by John Morrison


94: Wringing Wet

Rain: it hammers down incessantly on our little Pennine town. It beats on the roofs-tiles, like the drumming of impatient fingers, and bounces off the cobbles. The flights of steep stone steps that climb up between the terraced houses are transformed into precipitate cascades. Water pulsates over unswept gutters and sluices down unpointed walls, transforming stone-flagged yards into slimy skid-pans. Fluorescent green moss grows luxuriantly in dank, forgotten corners, creating tiny ecosystems where pale, sightless, creatures wait, with infinite forbearance, to take over the world.

The river that runs beneath the twin arches of the old packhorse bridge is transformed into an angry torrent. Wood, swept down from the hills by the flood-water, piles up in a disorderly log-jam against the stone stanchions. Scraps of paper lodge in the branches of trees that drag in the water, and flutter like votive offerings. Mallards shoot the rapids, sailing over the mill-weir like white-water rafters. Where the rivers converge, between high retaining walls, the ducks spin like corks in the eddies and whirlpools.

Green Man wanders around Milltown's shamanic quarter; with his head down and hood up, he could be a cowled monk. He picks a careful way around the puddles, like a rambler crossing a cow pasture. It takes a mischievous motorist to rouse him from his thoughts, by accelerating playfully through standing water and spraying him from top to toe. Green Man gesticulates expansively, in a semaphore of impotent rage, as the car rounds a bend and disappears. Spluttering with indignation, he hears mocking laughter. The rain may be an infinitely renewable resource but, like most everyone else in Milltown, he's getting a bit fed up with it.

When it comes to ideological rectitude there's really no-one in Milltown to touch Green Man. He's in a league of his own. His ideas are irreproachable, his logic beyond question. It's pointless to argue with a man who puts the welfare of the planet at the top of his priorities. Whenever his wife reminds him that there's a tap leaking, or the back-bedroom ceiling could do with a coat of Artex, Green Man immediately goes on the offensive, with his well-practised, all-purpose mantra of principled procrastination. "How can you even think about such things at a time like this?", he'll suggest, tartly, secure in the knowledge that at any one moment somebody on the planet will be copping a major ecological disaster.

It's pointless to argue with him because he knows he's right. In our heart of hearts we know he's right too, though it pains us to admit it. But the strain of being ideologically correct - all day, every day, with barely a moment's respite - is beginning to tell on him. His lofty ideals make him susceptible to altitude sickness. Wincing moistly, as the water seeps into his boots, he recalls his most recent stunts. He'd helped a local shop to promote coats made of recycled fur. The fur was indeed recycled... the problem was that it used to be a silver fox. There were red faces all round after that.

Liberating the trout from the tank in a fish restaurant, and decanting them into the river, seemed a good idea at the time. How was he supposed to know they were sea-trout? Being summonsed for polluting the river with dead fish won him no plaudits from the local Friends of the Earth group. They cancelled his membership after that fiasco; now he's just a Friend of a Friend of the Earth.

These are honest mistakes that anyone could make, in a fit of misguided zeal. Green Man, however, is inconsolable. There's always something we can learn from even the most painful experience... though Green Man would have preferred to learn this particular lesson from one of the self-improvement books that Willow Woman seems to find so irresistible.

The high horse of righteousness is a tempestuous beast. Climbing into the saddle is hard enough, but it's the devil's own job to stay there. We can forgive Green Man his occasional lapses, even though he finds it hard to forgive himself. We're happy to give him the benefit of the doubt on most occasions. But if we were ever to be stuck with him in a broken-down lift, the urge to throttle him with our bare hands would become overwhelming after about five minutes.

Green Man been picketing Milltown's abbatoir today, where fat porkers are dispatched with a casual disregard for their welfare... and a steel bolt plunged through the cranium. It's humane, of course, to give animals the opportunity to die with dignity, though his alternative suggestion - leaving a flask of whisky and a pearl-handled revolver in each animal's stall - is greeted with snorts of derision by the gang of unsentimental slaughtermen.

They're not so squeamish up at the Grievous Bodily Arms, where the regulars reckon that a big, juicy steak is what proper food is all about. And if vegetarians have a problem with that, they can always have a side-salad with their steak. Problem? What problem? And, for the guys who prop up the bar, testing cosmetics on animals isn't so much an issue as a harmless pastime. "What do you reckon would happen if we squirted some of this stuff into a rabbit's eye?" "Well, it's going to smart a bit, isn't it?" "But we won't know till we do it". "Best give it a go then, eh?" "OK"...

As Green Man stands on the packhorse bridge, gazing down into the swollen waters, he feels discouraged. No matter how hard he tries to put things to rights, the world seems hell-bent on self-destruction. There's plenty of law, God knows, but not enough justice. Forcing Monica Lewinsky to re-fellate the President on the floor of the senate building, during that farcical senate hearing. Was that strictly necessary? Just to find an answer to the one question that everyone wanted to know, but hadn't dared to ask: "Did she spit or did she swallow?" Where, he wonders, is the justice in that?

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