Monthly Archives: February 2016

Monkey Business

Year of the Monkey has well and truly started at this burrow. Last night, a good chum and I were, virtually speaking, sitting at Great Uncle Mole’s desk, blueprints spread out before us, trying to figure out and disentangle the routes and circuits for murmurs of mole and Mole Out Loud. We were just pausing for a cup of tea when, out of the blue, the Mail Chimp zoomed past the open window. He saw the notes and scraps and trials on the desk and snatched them up just as they were. And so, dear readers, your inboxes were swelled with unintended and interjingled murmurs and Out Louds.

Should this happen again tonight or tomorrow, my apologies in advance.

Normal services will resume on Friday.


Here in the southern antipodes we are just coming to the end of our glorious fruit season. There is something about the ephemeral nature of these seasonal fruits, – raspberries, greengages, apricots, blackberries, peaches, damsons, nectarenes, mulberries, gooseberries, – that makes me gorge on them, delight in them while they are here. I love them all, but most of all I love the cherries.

We moles are terrible hoarders, but these fruits rot if they are kept.

And so I am eating a cherry for each item tossed. I am unhoarding my burrow to make more space to breathe, more time to take delight in what remains, more room in my mind, a move towards more flow in and out of my burrow; in and out of my molebody.

I don’t really remember cherries much from when I was a wee mole in England- they were a very, very special treat. But in the early days after we moved to Switzerland, I remember all the more an outing we made to Chronberg.

The departure from our home burrow and our nearest kin in England had been a tearful one but Grandmama Mole, who lived heartfirst and had endured more than her fair share of departures, composed her bravest face. We had relations in Switzerland, she told us. Distant, it was true, but through them it was possible to trace our lineage back to the Romans.

Tenuous, Great Uncle Mole interjected, sotte voce, and received a scowl from Grandpapa.

The clan was called Muulwürfli Ursprung, Grandmama went on, ignoring them both, – had been called that since the beginning of time. And (this was said in a dramatic hushed whisper), would these moles have a story or two to tell! Switzerland was a small country, she said. We should drop by – but to be sure to wait until late summer.

In the scheme of things, Switzerland is a small country, but not for moles. One hot day we walked, caught a bus and then a tram and then three trains and another bus to get to Frick. We tramped on to the village Oeken Oberdorf. Even then, we still had a long and dusty climb up the Chronberg. I might have balked but luckily the Chronberg was more of a hill than a mountain – and more luckily still, the cherry orchards (which by this time were a far greater lure than the ancestry), were clearly visible.

Several of the Muulwürfli Ursprung clan were waiting for us at the edge of the orchard. They had a cloth on the ground, put out bowls and bowls of cherries. They plied us with Kirsch, home-distilled. We had worked up such thirst coming up the hill that we drank far too much of it – and me such a wee mole, too.

Their accents were thick, and Papa did his moleful best to converse and translate back to us, Grandmama’s prediction that there were stories to tell, was amply proven.

Members of the Muulwürfli Ursprung clan had lived here since before the Romans brought the first cherry trees from Anatolia. The cherries might seem a boon now but the Legionnaires had settled a major camp, run roughshod over molehills, shaking the ground with their thudding feet and collapsing the tunnels of our forebears.

The story went that two Muulwürfli sisters decided enough was enough and they set up several cells of similarly minded moles in the area and orchestrated the gradual death of the settlement’s economy and a revolt within the army. Every night for several years, the moles would burrow under the treasury and steal the coins, newly arrived from Rome, that were destined for the pay of the soldiers.

What did they do with all that money, I asked, thinking about what I would do if I were so rich. Mama frowned at me. In our family it was considered bad form to talk about money. Filthy lucre, Papa called it, but nonetheless he translated.

The grizzled old Muulwürfli who had until now been telling the tale with toothless glee, looked serious. The sisters, he told us, had wanted to distribute the hoard among all the Chronberg moles, but when they tunnelled to the burrows where the coins had been stashed, the coffers were bare.

There was a lot of bad feeling, each clan accusing the others. It was generally felt that the sisters, having got all the other moles to do the heavy work, had pulled a fast one. It wasn’t true, the old Muulwürfli said, the sisters lived humble lives. But the Muulwürfli Ursprung clan became outcasts, until recently only allowed to live on the periphery of the Chronberg. Now, though, after all these centuries, they had reclaimed their ancestral burrow.

It was dusk when we departed. It would be past midnight when we got home. The Ursprung clan gave us bags and bags of cherries to sustain us on our journey home.

Today I have been feeding myself cherries to ease the flow of my dehoarding. The juice is dribbling down my pelt just as it did then. But it is not just the cherries that have precipitated me into telling you this story. The other day I stumbled across a news item.

A farmer in Chronberg, tending his cherry orchard, had seen something strange in a mole hill. He dug a bit and found a coin, and then another. Fifteen kilos of coins were uncovered – over 4000, – newly minted, dated between 274 and 296 AD. It was hard on the map to see exactly where this was but I could have sworn it was where the grizzled old Muulwürfli Ursprung had pointed out his burrow. Had he known all along – but kept the hoard? Had he died not telling his heirs – who then, in their eagerness to extend the burrow for their ever increasing families, had dug the coins to the surface without recognising what they were?

I like to think that it wasn’t the sisters who kept the stash, but that it was taken by less scrupulous members of the clan, who kept it until the broohaha died down – except it never did. Perhaps they gloated over it, but they could never cash in.

Is this a little morality tale tailored to me? Is it to remind me that hoards that aren’t allowed to breathe and move on and find new outlets are ultimately useless and only clog up their custodians?

That is not to say that I will not keep the treasures that hold the stories of my clan so that I might recount them here.

Pen in paw

Sometimes I ponder for days about what I am going to write. A stray word seen or spoken, the odd observation, or maybe two or three jostling together, and one thing will lead to another until I discover what it is that I want to say. But there are other times when I am distracted and forget to lay myself open to the seeds of inspiration. I become paralysed by the terror of a deadline and forget to lose myself in the delicious riches of my cellar.

I sit here, pen in paw, hoping that the first word is inching its way through the endless circuitry of my body. I am barely unconscious of its origins; have no sense that it is aware that I have a timetable. It dawdles, hovers somewhere in my gullet, loses itself in bye-ways, is lured into conversations with other words who are arguing about which is to go first. None wants to lead. I am waiting this end for it to arrive – have been waiting for some time. Will I recognise it when it arrives? Will we embrace? Will it be a complete stranger? Will it thrill or fall flat on its face?

How does a word reach a paw? How can I jolt it along? Papa paced up and down. Like a tiger, Mama would say. The threadbare track on the turkey rug bore witness. His words when they came flowed, exquisite, poetic, but rare. Mama’s came to the fore through sheer force of will, but were prosaic when they arrived, having been marshalled on command and not been allowed the time to build distinctive characters.

Great Uncle Mole always typed. The machine was essential, a big and heavy thing that clacked and pinged, a mechanical intervention between his body and the paper. Watching him, one might almost believe that the letters on the hammers conveyed themselves to him before his paws had even hit the keys. something mechanical and external to himself.

Uncle Ratty was a verbal chap – could spin a yarn that lasted for weeks. A tale might be serialised night after night for the whole stretch of a holiday and on the last evening all the threads were drawn together for an astonishing denouement. But ask him to write so much as a shopping list and he froze. He needed to talk himself around a thing to bring it to life, not pin it down.

His sister, Celestine, who had a higgledy-piggledy education at the barge school had no such qualms. The barge creatures were given so much roaming time, so much license to paint and mull and shout and sing bawdy songs, that Celestine knew no limits when it came to writing – nor anything else. Her pen, filled with green ink, excelled at all she touched and, oiled and fluid, made its way through three doctorates as she lived and loved her way through Paris, Barcelona, New York and Berlin.

I sit here trying channel her, or if not her any one of the others. I feel the words getting stuck en route. My words are neither marshalled, nor fluid, they are not to be coaxed by mechanical intervention or green ink, or lulled with whisky or wine or chocolate. I try to send them messages of encouragement but they are timid creatures, too frightened to emerge. The word-in-the-making I am waiting for – and its pals, – are more comfortable in that amorphous place where anything is possible; before letters have coalesced into words and words have coalesced into sentences.

If they come out they might be pounced upon before the quill has even scratched the paper.