Friday, 19 January 2018
The following morning as Kitty stood at the Aga shaking a pan full of sizzling bacon she glanced out of the kitchen window across the farmyard. The cows were back in the pasture after milking. Ben and Young Ted stood heads together, inspecting the tractor engine. She could see their breath rise from their mouth as they spoke to each other. It all looked so normal. Sighing, she knocked hard on the window to attract their attention and let them know breakfast was almost ready.
Ben straightened up, acknowledged his mother with a wave, tossed a spanner into the tool box. ‘Time to eat.’ He hoped blood wasn’t supposed to be a substitute for food especially the cooked breakfasts he loved so much.
‘Aye, I’m starving. Could eat a scabby hos’ and run after the jockey.’ Young Ted looked across to the farmhouse, and sniffed the air. ‘I can smell bacon.’
‘Come on, shift yourself.’
‘Wash your hands and sit yourself down, Ted lad.’ Kitty slid fried eggs sunny side up onto plates loaded with bacon, mushrooms, beans and fried bread.
Ted sat at the table. ‘Thanks, Kitty.’ He grinned up at her. ‘You do look after me.’ He tucked into his breakfast, a small frown on his face as he glanced up at Kitty again. ‘Mind if I say you’re looking a bit peaky today. Are you feeling all right? Ben said you’d not been well.’
Friday, 12 January 2018
Ben and Young Ted had been working the farm together for almost a week when Ben received a call from the surgery. His test results were back and could he come in to see his doctor straight away.
‘What is it, Doctor?’ Ben sat nervously twisting his cap in his hands.
‘Well Ben…you have something called Porphyria.’
‘Can I have that in English.’ Ben shifted in his seat.
‘Hmm, it’s a general term used to describe a variety of syndromes due to an excess of porphyrins in the blood tissues. Sometimes the symptoms present as neurological problems and other times the skin is affected, hence the purple pigmentation you have. Or, occasionally, both.’ Doctor Walton looked into Ben’s eyes and realised the lights were on, but there was no-one home. ‘You have the symptoms of Cutaneous Porphyria. The itching, blisters and swelling of the skin, and the photosensitivity—doesn’t mean you’re sensitive to photo’s though!’ Doctor Walton chuckled. ‘And, your pee had a slight purple tinge to it, another symptom. The fact that you have stomach pains is probably down to worrying about the play.’
‘Could be, I suppose.’
‘Porphyria is a genetic disease, but neither of your parents appear to have the symptoms, which is rather strange. Can you remember if any of your grandparents had similar health problems?’
Friday, 5 January 2018
The Jackson's Farm - Present Day
Ben had risen early the next morning. October daylight hours were noticeably shorter now and nights were drawing in fast. He had to plan his day so he could use every bit of daylight and had been out working already, testing the amount of sugar in the maize. Dark threatening clouds loomed. Back in the kitchen, leaning against the Aga for warmth, he took his mobile phone from his trouser pocket and selected Young Ted Griffin’s number.
‘Maize is ready,’ he said when Young Ted answered. ‘Any chance you can give a hand today? Dad suggested I ask you, too heavy a job for him these days. In fact, there’s a full time job if you want it?’
’Thanks Ben. I’d love to work on the farm full time. It’ll be like coming home. I’ll be right over.’
Ben could count on Young Ted, so called because his father had been Old Ted. And even though Old Ted had been dead for several years, Young Ted’s name stuck. Rumour had it Old Ted wasn’t really his father. He was a good lad; never moped around like a lot of teenagers. Since he could first walk he had followed Ben around the farm when his mother, Bernice, helped Kitty with her housework. Now, at eighteen years old, and after helping out regularly over the years, Young Ted knew nearly as much about running the farm as Ben did. To outsiders they looked as if they could be father and son.
Ben had grown maize to feed their farm animals. Buying food in for them was becoming more expensive by the day. The maize crop had been successful and had grown to around seven feet high. With Young Ted’s help and good weather, no rain was forecast for today, Ben reckoned to have all five fields cut before dark.
‘Ma, are you awake?’ Ben shouted upstairs to his mother.
‘I am now.’ Came a groggy reply.
‘Don’t bother with cooking today. I'll make packed lunches for me and Ted.’
‘If you’re sure.’
‘Positive. Can’t be wasting time sitting about waiting for food to settle before going back out again. Time’s too precious when we’re harvesting the maize.’
While Ben prepared the packed lunches he started singing loudly. In less than five minute sandwiches were made, lots of biscuits and fruit selected and everything put into separate lunch boxes.His rich baritone attracted the attention of the cows in the meadow as they stopped chewing the cud to turn and stare at the farmhouse.
Music was one of Ben’s simple pleasures. Whenever he drove the tractor he played music CD’s. Today he enjoyed listening to Manhattan Transfer and Edith Piaf while he day-dreamed. The farm tractor was about as up-to-date as it was possible for a machine to be. Bursting with the latest technology it was more like a robot to Ben’s mind with its built-in satellite control for it knew exactly what it was doing.
During their short lunch break he explained to Young Ted something of it’s workings. ‘It’s like this, lad,’ he said. ‘The GPS system picks up signals from special satellites in space,’ he looked and pointed to the sky, ‘and when it’s set to auto-pilot all I do is just sit there. And once we reach the hedge I just turns the thing around.’
‘No driving or guiding it then, Ben?’
‘Nope, I push a button on the computer and it automatically guides us to the other end of the field. Take over the world one day will computers, and you can work in the dark if you want to,’ Ben laughed, ‘but at least it gives me time to read the play.’
‘Less of the language lad.’ Jokingly he went to clip Young Ted’s ear, ‘Come on, time to move.’
‘What’s with the shades then, Ben?’
‘Sunlight’s too strong for me these days. Makes my eyes sore as hell.’
Young Ted made to clip Ben’s ear. ‘Less of the language, mate. That’s what you call Karma.’
As they went about the harvesting Ben said, ‘You make sure you keep up with me. No wandering about with the tractor or the maize will miss the trailer.
Apart from wanting the crop cut as fast as possible Ben had also wanted to get back to thinking about his play. To visualise the cast on stage: how the actors would move, speak and the costumes they might wear. Costumes were nearly always a headache as some of the cast could be difficult, insisting they looked ridiculous. Luckily the costumes were stored in the farmhouse attic and that enabled Ben to select items suitable for the play. In Ben’s opinion it was absolutely fine to look ridiculous because it made people individual in their part. If anyone kicked up he would remind the cast of the fact it was just a play, after all. Settled on his decision he had worked on until harvesting was finished.
Ben and Young Ted had congratulated themselves on a good days work. Ben had put his hand on Ted’s shoulder and handed him some cash in payment. ‘Thanks, lad. Couldn’t have done this without your help.’
Young Ted stuffed the cash into his jeans pocket. ‘I’ll pop in and say hello to Kitty and Don before I leave.’
‘Best not disturb them. They’ve not been so well these past few days. Arthritis, and a chill. They’ll be asleep now anyway. They take forty winks before supper nowadays.’
‘That’s a shame. Say hello from me.’ Young Ted had jumped into his car, waved, and driven off.
When Ben had walked through the back door into the kitchen he had been hit by a dreadful smell. ‘Hells bells,’ he had muttered to himself, ‘must be a dead rat somewhere. I’ll have to find the darned thing and get rid, or Da will be complaining.’
He had checked through the house from top to bottom; nothing. He called it a day. He was tired, and hungry. He’d check again tomorrow.
Supper over Ben had called the actors he had chosen for his play. They were delighted and couldn’t wait to start rehearsals, which always ran on Tuesday and Friday evenings, or in a five day block, and had done for donkey’s years.
After making his phone calls he’d sat at the oak kitchen table in front of the Aga and started to build a new model aircraft: his aunt had given him a spitfire to build when he was six years old and now one of the rooms upstairs was full of them. He’d become an expert. These days he not only built them, he attached little engines and flew his planes in the fields around the farm, much to his father’s annoyance.
Ben didn’t have a girlfriend, never mind a wife. He was a mummy’s boy at heart. He’d never brought a girl home to meet his parents. Too risky. Family secrets to keep hidden from the outside world. But, Ben had tasted the pleasures of the flesh and enjoyed a brief, passionate affair with a married woman many years ago. Not even his mother knew about that.
The first play rehearsal was well underway, but one of the female cast was missing. Ben was not impressed. He liked punctuality. If he committed to something, no matter what it was, he always arrived on time. Half an hour into the rehearsal the woman sauntered in as though tomorrow would do. Ben held his hand up to stop the actors on stage and waited until the latecomer was almost beside him.
‘Where have you been?’ Ben said, his tone unusually cool.
‘Why? I’m not on stage until later in the play.’ Her reply casual, unconcerned.
‘That’s not the point, Esme,’ Ben squared up to her. ‘Everybody else managed to get here on time. And you know how these things go. We may start at the end of the play, and then go back to the beginning so you don’t know when you might be needed,’ Ben paused, stared at her. ‘And, you need to learn the play from the beginning, right through to the end. Not only your own part. You need to know what the other actors are doing. I already explained that on the telephone, didn’t I?’ Esme looked uncomfortable, there was a mumble amongst the cast at Ben’s bizarre behaviour. ‘Please be on time in future.’ He hoped he’d made his point.