It’s not often that I find myself getting annoyed with Matlock. Vexed, yes. Confused, frequently. But rarely do I find myself raising my voice. However, the last few days have bought heavy winds and driving downpours, reminding of one of my visits to Winchett Dale and the storm that followed…
It was, to all extents and purposes, a quite saztaculous day in late summer. I’d needed to see Matlock to check one or two details for the trilogy of his books. He tells me the stories in astonishing detail and quite long length, requiring frequent trips back to his crumlush cottage to check I’ve got everything right.
As usual, he greeted me with a curling hare’s smile while Ayaani, his small ever-present familiar, made me a cup of brottle leaf brew. As it was such a pleasant afternoon, we sat outside in his garden, Matlock reading my notes through small, round-rimmed glasses, occasionally pointing out what I’d missed or confused.
However, as time passed, a fresh wind began teasing the bushes and plants in the garden, bringing a dark line of heavy clouds over the top of Wand Woods. One or two drops of rain fell, marking bright pathways with dark circles.
Matlock looked at the sky. “I sense,” he griffled, “that we should go for a pid-pad.”
“A walk?” I replied. “Now? Shouldn’t we just go inside?”
He took off his glasses, neatly folding them into a deep robe pocket. “And miss the majick?”
“Fine,” I said tersely, taking the notes inside at the rain quickly intensified. “A very quick walk in Wand Wood. At least there’ll be some shelter there.”
“Wand Wood?” he griffled. “And see what? Wet trees?”
A sudden gust of wind drove slicing rain against the small windows. The very last thing I wanted was to be soaked to the skin in the middle of a storm on one of Matlock’s often infuriating ‘life-lessons’. “Look, I really don’t need you to try and teach me the benefits of singing to a storm, or whatever else it is you have planned.”
He raised his hare’s eyebrows in casual amusement. “Singing? To a storm? Who on earth would do that? The storm has its own song if you care to listen to it.”
“Not really, no. I’ll just stay here in the dry, thank you very much.”
“Do I sense you’re getting russisculoffed?”
I had to remember the meaning of the word. “Annoyed? Not really. Not yet. But if you insist on taking me for one of your ‘pid-pads’ in this weather than I might get very russisculoffed, indeed.”
“Oh, I do insist,” he griffled, smiling. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so twizzled over a bit of rain.”
Ayaani opened the front door holding a large parasol mushroom over her head. A gust of wind swept right through the cottage. “Looks truly peffa-glopped out there!” she griffled. “Let’s go!”
“This,” I insisted between gritted teeth, “is quite completely clottabussed.”
Matlock said nothing, scooping Ayaani up onto his head and heading out into the gathering storm.
“It’s madness!” I shouted, reluctantly following, rain stinging into my face. “I’m three times the size of you. There’s more of me to get soaked!”
Matlock merely chickled.
“And I don’t need another of your life-lessons! Not now, not in this!”
He stopped, turned, looked up at me with his brown hare’s eyes. “Life has no ‘lessons’. Life has no teachers. Simply experiences that meld to become memories. As this will, with you. What you ‘learn’ from it is defined by you, not me.”
“Right!” I exploded, wet and irritated beyond measure. “What I’m learning right now is that I was right all along, and this is the most pointless, stupid, clottabussed thing to even contemplate doing!”
“Why?” he calmly answered. “It hasn’t even become a memory yet.” A fierce gust almost toppled us sideways. “Come with me, and let’s make a memory. What is there in my cottage that you don’t already know? And once you are wet, how much wetter can you get?”
Before I could object any further, he set off into the storm once more, Ayaani still happily perched on the top of his head, her streaming parasol waving in the roaring wind. Cursing out loud, I followed, rain running over my face, clothes drenched from the relentless soaking. A loud crack of thunder exploded overhead, startling me completely. “I’m not joking, Matlock, I’m turning back!”
He stopped and pid-padded over to me; ears, face, whiskers, robe and shoes also completely sodden as he reached up and gently took my hand in his wet paw. “Not far now.”
We continued on past bending trees and long grasses dancing in the ferocious downpour. By now I was both drenched and shivvering. Ayaani had lost her parasol during a mighty crack of thunder. The ground squelched under our feet and streams soon became swollen, rushing brooks, foaming and jumping over grassy banks.
“There it is!” Ayaani suddenly cried, pointing up ahead at a limestone cliff. Water cascaded over the edge, curtaining the entrance to a small caven just big enough for me to hurry into. As I was so wet already, this last drenching made no impact on me whatsoever. Yet what waited inside was another matter. Around a dozen happily griffling dalescreatures were huddled round a blazing fire.
“Matlock!” one called out, beckoning us over. “Come dry out. We’ve lit the piff-tosh.”
We needed no further encouragement, gratefully warming ourselves by the dancing flames, dripping rain from our cold faces forming puddles on the rough stone floor. An elderely female jarrock, as large as a small bear, gave me her thick, woolen shawl. “May this keep you warm,” she griffled. “And make you a crumlush memory.”
I thanked her, quickly wrapping it round my shivering body as the other creatures carried on griffling and chickling around the fire. In their midst, Matlock dried his long hare’s ears while Ayaani was passed from one fussing creature to another. Some talked of the storm, the journey they’d made through the rain. Others told of older storms, great downpours of the past. Whilst some merely listened, watching the outside through the curtain of rainwater, occasionally pointing at a distant lightning flash or half-glimpsed rainbow.
At its end, we all simply left, saying our good-byes in the fresh early evening air as the last of the fire died away in the small cavern. I gave the jarrock back her shawl, wrapping it round her large, round shoulders.
She looked at me. “I know not your name, who you are, or where you be from,” she griffled. “But we’ll always have this memory, wherever we may be, like a majick thread between us.”
I watched as she slowly lumbered away. Matlock pid-padded to my side, Ayaani already sleeping in his long hood. “Thank you,” I said simply.
“You see?” he smiled. “Just a storm, friends and a fire. But all of it ‘majick’ in it’s own way, once you see the threads between it all.”
I raised my eyes at him. “So it was another of your ‘life-lessons’, then?”
He slowly took a deep breath of fresh evening air. “I prefer to think of it as simply ‘life’,” he griffled. “But you may see it how you want.”
I said nothing further, simply enjoying the walk back to Matlock’s cottage and looking forward to a warming cup of brottle-leaf brew. It had been a long, sometimes infuriating day – but then again, this was Winchett Dale, after all; a place where memories and friendships are made by nothing more simple than ‘life’ itself.