal family, women were lauded as mythical figures in my family from a Grandma I’d never knew; those stories, often told by my Dad, molded me along with my Mum, my sister and aunts, and more women I never met but who would face down traffic at five foot two in a coat they wore all year round. Men where always people who were told to go off and do something at Christmas gatherings, who had the kids plonked on them whilst the women did the important stuff on Boxing Day, and who often did stupid things that became family mythology, from Albert who offered me a smoke on his pipe when I was four to Joe who tried to avoid a sheep by driving into a wall. I remember their voices and the tales the women of my family spun around them. Each year they grew fatter and further from the truth, it was more about the act of remembering them, imbuing their natures into the text of the story rather than it being one hundred percent accurate.