An unseen aura seemed ever present about the boat. The elderly lady became ‘Grandma Hazel’, and the old man was simply called ‘Grandpa’ Bast discovered one evening after a meal of fish, cabbage and boiled potato. Grandma Hazel, an old lady in Bast’s eyes, yet no more than forty years of age to the eye of an adult.
“Appearances are everything” she confided in Bast one evening. This revelation was made in between adding handfuls of some rather noxious smelling herbs, or ‘greenery’ as she liked to call them, into an almost spherical three legged pot. The opening at the top of the pot was lesser than the girth of the soot blackened iron creation, possessing a handle of wire, and a lid that could be clamped down upon it. Sealing it entirely, and effectively creating a bomb of sorts should it be left over the fire too long.
“What does that mean?” said Bast, locking Grandma Hazel with the steel gaze unique to small children, cats, naval officers, and the insane.
“Well dear, that means that what people see, not what actually is, is what is most important on the outside. Do you understand?” said Grandma Hazel, never once talking to Bast in the tones of an adult talking to a child, or more importantly an idiot.
“Now, here is an example, and we have spoken of examples before. Look at me, really look at me, and tell me what do you see?”
“You?” said Bast quietly after a few seconds nervous contemplation.
“Yes, if you didn’t know me, tell me what do you see.”
Seconds longer than hours ticked away in Bast’s five year old head. The noxious smelling greenery that had gone into the pot had become an entirely evil, and far more toxic smelling, seething and bubbling mess. Bast edged back from it, and Grandma Hazel said “well?”
“I see an old lady with a big warty nose, not enough teeth, funny grey hair, a pointy hat, and black clothes.” blurted Bast.
Smiling, Grandma Hazel went onto say “well done my dear. That is my appearance, but now what does that mean?”
“It means that you are an old lady?” Bast displaying the keen eye of a five year old girl, therefore completely accurate.
“Splendid! Correct again! That is what I hope people see, but that is not who I am. If I was sitting on a chair out of doors and in a village, completely naked what would people see?”
“What does naked mean?”
“No clothes on my dear.” Replied the old witch.
“Pffffffttttt………..your boobies.” said a now tittering Bast. Hands over the mouth and blushing.
“Yes they would. But would they think I was just an old lady with grey hair and a warty nose?”
“No. They would think you were a crazy person and burn you, and then everyone would cheer, and all of the Dad’s would get wobbly drinking lots of whiskey and ale.” said Bast cheerfully. “And we would have a picnic, and lots of games and fun.”
“Indeed they would. But would I be any different if I sat on the same seat wearing these clothes? Of course not, but it is only what people see that they believe to be real. Not what actually is. Do you understand my dear?”
“Yes Grandma Hazel.”
And that was that. It was to be a lesson that Bast would unwittingly cherish and utilise for the rest of her long life.
To see wings on a human is generally enough to interrupt any conversation. The responses on viewing said wings, whilst initially the same, will cause all people to react somewhat differently to one another once time for thought had snuck in. Catholics may rub their hands together with a certain amount of glee, looking forward to the bonfire and family outing later that day, God’s abominations undisputedly making for the finest social occasions. Others of a less religious, more dread locked and tree hugging persuasion, may consider laying off the mushrooms for a while. Some will completely ignore it, as there is no way that wings could be attached, let alone formed from someone’s back. Therefore what they are seeing is not actually there at all, and it is time for a cuppa and a little lay down, repeating the process as necessary.
Then there are those that see them for what they are. A gift and something to be embraced. Grandma Hazel was one of those rare few. Grandpa on the other hand showed no more than a toothless smile, and went back to being berated and bullied.
Like walking, flying comes with practice. Grandma Hazel, upon watching Bast crash into the deck of the ‘Conditaneus Cepa’, decided that the best way for Bast to learn to fly was to start with swimming lessons.
Swimming lessons involved Bast being lashed to a buoyant flask, and then thrown over the starboard side of the old barge. She was then dragged slowly along behind it. Grandpa would only haul her out once she had turned blue, and could no longer speak for shivering. As soon as she had landed on the deck, she was towelled off with a hessian sack, and then sat down below decks beside the wee galley stove. As colour returned to her cheeks, Grandma Hazel berated her soundly for not swimming in the manner of an Olympian after a week’s worth of lessons, striking fear into Bast’s wee heart. As such, this ensured that Bast was terrified beyond words every time she was lashed to the flask, and cast over the side. Warm wet socks just prior to entering the water a daily part of the experience.
Bast could dog paddle within ten days. Within a month Bast’s world had turned. From then on, happily jumping over the side unaided, finding that she enjoyed swimming above all else. A talent kept for life that in time proved incredibly useful, particularly amongst those with a fetish for crosses and Spanish accents.
Flying lessons, some two months later, began in a similar manner to her swimming lessons. Grandpa would tie a rope around Bast’s waist, and to the deck. Then, in the manner of someone throwing a dove into the air, he would cast her skyward.
Her initial results were spectacular. Bast spectacularly got tangled up in the upper rigging of the main mast. Bast spectacularly speared into the forecastle. Bast spectacularly got stuck at the full length of the line she was attached to, and was unable to land for over an hour. Only making it down after Grandpa hauled her in, and lashed her to the deck.
Some three months, and multiple river dunkings later, rope forgotten, Bast was able to fly around the Pickled Onion squealing with utter joy of the thrill of flight; all without incident.
Other lessons occurred daily for Bast. Reading and writing, whilst essentially beyond the grasp of the average Scot of the time, was demanded by Grandma Hazel; mathematics featured regularly; language written and spoken lessons in Gaelic, Latin, French, and the all but forgotten ‘Pictish’ were included.
With equal exuberance, the old lady taught Bast to cook and sew. She gave her an insight into first aid and rudimentary medicine; an understanding of nature’s edibles, inedibles, medicinal greenery, poisons, and everything in between. Grandma Hazel taught her of minerals and metals, of cause and effect, the stars and the movement of the moon and earth.
Bast drank it in.
The other end of the educational spectrum was filled by Grandpa.
Prior to dawn, when the world was divided in confusion between what was night, and what may just be day; Bast was woken by Grandpa from her rack in the confines of the bow. She would hastily dress, scamper past the snore filled cabin housing Grandma Hazel, then up a small flight of wooden stairs, to open a hatch cover, and stalk on to the aft deck of the ‘Conditaneus Cepa’. Silently closing the hatch behind her.
Grandpa spent every morning teaching Bast how to box with her hands, and also with her feet. She was to learn how to roll and grapple; she could bend arms and lock legs; she learnt how to jump, how to hide and how to stalk, how to climb a wall or a rope. He taught her how to throw adult sized people, and where to put your finger to block a nerve. After a year her lessons took a new direction, involving sticks that did their best to impersonate swords, knives, and cudgels. Eight months on, Grandpa delighted in handing her a bow. It was then that she learnt not how to just use a bow, but more importantly, how to hunt.
To Bast, those mornings were completely magical. Grandpa, a quiet and gentle man by nature, who by outward daytime appearance came across as someone rather the ‘dotty’. Yet, for the first two hours of the day, he transformed into the smile of the fox. Sly and bright eyed, he proved to be an endless wealth of knowledge in all things cunning, devious, and tantalisingly dangerous. Bast loved it.
The most important bricks of education he imparted on Bast was that of humility, confidence, compassion, and life. It was not until many years later, the ‘Conditaneus Cepa’ little but a distant memory that Bast came to realise the great importance of it.
Appearances are everything.
I have an inkling it is Sunday, although I am yet to prove that theory accurate. Regardless, do the thing that you do with the picture above. For once I am putting up music you can dance to, but you will need a partner held close. The ‘Fishies’ will get you there.
My sincerest and very best to you all.
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