Tolkien’s Birmingham: Impressions of Moseley Bog

Tolkien’s Birmingham: (Part 4): Impressions of Moseley Bog from Sarehole Mill — as reflected in The Bluebottle Boys

[The featured picture is no fantasy painting but an actual photograph, shot shortly after sunrise, of Moseley Bog. This post and the one that will follow Thursday are truncated excerpts from my upcoming novel The Bluebottle Boys, due for release in autumn of 2016. Though clearly some magic’s afoot, the impressions of Moseley Bog from the edge of the millpond are accurate, as are sounds from the Bog; if you’re alone or nearly alone, especially at or near dawn or sunset, they can really play hob with your imagination. Set in the spring off 1962, the book follows 10-year-old protagonist Reggie Stone and his friends in various adventures around Birmingham – and into some strange “alternative” places as well (in Thursday’s portion of this excerpt, Reggie’s best friend, Sanjit “Stan” Gupta, is briefly mentioned regarding some earlier experiences around Moseley Bog).

Moseley BogIn these portions, Reggie’s alone at the Sarehole millpond, not far west of the Mill itself At school, he’s half-auditioned, half-blundered his way into the role of Puck in its production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (the first 10-year-old in the school’s 200-year history to have a lead role in its annual Shakespearean play). He’s brought ”Gramfer’s” guitar along to practice Puck’s closing soliloquy, which the director wants sung, not recited (he’s had a modicum of training – no more – in classical guitar). It’s evening, past Sarehole Mill’s closing time, but Reggie, who has a propensity to do such things, has slipped into the grounds anyway, having no idea he’s about to be summoned across the pond for a nighttime visit to Moseley Bog.]

“I walked onto the nearby grasses, now cold and soggy with dew. I came upon a large rock (or a small boulder, depending upon your point of view) near the water – not much, but sufficient for me to sit upon and high enough for me to see over the tall grasses near the pond. I dropped to my knees long enough to take Gramfer’s guitar out of the case before scooting up the stone and securing the case behind the middle of my back for a modicum of additional support. Even so, I more lounged in a Cassiopeia-like “W” kind of position than sat upright, the guitar’s box wedged between my knees and solar plexus, its strings facing me, scarcely a foot from my nose.

“. . . I sang and played Puck’s Soliloquy twice again… and thought that I heard echoes across the pond. For a moment, I stopped and listened….

“. . . [A]ll was silence, interrupted only by scattered bird songs, and the faint, vaguely uneasy, buzzing of insects, as sunset began its transition to early twilight; a soft reddish glow enveloped the grounds as the shadows elongated and grew deep. The trees across the pond were still visible, most within my line of vision welcome enough sights on warmer days, together with one or two, extending into the waters, large enough to be a makeshift home for a coterie of smaller birds and mammals. But even here, a few spare remnants of what once had been trees had fallen into each other or into the pond, combing into shapes that looked a bit macabre in the vanishing light.

“I shivered slightly as a frigid breeze wafted across the grasses, chilling the portions of my shins and ankles that had been soaked in the dew. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could remain, but was determined to stay until the cold made further postponement of my departure impossible. I’d play another interlude to rest my voice, then play and sing Puck’s Soliloquy two more times, and then decide if I was too cold to go on.

“I’d played . . . 32 measures . . .when I heard it again: My music, reflected over the pond from somewhere in the depths the Bog. I played another 13 bars, then stopped suddenly.
The music across the bog stopped too, but not soon enough – my stopping before completing the phrase had caught the player off guard. I heard a few bars, faintly but unmistakably, from the other side of the pond, on the strangest sounding stringed instrument I’d ever heard, somewhere between an arch lute and a theorbo, but hammered like a dulcimer, rather than plucked. I’d caught the culprit at last. . . . I played the next phrase; whoever or whatever it was played it back to me.. . . I played another measure, no more; the same measure came back. Two notes only, and I stopped. After what seemed like an expectant pause, two notes came back slowly, at four times the count. And then . . .”

To be continued . . .

Excerpt from The Bluebottle Boys © 2015, 2016 by G. H. McCallum.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.