On the other side of the horizon to Pobblestrum, and about the same distance again, laid another exquisitely enchanted village. Omnidowns consisted of an intricate web of single track roads, all of which inexplicably went downhill which ever direction you were heading. And, with similar oddness you never reached the bottom. Which ever of its narrow and weaving lanes you chose, you seemed to come across the same land marks time and again.
On the outskirts of the village there was a small wooded area which normally went completely unnoticed by passers-by. A little way in there was a small glade where the grass became shorter, the toadstools larger, and the flowers more colourful. In the height of summer, glorious heliotropes and vermilions almost shone from the undergrowth, although Alf alone knew from which flowers they radiated. If any. That area seemed to continue limitlessly, beyond where the sky should start, and your eyes would begin to go in and out of focus at that disconcerting point.
This perplexing world with its haunting beauty had a complete otherness to it, even to the locals of this idyllic dreamland. Alf was unfazed though. There again, you often wondered quite how much he actually noticed.
It seemed entirely appropriate that this was also the site of Alf's house.
Not an extraordinary house as you might imagine, but a place that he could call home.
Alf Matheson was a short man with an unlit pipe permanently fixed to his mouth.
The people of Omnidowns, the tinkers, the tailors, and the candlestick makers, all believed their ancestors to be apes. But Alf's, according to local folklore, were gnomes. Whatever his ancestry though, Alf was a legend in that neck of the woods and probably had been for centuries. And it was easy to see why. This was the man who, while walking his dog one day, had come up with 'The Sandwich Theorem.'
Alf realized that farmers had their own mystical and unfailing know-how, especially when it came to weather forecasting. They knew, for example, that red sky in the morning meant, 'shepherd's warning.' They knew when it was dark over Will's mother's house it was going to be wet. If the cows laid down, the heavens would open. And, of course, if your bunions twinged then showers were imminent. In fact it was a pretty safe bet that if almost anything happened it was going to rain.
Had William Wordsworth lived there he certainly would never have written, 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.' The clouds simply weren't lonely.
Of course the farmers did have access to the radio now, thanks to that new-fangled shop at the far-flung end of the diocese. So maybe, just maybe, the BBC's weather forecasts had some bearing on the farmers' wisdom. But maybe not.
Sagacity wasn't exclusive to farmers though.
'The Sandwich Theorem' was tried, tested and proven beyond any certainty. And proven, Alf felt, without the need for mathematical investigation or scientific analysis.
Albert Einstein, eat your heart out!
Time and distance were two aspects of the same thing, and as such the same yardstick could be used to measure both. The yardstick in this case being sandwiches.
For instance, from the kissing gate that opens in to the scablands to the south of the field, to the stile that leads to the pastures in the north, you have time to eat exactly four and a half sandwiches.
It was an idea that was unquestionably second to some.
Time and tide wait for no man, no matter how many sandwiches he may have, and Alf was due at the maternity unit of Mangrove Hospital to sit dutifully, but reluctantly, beside his dear wife, Anne.
Judging by the expressions on their faces Alf was having a far harder time of it than she was. Anne comforted him patiently throughout that splurge of indelicacy otherwise known as birth.
Soul 19,789B/1103L/YO65-35 was like so many others at her tender age, and was ever so unused to her new body; how her bladder worked, her fingers, legs, and all of those niggly little bits. But at least she now had an easier name now: Judith.