Monday, 7 January 2013

Jumping natterjack flash

The blanket winter snow has given gracious Llanevan a right hammering over the last few months of 2010. The sub zero fields are bare and the sheep are staring forlornly at the soil willing for it to offer a single blade. The snow is long gone but now the ground is dry as it hasn’t rained for weeks. Unwelcome Stain, the red legged partridge, is Llanevan’s Witch Doctor. I went to see him in his wigwam in Smatcher Wood to see if he could coax forth some precipitation. He was reclining on a black sheep skin with a bowl of dried woodlouse atop his proud belly.
“Can you offer me some counsel?” I asked, bowing at the wigwam entrance.
“Hang on, this is a classic bit,” he said summoning me into the incense rich tent. He was watching the A-team.
“Brilliant, just plain brilliance,” he chirped as Murdoch ducked a telegraphed punch from Mr T. “Face is my favourite. He is so in touch with civilisation. And he’s got sweet wheels.” Unwelcome drives a Porsche Boxter that he won in a game of cards from Kevin Pietersen. “What’s troubling you Tommo?” He rose to his red legs and waddled over to the extensive bar. “Can I make you a Partridge?” he asked, glugging numerous liquors into a highball.
“I don’t know. What’s in it?”
“Pretty much everything. I tell you this for ten pence, I’ve got a job to three point turn the Boxter after six of these. I put the bugger through a hawthorn thicket last Thursday after a session in The Suspicious Finger.”
“Thanks,” I said with furrowed brow as I accepted the luminous orange drink.
“Tell the Stain your pain.”
“Thing is Unwelcome I’ve got lambs everywhere, lactating sheep, cows running out of hay and I am desperate for some grass to come. I don’t want to mess with nature but I’ve come to see you because I’m in need of some....”
“Black Magic?” Unwelcome said offering me a chocolate.
“Thanks. I’m in need of some spiritual encouragement.”
“I hear you. I’ll say this, did you ever see the episode when Hannibal and Mr T turned a lawnmower into an armoured truck with a pencil and a strip of magnesium?”
“My point is, anything is possible.”
I got to my feet, bowed and sunk the Partridge. “Love a bullock. Is there petrol in this?”
“Probably,” tossing a woodlouse into his beak, “I added a dash from that Jerry can.”
“Many thanks.”
“Tommo. You know who’ll wake up when the rain comes?”
I knew what terror he spoke of. “I need the rain. I’m willing to face the consequences.” A shiver ran along my spine and Unwelcome took a Colt. 45 from behind the Jerry can.
The extreme winter weather has already taken its toll on the lambs. The severe cold meant that food was scarce for the pregnant sheep and stunted the growth of the foetus. The lambs have been born smaller than required, but at least they’re alive.
“It’s better to have a live little ‘un, rather than a big dead ‘un,” Owlet the Thrush observed. He’s a wise old bird is Owlet.
Unwelcome Stain spent days inside his wigwam. Only a faint meander of smoke drifting to the heavens spoke of his concocting. He did appear briefly to hand me a list of a few required ingredients.
“Sheep wool I have, I can tap Ranatunga for the snake skin, but how can I get the cream of a blackbird?”
“You want rain don’t know?” he sniffed and waddled home. Kaplunk the one toothed donkey, owed me a favour, so I called it in.
“Jeez I haven’t basted a bird in months. Give me twenty four hours”. Though he was back in six with a phial full of ooze.
“Just don’t ever ask me to do that again,” he brayed and skulked away massaging his front right hoof.
“Ah, the finishing touch,” Unwelcome proclaimed and dropped the phial into a steaming burgundy potion. “Meet me on the fourth cock crow tomorrow morning by the trunk of the gnarled oak,” he said.
Poland the First, Llanevan’s cockerel, got plastered on strawberry gin the night before and so was tardy with his town crier act. His fourth crow came a full hour later than usual, but as it sped over the fields Unwelcome Stain extended his wings from beneath his donkey skin cloak and mumbled over a shiny black cauldron.

“Lady sky come cry your tears,
Send cats and dogs to chase our fears,
Spit on us as though were are vagabonds,
Dampen the earth and fill our ponds.
Wring out the wetted handkerchief
Steal the grass from the root, like a thief
And bring forth the green desire,
To light the Spring flame on our barren pyre!”

Unwelcome clasped his wings over the cauldron. Herds, flocks and gaggles of animals waited in open mouthed awe for something to happen. Unwelcome looked to the sky that remained a dreamy blue, then down to the base of the cauldron.
“Tuh bollocks, the plug has blown. No wonder she wasn’t boiling.” He picked up the flex and whipped out a Philips head screwdriver. “No-one’s got a 13 amp fuse?”
“I got one in the glove box of the Capri,” Bullitt said and trotted off.
“You’re supposed to be an Ancient arts Witch Doctor. What’s with an electric cauldron?”
“It is the 21st century, shag, I’m a modern Merlin.”
“Kind of takes the edge off you a touch,” I said despondently.
“Oh yeah? I don’t see Farmer Tommo cutting the grass with a scythe. The Ancient arts has gone two phase, get with the evolutionary disco. Ta spev,” the partridge thanked Bullitt and fixed the plug. “Right where were we?” He spoke the wet words once more and the thick grey clouds puffed forth from the bubbling potion.
“Hope you’re prepared for the consequences, Tommo,” the 21st century Witch Doctor said and removed his gun.
“As long as it rains,” I said and looked to a hump on the hill. The clouds congregated over the farm and a thunder clap echoed in the valley. Bulbous drops began to fizz from the sky.
“I’m worth my three fifty an hour!” the partridge yelled over the noise of drumming rain. Gay animals removed their coats and danced in the forming puddles. Jeff Beck the mallard drake took his wife’s hand and performed a jig. But the merriment was short lived as a booming croak sounded from the hilltop.
“I warned you!” Unwelcome cocked his gun.
The mound on the hill began to move. Llanevan’s nemesis had woken from his hibernation.
Bitumen Jalfrezi is a two ton Natterjack toad. He was born from a deformed egg and as a spindly tadpole suffered taunts from the fitter, strong, blacker kids in the puddle. When he finally grew legs, they were bent and short and could barely support his ugly body. He spent his adolescence years glued to the masking shadows and sheltered his amphibian ears from the jeers of the bullies that never left him alone.
He crawled onto the hill where no spiteful words could reach him and vowed to return one day and silence his critics. While he wallowed in self imposed exile he befriended a slanted eyed Meadow Pipit called Misery Jugs, another creature who had suffered abuse due to its name and its deformity. In the case of the small brownish bird it was a gammy gusset. In the dark hours of late nights Bitumen would weep into the Pipit’s breast feathers and speak of his torment.
“We shall have your revenge,” Misery Jugs said stroking the bubbling warts, “I shall make you into a Toad of War.”
Misery Jugs trained Bitumen for days, for weeks, for years. He bought him an exercise bike from a garage sale in Builth Wells and within a year the bow pegged toad had legs thicker than a West Wales quiz night.
One grey autumn night the toad came down from the hill with Misery Jugs on his harbour bridge shoulders. He ate twenty sheep on his descent. He singled out the bully toads of his youth, then married with their own tadpoles and ate the lot. He crawled through the farm swallowing animals as he went and flattening gates and fences, goaded all the while by his mentor Pipit. When he had finished he stuck a flag in the earth with a single raised toad finger on the billowing canvas.
“I the Natterjack, will be back.” And year on year, woken by the first raindrops of Spring, he returns.
Now, as the rain crippled down, animals scattered for their lives. Jeff and his wife took to the wing. Bullitt squeezed into his Capri and wheel spun along the farm track. The toad lumbered down the hillside and removed three sheep with a swift tongue flick as if they were no more than snowflakes hand swept from a jacket lapel. Kaplunk fumbled for cartridges to feed his sawn off Smith and Weston. Caught in the toadlights rabbits froze and became canapes to the toad tongue.
“Toad. Hungry,” the wart ridden beast croaked and plucked a Hereford bullock clean from the dampening soil. It snapped two Douglas Fir trees as if they were celery sticks and lolloped towards the cauldron. Unwelcome fired two point blank shots but they were mere grazes on the amphibian’s armour skin. Kaplunk fired but the toad licked the gun from his hooves and gulped it down. The toad filled the optical of the donkey’s eye and he took off like Shadowfax.
I froze. I turned to Unwlecome Stain but in a wing clap he disappeared in a whirl of smoke.
“Toad. Hungry,” it croaked once more and devoured a flock of fleeting pigeons. It ripped a fence from the earth and cast the wire over its shoulder like silly string. I was out in the open, with nowhere to run. My agricultural life flashed before my weeping eyes. The summer harvest, the romantic autumn nights, the foreboding winter months and the life breathing Spring; seasons I would never see again.
“Get him Bitchy!” Misery Jugs ordered, “he’s the protagonist!” Streams sped off the toad’s gargantuan body and raindrops pinged off its dome forehead. The mouth opened and from within I could see the cocked tongue.
But as it took aim a stout figure appeared between us in a full length black woollen jacket. The toad’s pupils dilated and it took a step back.
“Forward!” Misery screamed, “no one stops Bitumen Jalfrezi!” he pointed at the figure who held a pair of tights in one hand and a crab apple in the other. “You’re gonna want a bloody good surgeon sonny, ‘cos this toad’s gonna spill your guts!” The toad stepped forward.
But the unflustered figure gently struck a match and lit his pipe. “There’s only one medic around here. And that’s Dogtor Johnston. Step aside boys. This is where James earns his chicken bits in a gravy sauce.”
Bitumen shot out his tongue but James rolled to the side and cast off his jacket. Even in the dull light his coat shone like a beacon.
“Bet he takes cod liver oil,” a cowering sparrow said to his mate. The toad fired again but James swayed and caught the pink elastic in his right paw. The curry toad lent back but James held tight, then released and the toad licked its own face as the tongue slapped over its cheeks.
“Crush him!” Misery commanded but in the moment it takes Poland the First to neck a pint James Johnston had loaded the apple and with a swish of the sling shot tights the apple fizzed through the rain and struck the toad between the eyes. Ach. The sound was as sweet as a perfect square cut from the hoof of Kevin Pietersen, the Ram.
Bitumen Jalfrezi was dead before he hit the sodden turf.
Ever since the new grass has grown in steady silence around the toad’s festering body
James and I are back on speaking terms, new growth brings the best out of him. I love a dog who doesn’t muck about. The animals all agreed that the problem with Bitumen Jalfrezi is that he never toad the party line.

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