View from the Bridge: 16
by John Morrison
16: The Old Straight Track
Willow Woman operates a two-pronged strategy to avoid being burgled. She leaves her front door open, so burglars will think: "Nobody sane leaves their door open unless they're at home". Plan B - just in case this strategy fails - is to ensure her house looks so chaotic that any intruder who gains entry will assume she's already been burgled and leave empty-handed.
Willow Woman's life is so painfully convoluted that Ken Russell considered making a film of it. Her response to everyday calamities is to bake. Using the smoke detector as a food timer, she turns out mountainous batches of inedible stoneground bread. It's called 'stoneground', incidentally, because its main constituent is gravel. Her loaves look like dead armadillos. Sky uses them for building barricades.
Despite the succession of men in her life, Willow Woman actually finds a relationship with two people in it rather overcrowded. You yearn to hear, just once, those magic words: "Well, that's enough about me; what the hell is happening to you".
Willow Woman is gorgeous - there's no doubt about it - and blessed with an award-winning bone structure. Town Drunk is one of her most appreciative admirers; he has built up a small but select collection of underwear purloined from her washing line in Hippy Street.
In a way that would astonish the residents of, say, Cheltenham or Bath, the back-streets of Milltown are bedecked with washing lines. There are still women here whose perceived role as wife and mother demands that the family's clothes aren't merely clean, but seen to be clean. In the same way that shooting parties of the past would pose for a photograph with an obscenely huge pile of gamebirds, the women of Milltown like to put the fruits of their industry on public display. So it's a familiar noise, the crackle of sheets thrashing about in a drying wind.
In fact, the work ethic has been a cornerstone of Milltown life for generations, which is why the sight of work-shy young folk sitting around in the town square, downing alcopops and mulling over the big questions (like: have Waggon Wheels got smaller, or is it just that we've got bigger?) is anathema to the older generation. Yet the idlers make a colourful sight - like tropical birds drugged for transit to some far-off aviary.
* * *
It comes as a surprise to those untutored in the folklore of the 'old straight tracks' to discover that Milltown lies on the convergence of some very powerful ley-lines. It even surprises Willow Woman (usually happy to espouse any old mumbo-jumbo) when Wounded Man produces a scruffy map of Milltown, seemingly drawn by an artistically challenged five-year-old and criss-crossed with lines.
As a founder member of the Society for the Investigation of Unlikely Phenomena (Milltown Chapter), he has wasted many an evening searching for significances where none exist. "This line", he points out, stabbing the map at random with a grubby finger, "is in perfect alignment with three important features: the church spire, a hollow tree and the public bar of the Grievous Bodily Arms". He leans back, feeling his point is proved beyond reasonable doubt, unaware that the back of Willow Woman's sofa is caked in fresh cat vomit.
But what are these lines? Ancient tracks? Landing strips for extra-terrestrial craft? Or merely the vapid outpourings of over-active imaginations? Having researched the history of road protesting, Sky favours the first option. She has unearthed exciting evidence that one of her distant ancestors tried - unsuccessfully - to thwart a controversial ley-line widening scheme.
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