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The old lady and the whelk

This is exactly what happened:

I got on the train at Trowbridge. It was going to be a three-hour trip to Brighton, and I had planned what to take with me. My iBook, for writing things. My mobile, for calling people. My apple, for eating. And my fresh copy of Whelk, for reading.

I sat down and left my rucksack on the seat beside me. It was such a glorious day that all I wanted to do at first was simply stare out of the window and drink in the landscape. So that's what I did.

At the next stop, Westbury, an elderly lady boarded the train and took a seat opposite me. She wore a frilly white blouse, a black cardigan, and her white hair was shoulder-length and mostly tied back. She had a thinning fringe that framed her spectacles.

As she sat, she smiled across the table at me and said: "Good morning," in a vaguely European accent. German? Belgian? Hard to say.

I smiled and returned the greeting. I noticed her smiley expression seemed to stay in place all the time.

The lady struck up polite conversation. We talked a bit about the lovely weather, and she noted how there were such a lot of black and white cows in the fields we were passing, instead of the brown ones she was used to.

At this point I reached into my rucksack and pulled out my copy of Whelk. I wanted to make quite clear that I intended to read for a bit. I got my apple out too, and placed it on top of the book while I closed the rucksack again.

The lady noticed the cover of the book, but because of the apple she could only see the title.

"Excuse me," she said, "what is a whelk?"

I smiled, removed the apple and turned the book around so she could see it.

"That," I said, "is a whelk."

"Ah." More smiles, nods. "I see. It looks like a very interesting book."

Shall I tell her about it? I wondered. Yeah, why not.

"There's a story behind this book," I said. "Some people I know wrote a series of short stories and published them on the internet. The stories were quite popular, I believe. The people decided to celebrate their 200th story by publishing their favourite ones in a book. And this is it."

The old lady's eyes widened.

"Really? Goodness, that is very interesting. And what web site was this?"

I pointed to the cover of the book again.

"This one."

She hesitated for a short second.

"Do you mind if I write that down?"

"Not at all," I replied, and watched she she pulled out a small, leather-bound diary. In it, in very careful neat lettering, she wrote "UPSIDECLOWN . com."

I can't remember exactly how she turned the conversation around. But shortly after that, she said:

"I used to have terrible problems with my back. But I was cured by the Lord. It's quite an amazing story."

"Really?" I asked. Some people have told me in the past that I am a patient sort of person.

"Oh yes. You see, I trained as a nurse. One day, a patient came into our ward. She was enormous. A huge fat lady, and she was blind, and deaf, and dumb. All you could do to communicate with her was stroke her cheek with the back of your hand - if you did that, her face would light up like an angel's.

"Anyway, we had to lift her on to another bed. When we did, I felt something go in my back, and then I was in terrible pain.

"I remained in terrible pain for 10 years you know. I prayed, but I needed to look for the depths of the Lord. I searched for the depths of the Lord for a long time. I prayed but nothing happened.

"One day I went to a new church with a friend. The preacher there invited me to his house where we spoke for a long time. I discovered I was still a sinner and had such a lot still to learn. But after a long time, in his church, he told me to look to the Lord. I did, and I felt a bright light shining on me. And I was cured.

"After 10 years of agony and pain I was free. I danced out through the church door. I was so happy. And I felt so blessed."

She leaned back in her chair, the story apparently over.

"Yes," she continued. "That is one of my interesting stories."

"Gosh," I said. "And your back hasn't troubled you since?"

"Not the bit that the Lord healed," she said. "Although I have had problems with some of the other parts of my spine."

She was quiet for about a minute. I fingered my copy of Whelk, wondering if it would be rude to start reading at this point.

Then she leaned forward.

"And then," she said excitedly, "there was the time when I was dead for five hours."

I decided I didn't wish to hear this story.

"Wow." I said. "Remarkable. I'd never have guessed." I picked up my book, and quite clearly made an effort at reading the first few pages.

But the lady wanted to check something.

"Tell me," she said, "do you believe in Jesus Christ?"

"Nope," I said, and shook my head.

She said lots of things about how I didn't know what I was missing, and how she hoped I would seek the Lord, but I really really didn't want to get into that conversation. I smiled, but deliberately answered no more questions and started properly reading my book.

By this stage, the train was just pulling out of Salisbury. She's been talking for almost 40 minutes. The next hour or so passed uneventfully. The lady pulled out another small leather-bound book, which may have been a bible but it looked too slim for that - perhaps a book of psalms or prayers, I couldn't tell. She placed it on the table in front of her and started reading, but after a short time nodded off. Literally, her head started bobbing up and down in a fairly amusing manner as she drifted in and out of sleep.

Some time later, we approached her stop. She packed her bag and stood, and as she did she put her hand to her mouth, stage-whisper style, and said: "I hope you enjoy the rest of your book."

"Thank you, I'm enjoying it very much," I said with a look-I'm-happy-to-be-polite-but-I-don't-want-to-discuss-religion kind of expression.

"I hope," she continued, "that you seek the Lord soon. You should. Otherwise you won't be able to pass into the kingdom of heaven and everlasting light."

"Thanks," I said. "I'll bear it in mind." I turned back to my book.

Some time after that, I wondered what she will think when she sits down in front of a computer, types "" into a browser, and sees the words: "THIS IS THE FUCKING ARCHIVE."

I hope she won't think I was taking the piss.

Write for Upsideclone

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Upsideclown is an evil cartel of seven who only write in a certain style on certain days of the week, and refuse to expand. Fah, say we! Upsideclone (this site, incase you hadn't noticed) serves to subvert the name of clown and to bring others into the fold.

If you've read Upsideclown and old articles here, you get the idea. Submissions are always welcome: We operate a strictly hands-off editorial approach (we won't even correct your spelling). Once submitted, your article goes to the vote by the seven clowns. A majority, and you're in the queue for Friday publications. Go on -- And if you want to know more, hints or clarifications: come ask us in talk.


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