Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: FRESH START (01/05/17)
- TITLE: Meeting a Monkey Hanger...
By Noel Mitaxa
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Last Sunday, in an air-conditioned food-hall, having to quietly wait in line to collect my lunch was a welcome relief from ten minutes earlier, when I’d stepped out of the baking heat of the car park.
Immediately to my right, an elderly lady’s features indicated a similar sense of relief. As I glanced across to her, my inner-comedian crashed the quietness. Time for a touch of irony, it prompted.
“Do you think summer might arrive soon?” I found myself saying to her…
From behind frameless spectacles, her eyes suddenly sparkled. “Ooh, it can’t be too far away now,” she replied, smiling. Her softly-clipped accent was distinctive, though slightly elusive.
“Are you from anywhere near Yorkshire?” I ventured.
“Further north. From Durham―as close to Scotland as it’s safe for us Sassenachs to be,” she responded, before quietly declaring, “I’m a Monkey Hanger!”
“A Monkey Hanger? Please tell me more,” I replied, with my inner-comedian, irony suddenly outgunned, beating a hasty retreat.
As we shuffled towards the counter, she began to explain, brushing the dust off two centuries from when England was facing imminent invasion―or unwanted visits by French spies―during the Napoleonic Wars…
“The story goes that good folk of Hartlepool, a coastal town about ten miles south of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, learned that a French sailing ship had been wrecked close by. The next day, a small boat washed ashore carrying a monkey that was wearing a small officer’s uniform.
“Those same good folks had never seen a Frenchman before―or a monkey―so they thought it must be a spy. And they hanged it!
“Since then, we’ve had the reputation of being the Monkey Hangers,” she said, before a touch of her own irony edged her smile with a light grimace.
“I migrated to Australia forty-two years ago to make a fresh start; and now, after being here all this time, you’re picking up my accent the moment I open my mouth. And yet anytime I go back home or phone home, they say I sound like an Australian!”
We received our meals at the counter and thanked the cashier. Feeling that it would be inappropriate to suddenly try to become a life-long friend, I thanked my fellow-shuffler for her story, making a mental note to check it out.
Back home, opening my encyclopedia of Google, I discovered a possibly more-sinister edge to her story arising through the small boys among ships’ crews. Scurrying around the cannon decks of those ships, to replenish gunpowder supplies, they were called powder monkeys. Which meant that the Hartlepudlians, gripped in a fear-filled mix of ignorance and suspicion, may have mercilessly put a young boy to death instead of a monkey...
Forty-two years after she had made a fresh start, an innocent query had exposed my newly-found narrator’s roots. Yet in happily sharing with me a much darker legacy, she underscored for me that the past cannot be changed and that even its ugly, regrettable aspects need not be denied.
A reminder for me of God’s acceptance and forgiveness; for he loves us just as we are.
But he loves us too much to leave us that way; for every day can be a fresh start.
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