English can be so dashed underhand. It takes some perfectly benign word and injects it with a second, malign interpretation. Some while back, I heard on the grapevine – well perhaps not a grapevine, but via one of those ingenious subterranean communication systems, – that a pal of mine had tried to locate Murmurs of Mole, but instead of my ponderings was presented with the addresses of skin clinics and advice on how to diagnose heart ailments.
Heart murmurs. Could anything sound more benign? I imagine sweet nothings, one loving heart communicating sub voce with another. And not so very long ago, a mole (of the skin variety) was considered a mark of beauty? A beauty spot – like an especially glorious feature in the landscape. It was once considered such a mark of beauty by humans that if they did not have one occurring naturally they might carefully apply one to a cheekbone, with a pen.
A pen. But a darker memory keeps wanting to surface; one that is deeply associated with a grizzled old mole called Trelawney. He lived in a burrow in the neighbouring field, far too close to Great Uncle Mole for comfort. Great Uncle Mole called him an old curmudgeon. ‘A curmudgeon, indeed’, Uncle Ratty would mutter. ‘Raving lunatic, more like’. Trelawney kept an illegal still in his kitchen where he made a firewater concoction that involved fermented worms and horehound. His parlour, on the other hand, had been given over to an arsenal of blunderbusses. Whenever it took his fancy, but especially when there was a full moon, he would blast one off, sometimes two, – usually into the air, but on bad days in random arcs. With each shot, we’d hear him bellowing out the name of a ship: ‘Providence’, bang, ‘Charles II’, bang, ‘Castle Forbes’, bang . . .. His ancestors were Cornish, it was said, and ran a network of smuggling tunnels, never discovered by the authorities. Although why he had it in for the ships, no-one could fathom.
Trelawney was a noisy mole, which was just as well. I could usually hear him coming in time to scuttle back to the burrow before he had me in his sights. But sometimes he remembered the stealth his ancestors must have cultivated. He thrilled in coming up on small moles from behind and roaring so close to our earholes, we almost asphyxiated in the fug of his 100% proof breath. Worse would come. He’d clamp his gigantic paw on your shoulder, claws digging into your pelt – and spin you round and nail you with his manic eyes. Then he’d frighten the living daylights out of you with his tales.
Mole-catchers were his pet theme. They lurked everywhere, behind every hedgerow, gatepost and shed. Mole-catchers lurked with sacks and they especially liked small moles because of their soft, velvety pelts. These soft velvety pelts were in particular demand because the most narcissistic of humans were not content with using a pen for their beauty spots. Why did we think these beauty spots were called moles? Because they were made of mole. Eyebrows, too, slithers of pelt. Mole pelt. He would leer as he said this, baring his ruined teeth. Young mole pelt.
Trelawney became more and more erratic as time went on, and one year when I returned for my annual stay with Great Uncle Mole, he was there no more. The garden of his burrow had been tidied. The front door had been painted. The air was somehow still, almost dead. It wasn’t the same. I realised that I missed the thrill of his presence.
But I have no desire for my dear readers to be confronted by moles and murmurs of the wrong kind when they seek my pages. Luddite mole though I am, I must examine the blueprints again and find a way of protecting them from the intrusions of Trelawneyish intimations of mortality.
Above all, I must reclaim mole for myself and my kinsfolk. If I were a puffed up sort of a mole I would pronounce us the glorious features in the landscape.