Hiram and the Water Nymphs. Part One.
Hiram and the Water Nymphs. Part One.
‘Passed the wide expanse, beyond the Grey dogs howl, lays the pool that Hylas found.’
I first read those words when I was 13 years old; I’d opened a great tin chest my father had brought home and discovered that it was full of books.
‘Don’t get too attached to those books Jay-boy, they’re going to the second hand dealers tomorrow’ said my ruddy faced father, looking incongruous sipping tea from one of mum’s best bone china cups in his giant hairy fist.
She’ll love him using those! I thought to myself.
‘Can I keep one book dad?’ I’d pleaded.
‘Well okay just one, this is going to be a nice little earner my son! I can’t believe what some people throw out!’ He went out to the back yard dunny grabbing a newspaper off the lounge.
Back in those days my dad was unemployed and being an enterprising man, he’d managed to scrape enough money together to buy himself an old tip truck. He’d placed an advertisement in the local paper, which read: “Hiram. D. Acron & Son Rubbish Removals.”
When I’d first read that advertisement in the “Courier”, I’d been more then a little miffed. Not at the fact that dad had yet again wasted more money on one of his schemes, but that it was apparent I’d be roped in to work with him when I wasn’t at school. The “& Son” part of it confirmed that well enough, I knew my old man!
But it had come good for dad that time, the local councils were very strict about the sort of junk they were prepared to pick up and mum was getting calls all day long booking small jobs for dad and his truck. And dad loved his old truck!
He even had a nickname for it: “Hercules” he called it and he reckoned it was the strongest little truck in the whole wide world!
Sometimes people threw out stuff that dad could sell to second hand dealers, that was why he’d brought home that old tin chest full of books.
I opened its lid again, I knew I didn’t have much time before dad came back to sit in his chair and watch the tele.
When he come back I knew I’d be evicted from the lounge for making a racket, even breathing too loudly while dad was watching television was construed as racket in his universe.
The chest was full to the rim with books of all kinds, some of them were old textbooks others crime novels mixed with Mills and Boon and a few old cook books.
I was despairing of finding anything that would interest my ardent 13-year-old mind when I came across a comic book.
It was in a shortbread tin right at the bottom of the trunk, I opened the lid and there it was, Classics Illustrated “Jason and the Argonauts!”
On the cover Jason did battle with bloke in armour wearing a golden helmet, I took the comic out and flicked through it, ‘this one’s a keeper’ I thought.
But that wasn’t the only thing in the biscuit tin, there was also small dog-eared Ancient Greek / English Dictionary.
There was also an old leather folder that was so moldy I chucked it in the bin but in it were a print and a parchment with funny writing on it. There was an illustration on the parchment of a dog howling at the full moon with a ship near an island drawn with lines and symbols all around it.
The note was written in what I took to be Greek and someone had translated the caption under the dog drawing and written it in pencil along with a phonetic version of the original Greek text.
The other drawing or rather print was of a bunch of Sheila’s with their tits out in a pond and a bloke was leaning over it that looked like a bit like Victor Mature. He had a water jug in his hand and the girls in the pond were going the grope on him, lucky bastard my dad would have said!
The caption underneath read John William Waterhouse - Hylas and the Nymphs 1896; it was then that I heard dad trundling down the hall. So I chucked it all back in the tin and nicked off to my bedroom with all of my treasures under my arm before he got there.
It was only a few minutes later that I heard mum pounding through the front door and I knew that I only had an hour or so before tea to read my new comic and study the treasures in my biscuit tin.
This was the first time I’d read Jason and the Argonauts and even in this graphic abridged version my mind was transported to the mythical Bronze Age! And for almost an hour my bed became the bridge of the Argo.
In my imagination I was Jason! With the lovely Medea standing next to me sailing home victorious with the Golden Fleece on my shoulders. The Classics Illustrated didn’t go into too much detail like the fact that Jason eventually betrayed Medea and she kills their children in revenge. Such things were not fit topics for comic books of that era.
I learned in later years that Greek hero’s always seemed to come to a sticky end, but 13 years olds from working class families generally had a black and white view of the world and I was no exception. Jason beat the baddies and got the girl THAT was cool.
I finished the comic and scanned the advertisements intrigued with the idea of owning a giant glow in the dark skeleton; I tossed the comic to one side and looked at the mythical nudie picture. I knew mum would confiscate it and I’d get a smack on the head if she ever found it.
Tiring of looking at it I thumbed through the ancient Greek dictionary disinterestedly and finally picked up the parchment with the strange writing on it.
The pictogram for that’s what it was, although at that age I didn’t know what the proper name for it was, dominated the page. The dog howled at the moon and the ship, ‘The Argo’, I realized was anchored near the island.
Someone, probably the person who last owned the chest had tried to use the dictionary to translate some of the strange writing. It was written in pencil under the main caption near the pictogram. In English it read as I said before ‘Passed the wide expanse, beyond the Grey dogs howl, lays the pool that Hylas found.’
Under it was some funny sounding words written in English letters but they were Greek words, obviously a phonetic translation of the same caption. At the time I didn’t know what ‘phonetic’ meant but I got the idea of what they were.
I tried to pronounce the written words but couldn’t get my tongue around them and gave up, I heard mum yelling that tea was ready and she was giving dad a hard time because he was too slow leaving the tele to come to the table.
That was one of mum’s strictest rules everyone ate at the dinner table, ‘we eat together like a family, not like a bunch of savages crouched around the television!’ was one of her favorite sayings.
I sometimes wondered back then how come we never saw savages camped around televisions in National Geographic magazines or on these nature shows? But then mums had their own logic and to mention such things only got you a clip on the ear for being a smart-ass.
Mum’s voice was starting to get that edge to it and I knew the next thing would be threats like, ‘Don’t you make me have to come up there!’ So I tossed all the items back into the shortbread tin and flung it on top of the wardrobe, I wasn’t going to risk mum coming up here and finding that nudie picture.
I hurried down stairs and still beat dad to the table, dad trudged in with a great deal of dignity for a man dressed in a stained boiler suit.
‘Stop making cats bums Doris! We’re both here now aren’t we?’ She just groaned and slapped mashed potato on to the plates.
After dinner I had to do my homework on the kitchen table, this was one of mum’s new rules. One she’d instituted after they’d got a bad report card from school. She’d watch me and check what I’d done afterwards, there was no escape!
So I finished my homework, I hated maths! I watched some tele and went to bed, the next day I went to school and life continued unchanged except that dads rubbish removal business dried up after a couple of years.
‘Too many other guys doing it now, not worth it anymore’ he’d said sadly but he still kept his tip truck. Even though we were short of money at the time.
He finally found a job as a green keeper for the local council, ‘wouldn’t have got it if I hadn’t had old Hercules. Owning my own truck clinched it for me!’ he’d said at the time patting the bonnet affectionately.
And so things stabilized for my family, dad would have his drink before bed every night and mum would sneak out to the housie every Thursday and when asked she would always say she was going to the dressmakers. I never questioned why she was going to the dressmakers at 6:30 at night and never seemed come home with any new dresses.
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