A retired Belgian mountaineer, expert on voles and author of seminal study "A Longtitudinal Comparison of the Old Thatched Barns of Holland and Belgium" experienced a significant degree of surprise yesterday, while he was examining a Dutch barn during a country walk, writes Nurse R E Slopes, Health & Belgian Mountaineering Correspondent.
Mr Hercule Leitmotif - for it is he - has lived in the Shropshire hamlet of Harnage for the past 7 years, moving there from his home amid the tobacco farms of Wervik, West Flanders upon his retirement from Belgian mountaineering. Harnage - classed as a hamlet because it has no post office - has been home to Mr Leitmotif - for it is he - for the past 7 years, since he moved there from his home amid the tobacco farms of Wervik, West Flanders upon retiring from Belgian mountaineering, from where he moved to Harnage in Shropshire, which is classed as a hamlet because it has no post office. Mr Leitmotif - for it is he - has been a resident in Harnage - classed as a hamlet because it has no post office - for the past 7 years, moving there from his home amid the tobacco farms of Wervik upon his retirement from Belgian mountaineering.
Mr Leitmotif likes to keep abreast of the current developments in Belgian mountaineering and, to this end, he subscribes to the professional journal called Belgian Mountaineering Quarterly. He does not mind not being kept abreast of the other three quarters of Belgian mountaineering activity, feeling that, in retirement, keeping abreast of a quarter of the activities of the current crop of Belgian mountaineers is "a sufficient sufficiency that suffices without the need for suffering a surplus or surfeit".
Hercule Leitmotif also whiles away the hours of a serene retirement by reading the extant scientific journals insofar as they pertain to the subject of voles in all their many guises, manifestations and facets. He is a subscriber to the professional journal called Vole Quarterly, judging that the personal monitoring of a quarter of the doings of the voles is quite enough, given that he has three acquaintances who each subscribe to another quarterly vole-specialist journal. "Thus we cover the entire four quarters of the field inhabited by the voles", he says.
And finally, Mr Leitmotif is wont to keep up his studies on the subject of the old thatched barns of the Low Countries. He has recently purchased a Morocco-bound volume entitled Dutch Caps Through The Ages. This is because he has been unable to discover a professional journal that is devoted to the subject of the old thatched barns of the Low Countries. He originally intended to keep looking, but grew impatient, and plumped for the said Morocco-bound volume when he saw it in a bookshop called Henry Clump Books in the town of Broseley.
"But soft!" the reader cries. "What has all this to do with the surprise? It is the surprise, with its promise of startling developments, that we seek. We did not enter into this rigmarole merely to meander around the blasted heath that is the retired life of Mr Hercule Leitmotif."
To which, dear reader, I would offer in response:
- Is not that the whole point of the very rigmarole upon which you are enrolled?
- Stay thy ire, dear reader: for here cometh the surprise
Another of Mr Leitmotif's pastimes is the art of country walking. He likes to ramble about the Shropshire landscapes, accompanied only by his Portugese Water Dog, Hubert, who is named after the Belgian mountaineer Jens Hubert, who, in addition to being a Belgian mountaineer, is famous for having built his own thatched barn in the countryside outside Ghent.
And it was yesterday, in the midst of a ramble in the idyllic landscape surrounding his traditionally-thatched cottage in Harnage - which is classed as a hamlet because it has no post office, and to which he moved 7 years ago from his home amid the tobacco farms of Wervik, West Flanders, upon his retirement from Belgian mountaineering - that Hercule Leitmotif experienced a surprising surprise.
He was traversing the debateable lands on the perimeter of the village of Cound - locally pronouned "Coond"), when he espied a particularly intriguing specimen of a pole barn. In Britain, the pole barn is generally referred to as a Dutch Barn. Typically, this example was basically a set of poles with a rust-hued corrugated iron roof, and was full of hay. Hercule Leitmotif, fired by memories of his childhood, surged towards the barn, followed at a safe distance by his ever-cautious Portugese Water Dog, Hubert, who, if he could have spoken, might have uttered: "Be careful, master. Yon structure looks none too sturdy."
You can imagine the surprise, then, of man and Portugese Water Dog, when, upon reaching the barn, they saw a man. Within the structure. Reclined, upon the stacked bales, like a resting god. Or a tramp.
A parliament of rooks was creating quite a cacophony nearby. The wind in the trees was like the whispered voices of sylvan spirits. Somewhere a cow lowed, very low.
The man, who was wearing green dungarees, a hessian shirt and a Dutch Cap, spoke. He said:
"Hallo. Weet u de weg naar Aalburg? Ik ben een ingeborene van Noord-Brabant en ben verdwaald."
The sinister piping tone of his utterance, according to Mr Leitmotif, "was enough to silence the owls of the night." He did what any concerned citizen would have done in such a circumstance. He turned and walked off across the billowing field. This time Hubert led the way.
Late last night Hercule Leitmotif telephoned his dutch-speaking friend and supernatural expert, Eddy Mercx, who has the same name as the famous cyclist. He tried to recount the exact words that the apparition had spoken. There was a pause. His friend said (he spoke in Walloon, the Romance language of the Walloons, which is the tongue they use with each other, and which I here render into a form of English, for you, only for you):
"He claimed to be a resident of the Northern Brabant, at Aalburg, who had lost his way and sought directions. My friend, you were wise to turn tail and flee from that enchanted, afflicted place. It is my opinion that this was a schim wanderer, a phantom which appears to the lonely in an intriguing rural location."
Both friends agreed that Mr Leitmotif had had a lucky excape and that he ought to pay more attention to the behaviour of Hubert in future. "The dog he is a divining rod indeed", concluded Eddy Mercx, and Hercule Leitmotif was forced to agree.
"I shall take more care when approaching a lonely pole barn on any future expeditions in the Shropshire landscapes", vowed Herculke Leitmotif very late last night, at his traditionally-thatched cottage in Harbage, Shropshire, which is classed as a hamlet because it has no post office and is the place to which he moved 7 years ago from his home amid the tobacco farms of Wervik, West Flanders, upon his retirement from Belgian mountaineering.