Kingdom Of The Little People

On Friday, I was sent a link by my close friend, Antony. Some of you will know that he used to work with me before I retired, and he is also an excellent photographer. He took the photo on my ‘About’ page, and many of the close-ups of Ollie that I have featured.

The You Tube film he sent me lasts only 17 minutes, and I urge you all to take time to watch this very affecting documentary.

The Kingdom Of The Little People is a theme park in mainland China. All the entertainers who perform there, and the staff who work there, are short people. Some have dwarfism, and others stunted developmental growth. Not one of them is any taller than four feet tall. They all live together at the Kingdom’, and perform shows for tourists to earn a living. They earn a good salary, about the same as an IT professional in the local region around Kunming.

The theme park opened in 2009, and is owned by a wealthy entrepreneur. The shows performed include dancing and singing, as well as scenes from traditional fairy tales, and Chinese folklore.

The whole concept of the park has been attacked and vilified by many western newspapers, as well as organisations like The Little People Of America, and Handicap International. It has been compared to a ‘human zoo’, and accused of exploiting little people, of and exposing them to ridicule. The British actor, Warwick Davis, who was born with a rare form of dwarfism, has called for the theme park to be closed down. He is well-know for his acting roles, including parts in ‘Willow’, ‘Star Wars’, and ‘Harry Potter’.

But if you watch the film, you may feel, as I did, that the opposite is true. In a country with no opportunity for such people, and where they are often publicly mocked in villages and big cities alike, this park has become a refuge, even an oasis for them. They live with people like themselves, and get well-paid to entertain the visitors. Their accommodation may seem basic and cramped by western standards, but they have most modern conveniences, form loving relationships, and enjoy sport and the usual recreational activities. Most of all, they have confidence, companionship, and a sense of self-worth that they lacked before going to work at ‘The Kingdom’.

I loved this film, and it really got to me. I watched it again before posting this, and didn’t change my mind.

Moving Day: Part Twenty-Two

This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 1058 words.

The next day at school, Becky was brimming with renewed confidence. The session at the tree had given her a new outlook on life, and all her previous worries about the new school had faded away overnight. By lunchtime, the weather had improved, and she went to sit on a wall outside to eat her sandwich. Before she could bite into it, Tilly appeared. She sat down on the wall next to her, smelling of perfume and clean clothes. As she crossed her legs, Becky heard the swish of nylon from her expensive sheer tights. The older girl edged closer, until their bodies were touching. Despite what she knew about Tilly, Becky couldn’t help but admit to herself that she was definitely attracted to her.

Lowering the sandwich, Becky looked up at her, raising her eyebrows. She wanted it to seem that she had not forgotten that she had been snubbing her for days. Tilly tossed her head to move her perfect hair from out of her face, and licked her pouting lips. “I was thinking, Becky. How would you like if it I came over to your place at the weekend? If the weather stays like this, we could go for a swim in the river. I’ve just got an amazing new one-piece swimsuit, or if nobody else is around, we could just go skinny-dipping”. She looked down at Becky with a wide smile, her eyelashes fluttering slowly, heavy with mascara. Leaning further in, so that Becky could smell her sweet spearmint breath, she added, “I could stop over the night too, if you would like that. We could have a nice sleepover, a pyjama party sort-of thing. Though I don’t wear any pyjamas, I should warn you”.

Becky felt like a cobra in a basket, being charmed by an expert flute-player. She had to confess that Tilly was very good at this sort of thing. But the blatant sexuality of her words made her blush. That was something she wasn’t used to at her age; a girlish crush was one thing, but what Tilly was implying was something else altogether. Keeping her cool, and not wanting to give away what she knew already, Becky did her best to sound excited and impressed. She responded to the older girl’s attentions in the way she was sure was expected of her. “Oh wow! Really? Go swimming and hang out, and you would sleep over too? That would be great, Tilly. I have been so lonely since we moved here”. Tilly seemed to be convinced, and had taken the bait. She lightly placed an arm around Becky, and put her full lips right against the younger girl’s ear. “Well you won’t be lonely anymore, I guarantee that”. Then she stood up, and started to walk away. Without turning, she called back. “Shall we say Saturday, around midday?” She didn’t wait for a reply.

Biting into the sandwich, Becky watched as Tilly walked in the direction of the playing field. By the corner of the netball cage, she stopped and pulled a phone out of her bag. She had a brief conversation, smiling all the time. That far away, Becky couldn’t hear what was being said, but it was a safe bet that she was either ringing her father, or speaking to Cathy. She had only been at school for less than four hours, and the plan had already been discussed.

The wheels were in motion.

When she went to get the bus home that night, Tilly was there too. All smiles, and pulling Becky to the seats at the back. She sat close, whispering about how much fun they would have at the weekend, taking every opportunity to touch Becky’s leg, or push herself softly against the younger girl. Now she could see through all this, Becky enjoyed the charade. Let her carry on with her idea of seduction and flirting, she thought. I know her real character now, and I will just play along until the right time. But part of the impressionable young girl still inside her did enjoy the attention, and the convincing show of affection. She had to really struggle not to surrender to that.

When they got to the village, Becky stayed on the bus until the others were off. She guessed Bridie would have something to say, and she was right. Turning in her seat, Bridie shook her head. “I thought I had warned you about Tilly, girly. You mustn’t let yourself get taken in by her. She may look wonderful, but she’s rotten inside. Don’t believe anything she says, and most of all don’t let yourself get involved with her. I promise you will regret it”. Becky didn’t trust Bridie anymore than anyone else around the village. And she wanted her to know it, and to stop interfering. She walked to the side door, and then leaned forward, speaking quietly. “From what I have heard, you didn’t take your own advice, Bridie. Just because you can’t have her anymore, you want to poison her for anyone else. Just stay out of my business, and don’t come to my house again”.

Bridie’s face turned bright red, and she sat back heavily into her seat. She would like to have said something, but decided to shut up. This new girl knew her secret already, and it looked like she would never escape the Vospers.

In the house, Mum was standing in the hallway as she walked in. Her expression was serious. “I did as you asked, love. I phoned Reginald Vosper, and he said he will start things moving. I expect you will be approached by Tilly soon”. Becky looked at her Mum for some time, trying to read either truth or deceit in her face. “I have already. Tilly couldn’t wait, and spoke to me at lunchtime. She’s coming for the weekend, so she said. A sleepover, then swimming. Or swimming then a sleepover. She didn’t make that clear”. Her tone was deliberately sarcastic, but Mum hadn’t noticed. “I can make myself scarce, if you want to be alone with her, Becks. Leave you some food, and think of a reason not to be around. Whatever you think best”.

Becky started straight into her Mum’s eyes, her gaze was intense.

“Oh no, Mum. You have to be here”.

A funny short film: The Gunfighter

Thanks to my long-time blogging friend, David Miller, I got to see this excellent short film yesterday. A witty satire on ‘narrated’ westerns, it gave me a much-needed chuckle, on a day of dark skies, and heavy rain.

David resides in Nevada, USA. He blogs on WordPress.
https://millerswindmill.wordpress.com/about/
He is also a published writer, a song lyricist, and an accomplished compiler of limericks.

Moving Day: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 1021 words.

When Becky opened her bedroom door the next morning, Cathy was already awake, and sitting up in bed. Her daughter’s tone was flat, more like a statement than conversation. “You have to ring the school Mum. Tell them I am ill or something. I won’t be going in today”. Before she could reply, Becky had closed the door, and was walking downstairs. Cathy picked up her mobile and rang as requested, making up something about a high temperature. No point arguing about it. Becky had changed, and she had to admit to being a little afraid of her now.

When she got to the willow tree, Charity was waiting for her.

“Don’t forget what I told you, Rebecca. For the tree to show the future, you sit facing the other way. Put both arms around the trunk, and your head against the bark”. Becky nodded, her mouth a little dry with apprehension. Kneeling against the tree, she wrapped her arms around it and lowered her head until her forehead was pressing hard against it. With her eyes closed, she spoke out loud. “Show me my future, and all my secrets”.

It was different than before, much scarier. She experienced the strange feeling of melting into the wood, as if she had become part of the living tree. Fighting to overcome the desire to pull away and break the bond, she allowed it to happen, ignoring the icy cold that seeped into every part of her body. She could sense the branches as extensions of her fingers, and imagined the leaves pulsing as they took nutrition into their veins. It was as if the tree was feeding on her energy, like she was being sucked dry.

The rush of images made her catch her breath. She saw things she expected to see, and many things she wished she had never seen. She discovered secrets about herself, and saw herself in the future, older. First in her twenties, and then with grey hair. As the vision slowed gradually, she could see something very clearly. Something about Mum. Her and her Mum.

Breaking the connection, and rocking back on her knees, Becky blacked out, unconscious under the branches.

A long time passed before she woke up. Crawling out from under the canopy seeking escape from the bitter cold there, it was obvious that Charity had gone. The tree had showed her future, and confirmed some of her worst fears too. But one truth was comforting. She would get old. That must surely mean she would not die in the river, by the hand of Tilly. But could she trust the tree? Charity had said she could, but she still wasn’t sure she trusted her. She did believe her, but trust was a long way from that.

As she walked back to the house, Becky felt stronger, wiser, more mature. She could see how you could become addicted to asking the tree. It offered solutions, and also gave you back some of the power it had taken from so many people over the centuries. Mum’s car was gone, so she went up to her room, and did some research on the old laptop. She needed to know more about willow trees. Wikipedia gave some interesting facts, and she copied them down in her notebook.

‘In China, some people carry willow branches with them on the day of their Tomb Sweeping or Qingming Festival. Willow branches are also put up on gates and/or front doors, which they believe help ward off the evil spirits that wander on Qingming. Legend states that on Qingming Festival, the ruler of the underworld allows the spirits of the dead to return to earth. Since their presence may not always be welcome, willow branches keep them away. In traditional pictures of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin, she is often shown seated on a rock with a willow branch in a vase of water at her side. The Goddess employs this mysterious water and the branch for putting demons to flight. Taoist witches also use a small carving made from willow wood for communicating with the spirits of the dead. The image is sent to the nether world, where the disembodied spirit is deemed to enter it, and give the desired information to surviving relatives on its return.’

‘In Japanese tradition, the willow is associated with ghosts. It is popularly supposed that a ghost will appear where a willow grows. Willow trees are also quite prevalent in folklore and myths’.

‘In English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers.’

‘Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called Under the Willow Tree in which children ask questions of a tree they call ‘willow-father’, paired with another entity called ‘elder-mother’.’

‘In Central Europe a “hollow willow” is a common figure of speech, alluding to a person one can confide secrets in.’

‘”Green Willow” is a Japanese ghost story in which a young samurai falls in love with a woman called Green Willow who has a close spiritual connection with a willow tree. “The Willow Wife” is another, not dissimilar tale. “Wisdom of the Willow Tree” is an Osage Nation story in which a young man seeks answers from a willow tree, addressing the tree in conversation as ‘Grandfather’.’

Reading back over her notes, Becky gave a low whistle. From Japan and China to North America; in England, Denmark, and many other European countries, the willow trees were associated with ghosts, knowledge, wisdom, legends, and fables. Maybe Charity was right all along. Perhaps she could be trusted after all.

When her Mum got home, Becky was waiting for her in the living room. “I want you to arrange whatever it is Mr Vosper has planned, Mum. Stop trying to find a way around it, and let’s just see what happens. I will be going back to school tomorrow, one day off was enough for what I needed to do”.

Cathy watched her walk up the stairs, and a chill passed through her, reminding her of the old saying.

“Someone is walking over your grave”.

Significant Songs (207)

Since You’ve Been Gone.

Many of you will be well aware that I am not a fan of the musical genre commonly known as ‘Rock’. However, I was a fan of the band Argent, and this was written by the genius behind that band, Russ Ballard, who released it in 1976.

It was covered after that, and I generally managed to ignore those cover versions. In 1979, British band Rainbow came along with their version. That band was what was known as a ‘super-group’, comprising former members of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and fronted by Deep Purple’s Richie Blackmore. Until they released this song, I could take or leave them.
Mostly leave them.

But the arrival of a new lead vocalist, Graham Bonnet, made a difference for me, and I thought this was a storming vocal that lifted the song to new heights. I went out and bought it, though it remained something of a one-hit wonder for me, as the only record of theirs that I ever liked.

They have sold 26 million records, and continued to perform in various incarnations, until this very day.

My Pets

Many readers will be aware of Ollie, my dog. He is the star of this blog, and my constant companion, since 2012.

But long before Ollie, I had many other pets. I think of them as typical ‘childhood pets’, though one was owned when I was much older.

When I was around 8 years old, I volunteered to take the class hamster home, and to look after it during the summer holidays. It was a lot smellier than I expected it to be, but I enjoyed watching it spin around in its wheel. Of course, my Mum ended up being the one who cleaned it out. I just enjoyed holding it, feeding it, and watching it scuttle around. But I had forgotten about our usual two-week holiday in Cornwall, so we had to enlist the help of my Mum’s sister to feed it and care for it while we were gone. After school started again, I took it back, but it died the following day. I didn’t know how short-lived they were, and was convinced that I had somehow hastened its demise by neglect.

My next pets were some goldfish in a bowl. It didn’t occur to me that it was rather cruel to keep two good-sized fish in a small bowl, and I soon became very bored with watching them constantly swimming in circles. My only interaction with them was to feed them, and so I overfed them, unintentionally. One day, they were both dead, floating on the top of the water, which was not much more than a cloudy soup of nutrition by that time. My Dad flushed them down the toilet.

Dad decided to get a ‘feature tank’ instead. I chose the tank ornaments, including a large clam shell, a pirates’ treasure chest, and an arch that they could swim through. My Dad bought plants to help aerate the water, and we had six fish of different sizes. But they constantly attacked each other, and took chunks out of each other’s tails and fins. Before long, three of them were found dead, and the rest lasted less than a year.

Everyone had a tortoise in those days. They often had their names painted on the shell, and some owners drilled a small hole in the shell too, to tether the poor thing to a long string, so it didn’t escape. I loved to feed our tortoise, and would also stroke its head when it popped out for food. It didn’t die in our care, but we had to move to a place with no garden, so it was given to a relative. It lived for a very long time after that, but once we moved again, I lost touch with it.

When I was 15, we moved to a house with a big garden. My Mum got a dog, and she also acquired two angora rabbits. They lived in hutches outside, and she would brush them carefully, saving the soft hair that came off. She later used this fur to knit things, and produced some incredibly soft knitwear. My job was to feed them, and clean them out. I adored being able to stroke them, as they were unbelievably soft. But the big male was very aggressive, and managed to injure all three of us at one time or another. They lived less than four years, and we never replaced them.

In 1978, I was 26 years old, and had just moved to Wimbledon. I didn’t want to be tied down with a dog, but thought it would be nice to have a pet. I got a long-haired guinea pig, called a ‘Sheltie’. I named him Oskar, and my uncle built me a pine hutch for him to live in, in the garden. During the winter, he came inside, and stayed in a huge old fish-tank, in the dining room. I looked after him really well, fed him all the best things, and brushed him every day. When we went on holiday, my sister-in-law looked after him. He lived for over five years, until one morning I found him dead in his fish-tank. He is buried in that south-London garden.

But there is no doubt that Ollie has been the best pet I have ever had.

Moving Day: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 1070 words.

Mum’s answer made Becky’s eyebrows move up so far, she imagined them disappearing under her hairline. She kept her cool though, still finding it hard to credit any of this story. And she had more questions to ask now. “How did they imagine that drowning me would lift the curse? And why did they ever think you would agree to it? We could just pack up and move back to Exeter, or I could phone Dad, and get him to pick me up. It doesn’t make sense, Mum”.

Cathy leaned forward to take her daughter’s hands again as she spoke, but Becky pulled back.

“You have to understand a few things about the people around here, Becks. Not just Samuel, but the Wrights, and Sara too. This goes all the way back to long before the time of the Civil War, and those old beliefs and superstitions are still adhered to by many. As you have seen, vengeful spirits are still operating. Charity and Thomas have their own agenda, Samuel Vosper was ready to believe anything, and Sara was a bitter spinster, ready to exploit the old legends to become a famous writer. And they all believed that I would go along with it, to be rich and privileged”.

She stopped to quaff down the last of the wine, then headed into the kitchen for a refill before coming back to continue.

“Sara wanted to be famous and recognised. Her ambition was to publish a best-seller about the curse and everything associated with it, right up to modern times. She believed it would be made into a film or TV serial, and got over-excited about the potential for fame and fortune that might come with that. She told Samuel as much, and pretended that the willow tree had revealed what he had to do. She told him that if his firstborn was to drown my firstborn, the curse would change, and become a curse on our family, instead of his. It would also mean that not all the Oliphants had to die, before he could have sons. His wife would be able to have more children, and hopefully one of them would be a boy”.

She stopped to drink more wine, as Becky pondered what she had heard. “So Tilly has to be the one to drown me?” Cathy’s mouth was still on the rim of the glass, so she nodded. “Why don’t we just leave then? Or I could go to live with Dad, and that’s so far away, they would never get to me. It still doesn’t make sense why you would even agree to bring me here, Mum”. Cathy finally put the glass down. Her face was flushed from drinking on an empty stomach, but her voice was clear as she carried on. “I firmly believe that they would get to you wherever you are, love. You don’t realise just how much money and influence these people have, as well as the contacts they can call on, all over the country. I thought it best to seem to go along with the plan, come back here, and put an end to it. Now all I have to do is to work out how”.

Becky was completely unconvinced. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Mum was still lying. She was too smooth, too prepared with her answers. She looked her Mum directly in the eyes as she replied. “So you are telling me that this is all about ancestry? Nothing to do with money, power, or influence. A successful businessman like Mr Vosper is prepared to let his daughter drown me, just to carry on his name. Presumably Tilly is happy to do that too, even though I can see nothing in it for her. And you are supposed to stand by and watch, maybe even help? This is 2019, Mum. It sounds like a lot of nonsense to me”.

Cathy was ready with her reply. “If it’s nonsense, then what about Charity and Thomas? How do you explain talking to a girl who has been dead for hundreds of years, or seeing her father too? Long before the Catholics and the Puritans existed around here, the people had their own beliefs, their own gods. They worshiped trees, or the sun and the moon. They believed that carrying on their lineage was the most important thing in life, the reason they were put here in the first place. It’s all in books, or online. Knowing you, Becks, I am sure that you have looked it up. Despite appearing to live normal lives, families like the Wrights and the Vospers never changed on the inside. They continued to believe in the old ways, to crave power and influence, and to pass that on down the generations. Charity knew that, as long ago as the 1640s. That’s why she chose that curse. You can ask her if you don’t believe me. I expect you get to see her all the time. And why do you think so many other people have drowned in almost the same spot? That couldn’t be a coincidence. The river is the key to all of this, because that’s where Charity met her end”.

There was a lot to think about. Becky stood up. “I have school tomorrow, and all this is whirring around in my head. I need to try to get to sleep, so I’m going up to my room now, Mum”. Cathy stood up too, spreading her arms, a nervous smile on her lips. “Do I get a hug, Becks?” Her daughter ignored her, and walked upstairs without a backward glance.

Charity was sitting on the floor, at the end of the bed. “Now you know, young Rebecca. You have heard the web of lies from your mother’s own mouth. I have told you all along that you were in danger here, and I am the only one who can help you. Do you believe me now?” Becky put the papers down on the floor, and turned to the girl. “Yes, I do”.

Fearful of being overheard, Becky knelt on the floor next to the girl. She tolerated the smell of her, placing her mouth close to the small ear protruding from under the cotton cap. Then she whispered for a long time, Charity nodding and smiling as she listened. Then Becky moved her own ear next to Charity’s mouth, and listened as the girl whispered to her. Satisfied, Becky stood up, finally speaking out loud.

“Good. That is exactly what we will do, Charity”.