Basy's Wardrobe

"Sweet prince, that was Shirley on the blower. Basy needs a strong man."

"Always ready!"

"And several others. So take that smile off your face! And don't wear your town trousers. It's a humping job."

We are required to move a big wardrobe. Together with Manfred - Basy's neighbour - and Renton - an innocent bystander - and Bernardo - who is thoughtfully called in by Lizzie to get him out from under Berenca's feet - we combine to form a furniture moving team.

Personally I know little about Basy, apart from being consulted over various lettings, and, of course, that awkward incident when Ted Bear and Fred Bear had to be called in to sort out her grotesque tenants and Josef offered to redecorate the small apartment in Los Angeles. She is a rather elegant middle-aged lady, deeply loved by Josef, admired by Shirley for her embroidered tablecloths and runners, and Renton captivated by her rapport with wild birds in her garden that perch inches away from her hands to take bird seed. Peter does not approve of such inappropriate intimacy with wild creatures, which seems to me rather contradictory when you consider falconry that relies on semi-starvation to get raptors to work for you at all.

Basy and her birds

We get to Basy's pretty house, our arrival announced by a hefty barking Airedale and a honking goose and a shrieking welcome from Basy and coffee before we start work. I often wonder how little Basy copes with such hulking pets and her big garden. To get the wardrobe out on the patio to the outside staircase we have to move a huge table and several chairs then remove the contents of the wardrobe and lay them on the table. It hadn't occurred to me at the time to enquire why a wardrobe was standing in her front hallway, but the outside staircase makes taking the wardrobe up to the bedroom somewhat easier. We tie a knotted sheet round the whole damn thing to prevent the doors swinging open. Then we find the pretty, vine-covered rail leaves the staircase far too narrow to take the bulk of the stupid wardrobe. Eventually on the landing the doors to the bedroom are too small for the wardrobe to pass through, so the sliding doors have to be lifted off. Then we have to move the bed. Such a cack-handed bunch of furniture removers you never did see!

Basy's English is even worse than my Spanish. Personally I am glad of Manfred and Bernardo's translations. Things removed from the wardrobe include a cardboard box full of sheet music, several pairs of women's shoes and one pair of men's shoes, one large woman's handbag, a coat with a fur collar and two pairs of women's gloves concealed in a brown paper bag, and one fascinating item - a stone big as a tennis ball contained within plaited leather extending out to form a handle. Basy swoops to collect her strewn possessions then sits at the table holding the gloves still in the brown paper bag. We ask her to come up and tell us where she wants the damn thing putting.

"Come on up, Bas! Where do you want this damn thing?" Slowly she ascends carrying the items from the wardrobe.

"What the hell does she want with a heavy coat - and leather gloves, look!"

"Don't look. She's upset!"

We file out in a sheepish sort of way while Basy sits on the bed and weeps. "The coat belonged to her aunt - who wore it when visiting her husband." Bernardo is closest to her in ethnic terms but he is finding her choking weeps difficult to understand. "These poor people, they speak as all these Tenerfenos speak de argot and they make together all these words and to understand these speaking is difficile. She is saying 'The police have been here - but there was only my poor bobo to find and she said nothing - but I shall not cut her wings again - then she can fly away for ever.'"

I look around for tissues, find none, visit the toilet, emerge with a flowing ribbon of toilet paper. "The Goose Lady!" Manfred mutters, "The poor old soul was Basy's Aunt Maya. And this wardrobe was Aunt Maya's. Right!"

It takes me a moment to catch on... "Just a minute, I thought her name was Isabel. We are talking about the old lady who drowned herself, right?"

"Right. It's politics. You know what the Spanish are like with names. If you run with the Nationalist cause you get yourself a Spanish name"

"She never said - Basy I mean."

"Well, she wouldn't. ETA has a popular image here. Canaria wants independence too. Besides, Basy's aunt had strong Guanche connections. Maya is a Guanche name."

We creep back inside, position the wardrobe as directed and, not wishing to embarrass Basy any further, creep out again and downstairs into the garden, leaving her to replace her precious mementos. Sitting at a small table beneath a bushy pine, we speculate on the strange workings of fate, for few of us had any inkling of the relationship between Basy and the Goose Lady, or indeed Josef who's always busy in his boatyard. He's a cousin of Lori and distantly related to the Tabares family, but it's too complex to work it out.;

"That was a Guanche club," says Renton. "Did you see how old and cracked the leather was?"

Silence falls as Basy brings more coffee for her band of workers. We smile nicely and pretend not to notice signs of her distress. Bernardo speaks: "Basy says she sorrow for her loved person and please to excuse this... for... Guayota came to this person... and touch her and give calm and told her to be not in fear, for death will pass quickly and he is waiting." Bernardo, a peninsulario, confident and unfearing, has no difficulty keeping Canarian paganism at arm's length. He smiles a touch indulgently. "These peoples have not known from the posh life of cities."

"Hang about! I always thought this Guayota geezer was an evil old bugger. And here he was being nice!"

Basy shakes her head and Bernardo nods and throws light: "She say - to some he bring kindness... Guayota come to those who call... And kind my tia to all persons in the calle or street place, much way ordinario - but not to the carniceria she pass along and persons say 'Not coming here! What is this with Maya?' She didn't go into here and that was strange." Bernardo nods gravely, takes Basy's hand, throws more light: "Yes. Nobody expect Maya is to go from life... It is the bobo in a basket. She is with much weight. People thought strange to take for the bus for here we have the veterinario. If they had known they would to arrest her... Now Basy says 'My birds come eating from her and give tranquilo. She would like us to leave now... and she say with much gratitude, she is very pleased with the work'"

So we leave quietly as Basy is in an attitude of prayer. "The birds," says Renton with much hush, "she feeds them by hand. Josef told me. Peter doesn't approve. He says she is creating a dependency."

We park up by the harbour, walk along to the Belgian Bar where they play quiet music. Suicide lurks in our minds; I mean, how do you know when a person wants to end their life? I've seen it before when medics are fighting to save the life of some poor wretched soul who has changed her mind and desperately wants to live. Where are the family, I ask myself? All she really needs is Tender Loving Care not Section 29 of the Mental Health Act. 'We had no idea!' they say when I catch up with them. 'She fed the cat and went shopping...' 'No good blaming anyone,' I tell them. 'I only heard about it two hours ago.' Social workers do not have the gift of appearing from nowhere in a blue flame.

From Manfred "There are local people who see blue flames flickering by the lakes in Bavaria on dark nights."

Says Renton, "I knew chaps who saw balls of light floating about outside the cockpit. The Yanks called them Foo Birds. Strange lights dancing up and down. I never saw any. Too busy fighting off the bloody Hun and I never did any night sorties anyway."

"Hang about! If Basy thought Aunt Maya wasn't really going to kill herself, how come she told us about Guayota's visit?"

"Maybe she'd cried wolf before. Not really a threat, merely a conversation piece. You know how some women just love ganging together and talking about their trials and tribs."

"Or a cry for help. Has anybody actually seen this Guayota character?"

"'Imagination is the secret and marrow of civilisation,' - dear old Chesterton."

"Wasn't Chesterton," says Renton with authority. "Some American chap."


But Renton's intellectual authority doesn't extend that far. "It's right about imagination though. You plan things with imagination. We imagined the bloody Hun having enough imagination to signal our flight path and time of arrival to their airfield at Metz so they'd be out for a show. We imagined they'd be terribly disappointed if we didn't show up. But it didn't fool them - because they called on us first! But that was ok because we imagined they might be calling; so it didn't fool us either. We were ready for them. We got two with layered machine gun fire"

"The bloody Hun can be quite imaginative," says Manfred with an apologetic shrug.

"Sorry to sound rude, Fred. I just don't see you as a Hun. Your English is too damn good, and your Spanish."

"I haven't tried Welsh yet! Aircraft location in those days was as chancy as a flight of geese."

"Better hurry Fred, even the Welsh don't speak Welsh."

"Imagination will always be the great part of Canarian history," says Renton, "for some Welsh do speak Welsh, they love to lay it on in the presence of English visitors. My squadron was South African, fooled lots of people because our motto was in Africaans not Latin. Nobody nowadays speaks Guanche and nobody has written it, they've all disappeared like the Great Auk so where do we go from here? Nobody knows where these Guanche peoples came from. They were quite good at committing suicide, throwing themselves off into barrancos when the Spanish came to fight with them."

What's this old bloke doing?

An elderly man is standing in the gentle surf. Our thoughts still on the suicidal prodrome we stare hard. "What's this chap doing?" Renton mutters curiously. I still feel guilt about my Birmingham swimmer who disappeared four years ago, divers on harbour maintenance found his remains held in place by discarded mooring ropes; he was an elderly bloke - like this one. But this one's too close to the town beach for a successful suicide, he needs to be further out towards the deep dark despair of the harbour mouth... or maybe he just wants a paddle; the water's warmer near the town beach.

"Well yes," says Manfred catching on, "he just wants his feet in water. It's what most visitors come for. The only way to protect sanity is by limiting your imagination; that way you can rationalise most of life's problems until they disappear out of sight!"

"Fred, that's all bollocks!" But we haven't yet decided if this situation presents a problem. We can wait. A bend of anxiety compels our attention. We watch without watching. Most people never see it, but if you have ever been gripped by the wrenching twisting despair of some one who no longer wants to live, it stays behind long after the end has come. I see it even now, years back, the poor old guy who had lost everything that was precious — I smile and nod. This one's stepping deeper into the water, looking straight ahead - Please God, no! Sorry God. I don't believe in God, do I! We need to know what to do, for Christ's sake! For I am about to leap up, stride across the sandy path and engage him when two young girls appear paddling along the beach. They see grandpapa and run forward. Ridiculous to say this, but I could have wept. He would most likely have been nice for the children's sake before turning round and telling me to sod off. "I'm going to write to Bob Gethin. He's Welsh, one of our best people and he knows a lot about Canarian history."

"What has your Bob Gethin read on the subject?"

"So far as I know, early religious tracts, and pagan antiquity. He has access to the sort of stuff your run-of-the-mill believer never sees."

"Your famous namesake was of the opinion that Gnosticism is man's truest knowledge of himself. Is Bob Gethin academically qualified, has he published anything?"

"Erm, don't rightly know. He's one of these blokes who hides his light under a bushel. Knows a damn sight more than he's telling. He's just one of my clients. Comes every year. Well, actually he's a friend of the Booths. The Booths are our clients actually. And I think Bob's an amateur musician - well, he's into music of some sort... Maybe a church organist." I suggest, placing him firmly in the ranks of virtue.

"OK. It's just that I'd like to know what weight he's applying to the subject. I'm wary of unqualified comment."

"He's probably a damn sight more qualified than I am, Fred."

"You're different. You're a friend. So let us know the result. A bit of fresh comment lightens the day. The mystery of the Guanche people may yet unfold before our very eyes! So let us suspend our disbelief until reasonable doubt appears and ridicule begins. So we shall start a focus group and we need a note taker, Alan."

OK, birding friends are allowed to be ignorant! I scribble or bang away at our old Royal typewriter with no academic qualifications whatsoever, which somehow gets me local fame as a contributor to Island Gazette but no way fits me into the role of official scribe. But maybe we shall have Bob Gethin's stuff to go at, sufficient in itself without notes. At school I was good at English and Composition and as a family group the Mann side and the Crisp side wrote lots of letters. "Letters speak plain where spoken words fail," as Grandpa Crisp was fond of saying. Mum thought it good exercise for the blessed child to write down her shopping lists to learn spelling of potato, porridge, cheese and vinegar, Rinso, oxydol and Sunlight Soap. Yet the Lambert cousins, the most intellectually prominent part of the family, wrote not at all. As a child I could never understand this curious anomaly. One thing I was good at in my chequered career as a social worker - my reports were always on time. Mind you, timely reports didn't count for very much as aids to good social work practice. But all that is long dead and gone thank God!

The blessed child's mother is fond of sending him mementos of his childhood, a recommendation from his headmaster Mr Roberts in 1941 praising his team's work at potato picking, not knowing the secret for his industry which was simply that he was too shy to stop and talk to the land-girls; well-worn photos of the blessed child in grey shorts, grey shirt, school tie and school socks; a school photo with Mr Thompson in the background; various school reports and a poem he'd written to Rosemary Appleyard in 1942 but kept privily. He imagines his mother's fond smile as she mails it to him; now he keeps the damn thing inside 'Clarke Hall and Morrison' as a reminder of things he'd rather forget about.

Later in the week Shirley filled in a few gaps with a hair dryer. "Basy's got a pure white streak at the back. She says Guayota touched her there but she doesn't say why. What she does say is there were many old ones who came a great distance with the wind to lead those who needed - I think that's right senda... suela... something - to lead those who need to be led. They were kindly received by the menceys and lived peaceably on El Teide where they were skilled in healing. Well, there's no pollution or Punch and Judy politicians on top of El Teide so maybe the highest mountain in Spain is a sort of holy ground. but what does old Guayota care about ETA or Canarian Home Rule for that matter? He was well before Franco's time."

"Shirl, I would have thought Basy would be beyond such notions. I mean she's an educated lady, such primitive stories would have lost all semblance of belief. Just fairy tales."

"OK. So how does Christianity preserve any semblance of belief?"

"Erm - because we're brought up with it, surely. And we have churches right left and centre!"

"Quite. And Basy is a Roman Catholic lady brought up with the semblance of Christianity - yet she accepts the notion of a local god named Guayota."

"Shirl, you're an educated lady. Would you join our focus group?"

"Love to. But we're trying to slip away quietly. Anyway, I was in a shop as a practical chemist not into focus groups. And I'm trying to get back into Boots when we get home. Peter doesn't want a show. And he mustn't drink."

I am aware of a warning glance from Lizzie: Beware the penalties of getting involved! OK, I've done with all that. Migraine is nothing compared with the awful ogre of losing your sight. I nod agreement and smile, involvement won't bite me any more but it will bite Peter, remembering his caustic comments "Tunnels are for moles and earthworms, what is required for posterity is a bold and visible structure."

Mud and sticks...

There's that club Basy keeps, a bold and visible structure, the leather beautifully laced, cut with an obsidian tool, no metals available on Tenerife. A sharp blow to the head would crush a man's skull. "I reckon that club's been around a few centuries. I wonder where she got it from? So she has a priest calling; a thundering great dog, and a club, and a goose, and Guayota in the wings. I guess she's well protected."

Says Shirley. "She's got an antique memory has our Basy, says the Longheads came like the birds, before the stroke of time, and were welcomed by the menceys but banished by Acoran, but they returned when there were many people in the mountains hiding from the conquistadors and instructed them to return to their lands because the Father Espinosa had appealed to the Castile Isabel la Catolica that the natives of Tenerife and the other islands were noble, uncontaminated with no sacrifices and perfect minds to hear the word of God. And so a decree was made by the Castile Isabel to free all slaves taken from these islands."

"What's this Longhead stuff? Maybe they were angels in the catholic world. If they knew of Father Espinosa and Isabel of Castile working to free all Guanche slaves... What are we working with here, a divine pastoral scene?"

"Certainly stuff that can't be verified. There is no verbal tradition to work with. Their history is obscure enough without angels flying about in it making things worse."

"Well right. She talks of earth and sticks, barro right?"

"barro is mud," Lizzie informs. "Mud and sticks."

"OK, well, we are all made from mud and sticks according to Basy. But this angel slant is a new one on me. Tell you what, I'll write to the Booths, tell them what I'm on about, ask them to contact Bob Gethin. He knows a lot of stuff."

<< Previously: Eating out

Next: Hairy Picnic >>

Cristimar home page

Return to home page

Click here to return to Alan Mann's home page

     Text & paintings © Alan Mann 2006 - 2009