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Monday, 21 April 2008
a collaboration with my father, Gordon Lewis (1922-2007)

Throughout my life I have been led into some bizarre situations — but none so bizarre as the one I recently experienced… not led this time, but into an extraordinary situation that seemed to materialise all on its very own.

It all began with a dream, a nightmarish dream from which I wakened, sweating so profusely, one could have supposed I had actually been running my heart out to get away from an angry mob that were yelling blue murder as they chased after me.

But why ‘blue murder’? There seemed some key to the mystery in these words. There was once a horse I had a flutter on — called Blue Murder — a horse which had, in the end, been destroyed, after breaking a leg during the very race in question. I won’t go into details, I’d spare you at least that.

Funny, it was only recently I realised Red Rum spelt ‘murder’ backwards. Did you know that? Anyway this is not getting us very far, is it?

The ‘bizarre experience’ syndrome did not really start with my dream. I’ve had some peculiar dreams, on and off, for most of my life (as we all do)... waking events closely following (by a short head) such dreams with uncanny logic... until I took it, more or less for granted that certain coincidences were inevitable. So, why had this recent dream of a pursuing angry crowd affected me so unduly?

I suppose I’d better start at the beginning. I struck up a relationship with Rachel Mildeyes. (Well, you’re right, that wasn’t her real name, but I guess it suited her). My name, you ask? Well, it is John Bello... and I shall make no secret of it, I am one of those blokes who mix and match various jobs, most of which are unmentionable, because Clink would beckon otherwise. Often barely on the wrong side of the law, I have to watch my back. You never know who you are talking to. And you may be someone I can trust. But maybe not.

Rachel Mildeyes, though, I trusted one hundred per cent. She was the first one to tell me of the recurring dream — one of an angry crowd. She had suffered it from childhood, in various guises. I wonder whether I’d been infected by knowing about it first. I shall never know.

It was not really a pursuit. More a race. I was not fleeing the crowd but rather competing with it. The race never seemed to finish — but was continuous from dream to dream.

There are those who make a hobby of interpreting dreams, even a profession writing reference books and forecasting the future. I thought about visiting the local library to check up on my dreams. But were they really my dreams? I suppose they had been imprinted on my sub-conscious mind by the oft repeated tales of Rachel’s own recurrent dreams. It should be her that ought to consult books about dreams and their meanings. But they didn’t seem to bother her overmuch, so why should I be bothered? In my dreams I had become one of her pursuers... and Rachel was certainly worth pursuing!

I shook off my meandering thoughts, and, on checking the time, I busied myself in getting ready for the day ahead. It happened to be the day for viewing the articles for auction (in the local auctioneers) that would be disposed of the next day. It was more than a hobby of mine, being the source of most of my income, selling my purchases on. I had become quite expert at spotting a bargain, even if some were not genuine antiques. They could be made to look genuine enough to sel1 on to the unwary.

Later in the day I had to pay a visit to the reference library to check up on a particular item I had become interested in. Whilst there I thought again about the pursuing dreams of Rachel. There was a section on running away and being chased. Being pursued was explained as the dreamer being unsure of oneself, running away from reality. But there was some comfort for Rachel... it went on to say: ‘if pursued without being caught, it meant quite the opposite.’

Rachel and I worked as a team at the auction rooms and we were quite successful in our collaboration which seemed to prove she was very sure of herself. We often posed as man and wife when we travelled around the area on the look out for profitable deals, not averse to cheating the uninformed, and making large profits on numerous occasions.

You would not have guessed that Rachel — with her sweet doe eyes — could even attempt to deceive another party. No doubt that was her strength. Nobody did manage to catch her. She would show her pretty little heels — and then gone! On to the next victim...

I was never her victim, though. In fact, I rather think she had great respect for me... saw that I was one of her kind. Fed at the same trough. Inscrutable. Undemanding people with latent powers. She pursued me … until she got me. And here we were again in yet another auction room, chasing that elusive cut price treasure which would eventually bring us our fortune. We were partners in ‘crime’. Never more than that… although I did harbour a deeper attachment… a hare I had sprung to tempt the sleek greyhounds of romance. But that, sadly was all in my head. As they say, the chase is far more pleasurable than the actual kill.

The most recent Auction we both attended was in Essex. It was run by someone who used to hold point-to-point meetings in Marks Tey but now, down on his luck, he needed to resort to the fast and loose games of quick bucks in seedy back rooms where literally everything was up for grabs. You of all people, must get the scene.

Rachel, despite her slight feminine form — lugged in our boxes of ill-gotten goods. As for myself, I ambled free-handed, with Rachel in my wake: I acted as her shield and spokesman. That was my excuse, anyway. So now let me introduce you to Bert — the erstwhile point-to-pointer — a man who spoke with a gruffness only those schooled in the hard knocks could muster.

“Hey I Let me see what all this is!”

I offered to lift the lid of one of the boxes — but Rachel only had to bat her eyelids and mew a plaintive couplet for Bert to become putty in her hands.

“Ok, Ok, Ok,! he muttered, the point-to-pointer indeed pointing towards the platform where various henges of bric-a-brac had been left. “Put ‘em up there with that little lot — I’ll give them the hammer when the best stuff has gone.”

Well, needless to say , Rachel and I made a mint from Bert’s gavel, that day. Followed by a chaser or two at an inn down Eld Lane. But, slowly, it dawned on me that Bert’s face seemed familiar — one I’d picked out from the recurring dream’s pursuing crowd; I then began to wonder if all the faces in that dream were people I knew, or more incredibly, people I was yet to meet.

I always called in to the ‘Half Moon Inn’ down Eld lane, a 17th century building that had some modernisation in the Lounge and Smoke room bars. But the owners had had the sense to leave the, public bar as near as possible to what it was years before. I felt that I was stepping back in time whenever I entered the old world atmosphere enhanced by the log fire in the ingle-nook. There was some particulary good grub there too, my favourite being their steak and kidney pies with brown gravy. Another reason for my choice of pub was the type of person that frequented the old inn. They were the salt of the earth, providing local colour with their North Essex accents mixed with a bit of the Suffolk dialect, we being but a mile or so from that county’s border.

It was a new experience for Rachel who normally frequented the better class of hotel, but she was much taken by the quaintness of the Half Moon’s public bar. We sat on a bar stool for our first drink and ordered the food. When it turned up we sat at a small corner table for two. There was an old fellow seated in the opposite corner with an inch or so of beer in a pint glass, which he seemed reluctant to finish. Thinking he might have been short of the money for his next pint, I looked at him and smiled — not that I was feeling benevolent, but in my trade it was sometimes beneficial to make friends with the very old who had some antiques just sitting at home waiting for the likes of me to buy at ‘ridiculous prices. But my purpose that day was the ‘Albert’ chain and medallion sitting on his waistcoated fat stomach. Usually there would be an old watch on one end of the chain that could prove to be something he might sell if he lived in straightened circumstances.

“Same again old chap? Have the next beer with us,” I said with one of my best smiles.

“Thank ‘ee Zur,” he replied in a really thick accent. “Don.t mind if I do... Half and half be my drink, if you be so kind, Georgie at the bar knows as how I likes it.”

I ordered his drink and carried it to the old boy, who said another ‘thank ee Zur.’ Wishing us good health, he took a long draught of his beer, smacking his lips, as though he hadn’t had a drink for days.

Our food was waiting, so Rachel and I tucked into our pies with relish. By the time we finished the old man was once again sitting there with just an inch or so of his beer in front of him, but this time he refused the offer of another drink.

“That be me ration for today, got to get home for a bite to eat, or me Missus will have me guts for garters.”

We chatted a little and looking at my watch I asked our new acquaintance what time it was, having lied about my watch being stopped.

With that he withdrew a ‘turnip’ of a watch from his waistcoat pocket.

I restrained myself from gasping with surprise as I looked at the watch. I thought I recognised what looked like a very valuable old chronometer he held in his gnarled hand.

“It be a quarter after one o’clock,” he said, and before he had time to re-pocket the watch, I asked if I could just hold it for a moment.

“Twas my old granddad’s watch, it must be a hunnered years old, I reckons.”

My heart skipped a beat as I thought about the value of the watch; it must fetch thousands of pounds at the right kind of auction sales. Returning it to his pocket, he swallowed the last of his beer. Bidding us goodbye with another thank you, he waved farewell to George the barman, who answered by saying: “Cheerio Matthew, see you tomorrow.”

“If God be willing,” said the old chap as he left the bar.

I hustled Rachel saying we needed to be off, and, thanking the friendly barman, I paid the bill.

“That old man seemed a bit of a character... Matthew you called him? I seemed to have seen him before, do you know what his surname is?”

“His full name is Matthew Oxley, Sir, always comes in here early and gone long before this time, perhaps you might have seen him here before, he lives, just a couple of streets away.”

We left the pub hurriedly and I just caught sight of the shambling figure of Matthew Oxley as he neared the end of the road. I told Rachel I would meet her at the car park as I hared away to see where the old chap lived. Who knows? Perhaps he had some other antiquities in his home, but it was that watch I was after; anything else would be a bonus.

Abruptly, I stopped in the middle of Priory Street — my thoughts turning

turtle — Matthew Oxley? The name meant nothing. The name meant everything. It was if I had known the owner of that name all my life, without realising it. Races were timed by timepeices, weren’t they? In the old days, with the punch of a finger on a stop-watch were races determined. Now by the computer — exact to the microsecond — as necks craned forward to cross some frontier first. Matthew Oxley’s watch was the one that had me stopped — heart in mouth — and I gazed at the remains of a Roman wall (near the car—park where I was due to reunite with Rachel). I could imagine faces in the cracks and crevices of the ancient stonework, some staring out with a quirk of light and shadow, others more difficult to fix as I tried to fathom form from chaos.

Rachel, herself, suddenly emerged from these very shifting patterns and, before I was able to establish her identity, she grabbed my hand. Cold fingers clutching others that were mine.

We struggled through the rain-sodden dusk, passing turnings before inevitably, reaching East Hill.

“It probably wasn’t worth much,” she announced with no preamble.

I assumed she meant Matthew’s watch.

“I only wish he had not given me the slip.” I yawned, as I spoke. I looked at her face — the eyes so dim they sank back beyond her very soul. I shrugged. There was nothing… nobody.

I woke, panting for breath. Sleep is usually an ever engine of snores — but here I was literally hyperventilating. Gradually, my chest eased with diminishing traumas. I recalled a new crowd, a new chasing pack, Rachel among them. Dreams within dreams. Or was I suffering dreams that had no dreamer to dream them? Thankfully she was beside me in the bed, I turned to kiss her...

Once shaved, shaken, fed and watered, I listened to Rachel telling me that dreams were indeed chasing us both. Bert’s auction, the Eld lane pub, Matthew Oxley’s watch were all examples of some intrepid force that was trying to suck us back into a pursuing nightmare, a vast mouth with tablets of stone as teeth upon which were etched ancient faces, faces that had outgrown even time itself.

Today, though, she told me, we would find the all important watch in some shop or emporium or mart. Its fragile balanced jewelled movement... a delicate key or clue towards defeating those who chased us. Or something that acted as their magnet….?

“How about the pawnbrokers?” I asked. That’s an obvious place for some to have rid themselves of such a curse.”

She nodded in agreement. And I followed.

As we were walking away from our car, we retraced our footsteps until we could see the three gold balls of the pawnbrokers office. However, for security reasons, one had to ring a door bell for access to the broker’s department. As we had nothing to pawn, we had to go into an adjoining shop that disposed of unredeemed articles. First we looked in the windows of the shop to see if there were any watches for sale. There were none and I supposed there would not be one as rare as Matthew’s watch in the shop either. Entering the retailer’s I was immediately approached by an assistant — obviously not the pawnbroker but a rather threatening lady who asked if she could help.

“I am interested in old watches,” I replied, “particulary gold or silver Hunters or even the rarest chronometers.”

“All we have at present is a Silver half Hunter, and I have never seen a chronometer, they are very rare indeed, not things that are pawned for they would fetch many thousands ot pounds in up-market auctioneers such as the world best, Christies of London for instance. I doubt if you would ever. see one at the local auctioneers. She spoke as if she had learned this spiel by rote. Her eyes were semi-glazed, looking as if she was dreaming about me.

Pretending to be interested in the watch she produced, I said...

“It looks an interesting piece but not one that I would like to buy. Thank you for showing it to me.” I handed it back and thanked her once more, and made to leave the shop. Then, as if I had a sudden thought, I asked if she was local, to which she replied in the affirmative.

“Do you know an old gentleman by the name of Matthew Oxley? I did have his address which I have mislaid, all I know is that he lived very near the car park and actually, he told me his home was near a pawnbrokers shop. He seemed to me he was some kind of local character.”

“I have heard the name before,” she replied. “I don’t know where he lives but I think I know a man who does, I’ll go and ask the manager.”

She returned quite soon, and with a smile she said: “He lives in James street, the road that runs parallel with this one, but Mr Grimes doesn’t know the number, but if you knock at any door in that street they will be bound to know where Mr Oxley lives.” Her eyes by now, had returned to some semblance of normality.

I thanked the lady again and, as we closed the shop door behind us, Rachel was the first to speak, saying exactly what I expected her to say.

“I thought you were on a wild goose chase, and anyway, you’ll never buy such an expensive watch from a legitimate source, you’re more likely to cheat someone who doesn’t know the real value of such antiquIties.”

I frowned. Why was she bringing our dubious deeds to the fore? Was she getting cold feet about our ventures together? Of course she was right and we both eventually agreed that old Matthew’s watch was something we ought to try and wheedle out of the old chap. Perhaps we would meet him again in the ‘Half Moon’ pub… or perhaps there was another way of relieving him of his treasure if we tried to find the house he lived in.

It was only gradually that events took on a pace that reminded me of a race, a human race... a rat race! It was not really that I believed in the whole of life being a dream — only to be woken at some godforsaken hour to face another existence (for better or worse). No, it was none of this. The unspoken love that John Bello and Rachel Mildeyes had for each other was all-important. You (of all people) must have realised that there was more to our wayward relationship than simply ripping off people in two-bit car boot sales or auctions.

In any event, you will understand when I tell you that the day we met up with Matthew Oxley again was an even rainier one than that memorable occasion round and about the Roman wall. We were nearer the Old Heath Road part of town where a huge expanse of grass — strangely — a ‘Recreation’ ground gave well-needed scope for exercising young town-bound limbs…

Why we had ventured there remains a mystery but Matthew led us down Port Lane towards Scarletts, pointing out the peculiar carved faces on some of the roofs thereabouts. (I’m sure if we returned there another day, they’d be merely the years that the house had been built etched as numbers in stone plaques). But, then, that dark day it was a veritable rite of passage which both Rachel and I would remember for the rest of our time on this spinning planet. And the kindness in Matthew’s eyes as he donated to us (gratuitously, it seemed) the priceless chronometer... Well, what can I say?

We waved farewell as the increasing rain sent us speeding for the nearest shelter. The lugubrious Recreation ground seemed simply an empty space where nothing (not even dreams) could vender. Needless to say, we did not sell the chronometer. We kept it as a… memento?… symbol?… anchor...? We did have it valued, however, at the pawnbrokers who said it was worth far less than we imagined. The lady (the one, I guess, we’d met there before) had eyes, though, that were agog: I suspect she really knew its true worth... at least to Rachel and I.

* * *

We still often sup in the Half Moon, but the Oxley chap never turns up. Bert, now and again, pops in with a tip for the gee-gees. Indeed, Rachel and I nigh made a small fortune on a ‘Fourfold Accumulator’ as a result of — not a tip, as such — but more of an instinct. The four horses that galloped in for us (streets ahead of the field in each of their races at extremely good odds) were called Blue Murder, Bric-a-Brac, Brown Gravy and Lover’s Hare. This spot of luck compensated for our — what shall I call it? — new¬found honesty. Any dreams we had, we could merely side step — allowing them to career off into some empty space neither of us intended to follow. You will understand.

Posted by augusthog at 5:13 PM EDT
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