‘I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: …’
I was adding toppings to the granola that Lia had prepared for breakfast shortly before I woke. My contribution was a dusting of quinoa pops and a spoonful each of yoghurt and some excellent botanicals. I cut two freshly baked sourdough loaves into four pieces, three for the freezer. It’s Saturday and there was no newspaper yet, the delivery times having slipped since lockdown started.
For some reason, no reason, random reasons, Wingelpouj and Zasnifore came to mind as I made coffee watching Lia read and take notes at the kitchen table. These are two kids we first encountered in the 1980s when we lived in Texas. A boy and a girl, I was never sure which was which. Nor indeed who was who. Were they twins and if not, who was the eldest? I presumed they’d have grown up to fulfil their destiny of great adventuring. Then they reappeared in our lives back in March, at the start of the lockdown.
We’d always put John in the closet when Wingelpouj and Zasnifore came to the house. John could be quite intimidating and scary and Wingelpouj and Zasnifore were adventurous yet sensitive kids. They wouldn’t tolerate any abbreviations of their names and John wasn’t above teasing them. So I thought it best to confine John out of their hearing and sight. John was a monster the children feared might visit in the night. It was always good to check John was a-bed in the closet before their bedtime.
Wingelpouj and Zasnifore had a magic carpet that enabled them fly faster and further than Santa’s sleigh. They loved to fly low over tree tops with swifts and swallows. They sped down alpine valleys in the company of eagles. Dragonflies would invite them to glide together across lakes.
Our three daughters learned to seed the bedtime adventures of Wingelpouj and Zasnifore with a word each. ‘Three words’ became the code that put us all on standby for another adventure.
The shame of it is that none of us remember those adventures very well.
Time has moved on and in March, volcanoes, dinosaurs and scary were three words used rather like ‘Open Sesame’ to invoke Wingelpouj and Zasnifore for another generation.
‘Krakatoa had just blown it’s top
And it seemed it would never stop.
It had exploded as if on a whim
Too far for tigers to swim.’
Technology has moved on and our voices could be shared with multiple distance-separated homes of locked-down grandchildren. We’d started reading poems to them from London and discovered that we could tell bedtime stories from Dublin.
‘He was alone but only for a moment
When a magic carpet appeared, prudent.
And there were Wingelpouj and Zasnifore
Who’d been watching him from before,
Expecting to meet him at the next port
Instead tracked him thru’ clouds of sulphur and ash
And rescued him at a dash’
I liked the three word seeding idea so much that I cut random words from random newspapers and magazines in random places for six months in 1993. I had time on my hands when not working or sleeping in far away lands where jumblies weren’t always to hand for adventures. I thought I could use three words to inspire stories I could write and post home. I’d glue three words to a page and then write old-school. I tried and failed. Worse, I collected the many rejected attempts in an envelope that got lost on my travels. The shame of it is that there was no digital copy.
I kept and still keep the words in a maroon coloured Waterstones Bookshop bag made of recycled polythene (according to the gold lettering). It’s maroon. I think the colour is the key to near twenty year survival.
Was The Thursday are three words I just plucked from the bag. You can imagine a story for yourself. The only rule is that you have to use each word at least once in a sentence. For example, ‘Was the Thursday the last day the Taoiseach should have demoted his Minister of Agriculture for several errors of judgement before failure to address it would itself be seen as a gross error of judgement?’
Such distractions are perhaps why three words failed to inspire suitable bedtime stories for the children.
Three words like mindlessly.depart.arranges will take you to an obelisk I can see as I type. What3Words has long since become a navigation technology that I have used for several years in Instagram feeds to indicate where the posted photos were taken. It was adopted by Mercedes-Benz and integrated into their satnav systems in 2018.
I used it for no other reason than loving the idea that three random words could be combined with the photo to make it something else. Unaffected beaks climbing is a lamp like boat paint peel. Surfed able washed is a tower in Kyoto seen jet-lagged by night. Anyway best email is a blue hood at a closed blue door.
For years, the Harry Mathews 20 lines-a-day discipline was just three words away but out of reach because I was otherwise engaged as one of the kinetic elite.
I have recently looked on my works and despaired that nothing beside remains. Perhaps this is why I journal? Tried and failed, I think I’m failing better this time. Three blames perhaps: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Beckett and Harry Mathews.
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