Day 403: Minstrel’s Last Lay

As Laetitia walked down Raglan Road toward the Emerald Victorian in the early dawn hour, she had a sense of excitement. Today she and her tour would be crossing the border into Scotland. The border country was the locale of the River Tweed and the Scottish weaving industry, centuries of border conflicts between England and Scotland, and the home of Sir Walter Scott. While savoring the aroma of brewing fresh ground Arabica dark roast from Kenya, she browsed the books in the library in preparation for the day’s tour. She decided they would visit Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford after stops at the ruined abbeys at Melrose and Dryburgh, which were destroyed during the various border wars.

Scott was a romantic novelist and poet who lived from 1771 to 1832 and played an important role in making Scotland and things Scottish popular. His choice of writing as a career led to frequent conflicts with his father, who, like many of his generation, wanted their sons to pursue more respectable occupations such as medicine, law, or business. There may be some similarities between Scott’s own early life and that of Frank Osbaldistone, the protagonist of his novelRob Roy. In addition to novels, he wrote lengthy narrative poems, such as The Lady of the Lake and The Lay of the Last Minstrel. When his works became popular, he built Abbotsford on the River Tweed.

In Laetitia’s group was a family with two teenage boys, Rob and Earl. The house tour ended in the museum shop, which was filled with books and paraphernalia related to Sir Walter Scott. While the group was browsing the shop, Rob, the oldest teenager, was rapidly thumbing through The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Later Earl told Laetitia that his brother had been looking for the “good” parts, but he didn’t find any. The conversation suggested the limerick of the day.

When Rob read Scott’s Minstrel’s Last Lay
He was irked when he found no foreplay
And that even much worse
It was written in verse
With no graphic roll in the hay.

Day 360: Erroneous Polonius

It was another day off from touring, but Laetitia still had to write a limerick. Laetitia’s cousin, Sophie, was visiting from Canada with her daughter, Emma. Thus, at 7:00 a.m., the three walked down Raglan Road together toward the Emerald Victorian. When Laetitia entered the kitchen to brew coffee, she was surprised to find that the packet of coffee was twice the usual size, providing enough coffee for two instead of one.

In the library, the three browsed guidebooks and maps as they planned a day trip to Paris that would include a cruise on the Seine, the Eifel Tower, and a fashion show. After a while seven-year-old Emma grew tired of the adult conversation and began playing with a model of the Eifel Tower that she found on a library table. When the plans for the day trip had been made, Laetitia began to think of a limerick.

The previous evening, their grandmother, Emma, Laetitia, and Sophie went to a performance of Hamlet put on by a local Hibernia theater company. Laetitia always admired Shakespeare’s humor. What struck her as especially funny in this production was Polonius, who said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and then rambled on at great length, being neither brief nor witty. Was being stabbed through the arras a just punishment for bloviating? The great thing about being an author is that one can deal with irksome folk symbolically. Laetitia posted her limerick, and the three went off on their virtual tour of Paris.

In Hamlet that fellow Polonius
Did utter a claim most erroneous
For he lied like a thief
When he said he’d be brief
Which was tacky although not felonious.

Day 350: Golden Balls

Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its founding date is uncertain, but it dates back to at least the eleventh century. Prior to that, where Oxford is now, there were Roman settlements and later monastic institutions. During the twelfth century, the University of Paris kicked out all of its English scholars, and they brought the French university’s curriculum with them when they fled back to England.

Sipping from a cup of freshly brewed Guatemalan dark roast as she surfed the Internet in the Emerald Victorian library, Laetitia ran across an interesting piece about an Oxford scholar who was applying new imaging techniques to ancient codices (manuscripts bound in book form) from the University’s archives. He had discovered, among other things, a piece of Roman erotica that had been written over with a religious text. Parchment, made from specially treated animal skins with the hair removed, was costly and hard to obtain. Thus monastic scribes recycled parchment by disassembling old discarded texts, removing the ink, writing new text in its place, and reassembling the rewritten pages into a new codex.

The original text, from the Roman period, was written in Latin. It was a variation of the story of mythical Phrygian (Greek) King Midas. Midas was given the golden touch as a gift by Dionysus or Bacchus; mythical stories vary. In the recently discovered manuscript, the Midas story has been reset in England near Oxford. Midas’ wife, Queen Demodike, distraught because Midas can no longer touch her without turning the touched area to gold, takes a lover. Midas discovers them in flagrante delicto and takes his revenge on her young suitor. At the end of the story, the queen secretly has her servants erect a monument to her lover somewhere in the vicinity of Oxford.

Shortly after the discovery of the manuscript and its translation was in the local newspapers, a man from a nearby hamlet called Golden Balls called on the scholar and told him that the Midas love triangle story had been part of the oral tradition of their community for centuries. Part of the legend was that the monument was an anatomically correct nude male statue made of marble, except for testicles, which were made of gold. The gold parts were almost immediately stolen. Until recently, there was a badly eroded and unrecognizable piece of marble statuary in the hamlet that local folks thought might have been the one in the story, but unfortunately it was accidentally destroyed during the construction of a roundabout.

After reading the Internet piece, Laetitia took another sip of coffee and thought to herself, “I can’t believe Bailey and Hurst would miss a place called Golden Balls.” She looked and indeed they hadn’t. She found that Golden Balls was number 90 in Rude UK. Next to the text was a picture of the sign announcing the approach to the Golden Balls Roundabout. Laetitia decided she wouldn’t lead a tour today. She already had her limerick.

There’s a story around that appalls
‘Bout a King Midas curse that befalls
A bloke who was seen
Trysting with Midas’ queen
And the hamlet that’s called “Golden Balls.”

Day 346: Cockpole Green

As she unlocked the ornate door of the Emerald Victorian, walked inside, and started preparing the morning coffee, Laetitia thought about what a great source of fun the Bailey and Hurst books had proven to be. She started the pot brewing, and by the time the aroma began to drift into the library, she had selected today’s destination from Rude UK.

Cockpole Green is a small village in Berkshire a few miles from the Thames. The original green for which the community is named is in two civil parishes: Hurley and Wargrave. Laetitia’s group consisted mostly of Americans who wanted to shop in England. It didn’t take long for them to exhaust the shopping possibilities in Cockpole Green, so she took them to nearby Henley-on-Thames, which is larger. She gave the group a few hours to shop and a designated meeting place, and then went back to Cockpole Green to spend some time on her own.

She sat on a bench on the old village green near a building entirely covered with ivy. She took out her book and began to read, but soon discovered that there was steady traffic of people with plants into and out of the building. There was no sign designating the building’s purpose. “Perhaps it’s a plant sale,” she thought. Her curiosity aroused, Laetitia put her book away and entered the building.

Inside was a large room with a bar at one end and tables in the center. It seemed a typical bar scene, until one noticed that the center of the room was lit by the eerie glow of grow-lights, and at the tables were humans sitting across from plants. Laetitia moved to the bar, perched on a stool, ordered a Pimm’s Cup, and looked around the room. In the darker recesses of the room near the back wall, there were humans entwined with plants.

The more brightly lit walls near the front of the room were covered with an interesting array of memorabilia. There was a portrait of the Jolly Green Giant that had an autograph that read, “With love from the Valley, J. G. G.” There were “safe sex” posters giving tips on how to stop the spread of aphids. Most interesting were the posters depicting classical Roman and Greek statues of men and women with their private parts covered with leaves still attached to entwining plants.

In front of the humans at the tables were drinks recognizable to anyone who had a libation now and then, but in front of the plants were blue drinks, not quite resembling a blue Curacao or a blue Hawaii. “That’s Miracle Gro,” said the bartender, “This is a green bar—our patrons are herbosexuals. I’m not of that persuasion myself, but I’ve worked here a number of years and know a lot about the movement. It’s a practice that goes back to ancient times and has yet to come out of the closet. There used to be a considerable amount of classical statuary like those on the poster over there. From time to time groups that adhered to rival sexual persuasions desecrated their statues by removing the entwining plants. They couldn’t remove the leaves covering the private parts without disfiguring the human part of the statue, so they left them. Later, when the various puritanical movements came along, it gave them an idea for covering up the sexuality of Adam and Eve and other nude art. There a few of the original statues like you see in the poster extant, but they’re mostly in private collections.”

Just then, a woman came into the bar and chose a stool next to Laetitia. She said her name was Melba and she had a zucchini farm in the country. She had been staffing her booth earlier, but, now was ready to go home and was trying to meet a plant to take home for the evening. The multiple-verse limerick of the day, which Melba’s story inspired, was presented when Laetitia rejoined her group in late afternoon.

When Melba strode through Cockpole Green
Her mind turned to matters serene
For since her salad days
Her vision would glaze
As she thought of things green but not clean.

On her job as she met with a client
She would think of the Jolly Green Giant
And sigh with relief
As he stripped off each leaf
While she lay down before him compliant.

And on holiday near Rosslyn Glen
She dreamed about Rosslyn’s green men
Who would lovingly grapple
With her in the Chapel
So she went there again and again.

When her listlessness made friends distraught
“They’re just green with envy,” she thought
And was happy thereafter
In a life filled with laughter
On the zucchini farm that she bought.