Sue Vincent’s #writephoto this week is
From time immemorial this monumental vessel has been known as ‘The Oracle of Doom’. No one knows why but modern archaeologists say it is carved by hand. Some think it represents the birthing pool, with an older meaning of ‘doom’ being intended. Others think it must have involved sacrifice, perhaps multiple victims had their blood drained here. Most see it as having a religious significance. Those who visit talk of a sense of foreboding, of fear in the air. ‘Death sits, cupped in the land’, wrote one over-exuberant Victorian scholar.
What is also known is that this is the most sacred place for the Druids of Aberlaw, whose existence and continued devotions are a direct result of the presence of the curious bowl that sits on the side of a rather moth-eaten hill near Lampeter.
Chief Druid, Brian the Unrepentant is the current custodian of The Fall, an oral history of this Chalice, which is handed on, in the throes of death to whoever is the anointed successor.
Brian, whose one regret in life was his mother’s fixation with that sodding snail off The Magic Roundabout and his resultant name – a chief Druid needs a name like Gwindor or Cathgranote not that bequeathed by a drug-addled mollusc – learnt the secret from Bellagiant the Unrepentant (all chiefs are, by dint of their position, unrepentant), his Great aunt.
His role wasn’t complicated: ensure the Fall is properly celebrated every year by filling the Doom with water on the holy day and keep morons from scratching ‘Darren xx Megan’ on the outside. It might be the presence of scowling white-tuniced pognophiles near the bowl that created that feeling of intimidation in other visitors.
Brian had fulfilled his role assiduously but now was the time for him to handover to his successor, Grantham Pople. Brian knew his time was close – all Chiefs became attuned to their mortality on their hearing the Fall for the first time. Normally this was a happy time for the outgoing Chief, having fulfilled his purpose, but today, there was a problem, and a major one at that. Grantham was on the 2.37 out of Paddington and signalling problems near Little Walltrollope, coupled with an unfortunate spillage of sliced mangoes (which in time became a top five favourite excuse for Network Rail’s tardy performance) meant he may well not make it.
Only once before had this happened and that had been a disaster. Some fourteen centuries ago, Margopolon the Unrepentant had trusted the Fall to a shepherd boy. He had emphasised the importance of telling his successor exactly what he had said but the shepherd boy wasn’t local – he was visiting an uncle from Bristol – and made one crucial mistake, one that was now included in the telling of the Fall and which all chiefs feared might happen to them.
Brian’s problem was much the same as Margopolon’s. He knew he would be dead in two hours. But his was a modern version of the fate. Rather than a shepherd boy it was an attendant at the Shell petrol station on the A407 north of Bergeris. And he too wasn’t local; rather than Bristol the attendant’s home was Bucharest.
Brian sighed. Vladimir’s seemed nice enough and his English was passable. But he knew the Fall would take some explaining.
‘Bordoron angered the gods, see…’
Vladimir nodded. He liked this intense man with pleading eyes. You wanted to help him and if listening to his story was what he needed while they waited for an ambulance then he’d do his bit. It was a good story too.
‘… and his punishment, if he didn’t accept their rule was to be drowned… that’s the Fall see…’
Another nod. So far so good, thought Brian. But this next bit… tricky. Damned tricky.
‘… he refused, crying he would never agree and nor would those who came after. They followed the rhythms of nature and were unrepentant…’
‘What happened?’ Vladimir prompted when Brian fell silent.
‘They put him in his boat and sent him to his Doom. And that’s where he is today… or at least his spirit.’
Vladimir whistled. ‘His boat is still around?’
‘Yes, it’s now a rock.’
‘A rock boat?’
‘A coracle, actually.’
Brian felt his heart lurch; surely history wasn’t about to repeat with death so close? ‘No, this is important. Please tell Grantham it should be The Coracle of Doom…’