Saturday, 30 July 2022

How the Marlowes Came to Mellowdene

When Cecile visited Natalie Marlowe's "mental hugging" business (Mentis Amplectendo) a few months ago, there were two things that left her with a positive impression. One - and I won't go into details other than say it left Cecile feeling particularly affectionate - was a particular "fur grooming" method. The other was a friendly encounter with someone who lives above the business. Atlanta Marlowe.

Cecile and Atlanta share similar outlooks on life, and it would not surprise me if they also shared the underlying mischievous nature that adds the frisson to our marriage. What led me to this suspicion?

Our boy Brendan is friends with Hughie Grunt and this means Cecile often meets up with Hughie's mother, Constance. On one such meeting, Cecile mentioned how Atlanta seemed a very friendly person and how she had warmed to her in the brief time they had talked. Constance had chuckled, and when Cecile had queried why, the reply was simple. Atlanta had effectively said the same thing to Salome Persis when she and her husband had visited the Persis's carpet business. Constance had witnessed the exchange.

This led to Cecile and Atlanta sharing lunch at the Blackcurrant Cafe (where else) and then another. And another. It wasn't long before the families met. We had a nice meal then settled to chat.

After the meal had been cleared. Beverley volunteered to wash the dishes and Atlanta's two boys said they would help (apparently this is one of their regular chores). Brendan tagged along. With just the adults remaining, we retired to the living room.

"I've never asked before - what prompted you to move to Mellowdene, Atlanta?" asked Cecile.

"Melvin's work, primarily," said Atlanta, glancing across at her husband, "but we weren't originally going to settle here."


"The initial plan was to move to Catsholme. We knew a few cats there, but I wasn't sure I could settle in the place."

Cecile glanced at me and I shrugged. Why would I know?

Melvin moved the conversation along. "It's because she thinks they're weird."

Atlanta's head swung and she glared at her husband. "Melvin! I do not think they're weird." 

Turning back she continued. "There's nothing wrong with Catsholme. All the cats are friendly with one another as you would expect of any Sylvanian community. But my upbringing made me feel that it wasn't the place I should make a permanent home."

"Because?" prompted Cecile.

"I was raised as a sea cat. My father is a sea trader, and ever since I was a girl we'd occasionally anchor at the natural dock east of North Beach.
"We'd have some dealings in Acorn Valley but the hill cats from Catsholme would frequently come along to do business. We got to know something about them. For one thing, the place is virtually all cats. I can't be doing with all that. You see, I'm used to associating freely with all races, and since I married Melvin I enjoy living amongst more than just cats."

"They have some funny rules too, don't forget that," added Melvin.

"I wouldn't say 'funny'," said Atlanta, "but restrictive enough to stop me wanting to live there. And I'm not just going from rumour. We went to see John Silk."

Both Cecile and I nodded. We knew John Silk.

Sylvania has many villages, towns and even a few cities. Despite all Sylvanians sharing common values, there can be additional factors varying between communities - rules or conventions that alter the ways those communities live their lives. Sometimes it's geographical features - consideration of natural hazards, such as coastal dangers or seasonal extremes - but it can be social traditions. As such, there can be differences in by-laws and conventions, often usually minor, but it is sensible for communities to have an awareness of these differences. If only for transacting business. John Silk helps in this area. So who is John Silk?

He's related to the Golightly family. This cat family is fairly well established in Mellowdene. They were amongst the first cats to move here who weren't hill cats. Holly Golightly's brother is Johnny Silk and he's employed by Mellowdene council to interpret community law. By this I mean he maintains an in-depth knowledge of every community's particular laws. He may act as a mediator, a legal adviser, or play the part of an advocate for any of those places.


Atlanta continued. "He was most helpful. He told us that there are some unusual aspects of Catsholme life. It isn't just that they prefer that only cats should live there. Johnny has the impression that many residents are expected to keep a particular secret. He didn't know exactly what, but he thinks it involves some black-robed cats."

Cecile and I exchanged glances. I suppose it made sense that there would be some hill cats that had knowledge of the Mist Cat tribe's comings and goings.

"Well, that explains why you didn't want to live in Catsholme," said Cecile, "but not why you wanted to move to this general area."

"Tell them about my brother," said Melvin.

"I will, dear," said Atlanta, "in my own way." She returned to her explanation. "You will know about the importance of the canal to both Catsholme and Mellowdene. You may also know that the canal boats that were in use a few years ago were..."

"Falling apart," said Melvin.

"Past their best," said Atlanta, smiling at her husband. "Now Mason - Melvin's brother - is in business with Lawrence Seabreeze. I believe you know the Seabreezes?"

"Doris is an old friend," said Cecile. "I knew her before she was married, when she was simply Doris Columbus."

"I've met her a few times, mainly through our sisters-in-laws. She seems nice. But anyway, back to the canal boats. When Lawrence was in Mellowdene - something to do with his part in the Seafood Restaurant - he saw the canal boats and that they were overdue a replacement. Given his wife is from the village, he thought it would be a nice gesture to supply three or four narrow boats to solve the problem." 

I knew Lawrence technically owned the canal boats but didn't know how that had come about.

"The trouble was," said Atlanta, "even though the boats would be welcome, the Catsholmers have always been quite an independent community."

"Less so than when the hill cats lived in Hawkshade," I commented. "They were really isolated then."

"So I believe. And whilst they are generally comfortable with their relationship with Mellowdene these days, they would have been uncomfortable accepting charity from a rabbit, especially one not from Mellowdene."

"So that's where my brother came in," said Melvin. "He wasn't from Mellowdene either, but he is a cat. They were prepared to do business with him, but they still weren't happy about a long-distance business relationship."

"Obviously, this was resolved," said Cecile.

"It was. Natalie was looking for a location to set up her mental hugging business, and Mason's job means he can easily relocate. They decided to move to Catsholme, solving the canal boat issue."

"But they didn't end up there," said Cecile, "and I'm not clear how that brought you here."

"Me," said Melvin.

We looked at him. He was watching himself idly rotate his ankle. He must have realised we were waiting for him to continue as he paused and lifted his gaze. Smiling sheepishly, he said, "I suppose you could call me a boat engineer. I've been involved in boat construction. Part of the problem with the old canal boats was that they had nobody with the skills to maintain them properly. They'd need someone to keep the new boats running. I could do that. Maybe train a couple of likely Catsholme youngsters. I figured, if Mason was moving,  I could too."

Cecile turned to Atlanta. "So that's why you moved? Were you happy with this? You being a sea cat?"

"Oh, the ocean was never the main attraction for me. Marrying Melvin meant I was already spending more time ashore," said Atlanta, "and I was living in a bustling community. The main thing I liked about being a sea cat was the variety of people I met. I was able to get that in one place whilst raising our children."

"So there wasn't a problem moving away from the coast?"

"Not really. We just needed to make sure the children would be okay at the new place. I know Marina was concerned there'd be nowhere for her to swim - again, sorry she couldn't come for the meal; her swimming lessons with Miguel Woolly are important to her - but we told her we'd sort something out. Troy and Sheridan are happy to go anywhere - they are good boys. Anyway, it became clear that Natalie's business couldn't easily operate from Catsholme - especially when she heard what Johnny Silk had to say. She'd have a wider clientele here in Mellowdene. And I knew that she wanted a posher house than most used by the hill cats."

Melvin gestured. "And Natalie can wrap Mason around her smallest claw."

"It worked out well," Atlanta explained. "The houses on Cherry Blossom Avenue are more Natalie's style. And they decided to have a pool, which suited Marina just fine."

"Too posh for me," said Melvin. "Our place in The Mews is ideal. Near enough the canal for my work, but only a short walk to the centre of Mellowdene."

"Anyway, that's how the Marlowes came to live here rather than Catsholme."

"Because our wives call the shots," teased Melvin.


"As it should be," said Cecile, winking at me. "It's interesting that you're an engineer though, Melvin. My cousin Colt Ivory is too."

"Any relation to Rowan Ivory?" asked Atlanta.

"My brother," smiled Cecile. "You know him?"

Melvin laughed. "Oh, yes."

Atlanta started to chuckle. 

I could see why Cecile liked Atlanta. There were definite similarities between them. Also, I liked Melvin's sense of humour and his straight talking. I found myself smiling. As was Cecile. And then we wondered about Rowan. What had he done this time?

We were not to find out. Not yet anyway. The door opened and in came Beverley, Brendan, Troy and Sheridan. Brendan was a little damp. Cecile raised her brow in silent query.

Beverley laughed. "Washing up's done, mum."

o 0 O 0 o

Friday, 15 July 2022

The Chocolate Mine

When Freya Chocolate and Iona Dale came round to visit Beverley, I overheard something above the happy chatter that piqued my curiosity. I actively began eavesdropping - naughty of me, you may think, but I needed to know whether or not I'd misheard.

"Uncle Spelunker is funny," said Freya.

"How so?" asked Beverley.

"He does funny voices. He uses them to tell funny stories or sing funny songs."

"What sort of voices?"

"High ones, low ones - sometimes he mimics people. Famous people mainly, but he's taken off my dad too."

Iona chuckled. "I'd like to hear that."

Freya nodded, saying, "I can ask him, but he'll be leaving later today. He wants to catch the canal boat so that he can reach his camp before dark."

"Back at the chocolate mine?" asked Beverley. 

"Yes. He's wants to dig out some more wispachoc tomorrow before he's collected by the sea cats."

There it was. I hadn't misheard. Spelunker Chocolate was a chocolate miner.

I'd heard of chocolate mines but I didn't think they were serious things. I'd put them in the same category as lemonade rivers and sherbert snow. With young Freya clearly being serious about her uncle, I thought I should re-evaluate. Maybe Spelunker was teasing his niece. Or maybe... I could go to Frasier's place and check out Freya's funny uncle. Investigate the truth of the tale.

Wow. I was turning into Darcy Fielding.

o 0 O 0 o

Teri was pleased to see me. "Hello, Jackson! You've not been round for months. Social or business?"

"Hi Teri. Yes, I've been remiss in my socialising lately. I've not had a chat with Frasier since the Melting. Is he about?"

"You've timed it well," she said. "Frazy is taking a break with his cousin Spelunker after taking a delivery. You haven't have met Spel, have you?"

"No. Freya mentioned that her uncle was visiting. Are you sure I won't be intruding?"

"Don't be silly, Jackson. Go on through to the back room."

Introductions were made and we settled down to chat. 

Spelunker was a humorous chap and when he told a couple of anecdotes he did adopt the occasional changes of voice pitch to add colour to his tales. I was deciding how best to ask about chocolate mining but there was no need; the conversation moved in that direction. I took the opportunity to declare my ignorance of the subject.

"It is unusual," said Spelunker. "The mine is probably unique, but who knows?"

I smiled. "I find it incredible that one can dig rocks of chocolate out of the ground. I thought it was made from cacao beans. Do the two chocolates taste similar?"

Frasier laughed. "You're under a misapprehension, Jack. They aren't rocks. Tell him, Spel."

Spelunker Chocolate wriggled to get comfortable before commencing his explanation.

"First, you should know that we only became aware of the mine between ten and fifteen years ago. Prior to that we only saw it as a convenient cave for storage."


"Ah. I'll explain. The cacao beans were cargo brought by the sea cats' boats. I'd accompany them and we'd unload the sacks. The thing was - timing of our arrival wasn't fully predictable. We couldn't expect the sea cats to hang about for the cargo to be collected. We addressed this by placing the sacks of beans in the cave, safe from the elements. I could then go and get help to continue transportation."

"Makes sense," I said.

"It does. But something happened after one delivery. I wasn't present that time. Reportedly it was as if the beans had started to grow in the sacks. Some sacks split and the beans fell out, adhering to the rocks. It was a bit of a mess. The story goes that cargo collectors came, cleared the mess and retrieved all the beans - as they thought - and completed their job as normal."

Frasier joined in with the tale. "The beans were a little larger than usual but otherwise no different to those from prior deliveries."

"No one thought anything about it," said Spelunker, "until the next time we came to use the cave a few weeks later. It was full of large blocks of chocolate, effectively akin to processed milk chocolate, fused to the floor and walls of the cave. It was as if they had grown there."

I frowned. "Grown there? How?"

"We didn't know back then. We had some makeshift tools and we cut away some of the blocks so that we could take them away for testing. They dislodged from the rock cleanly. That's when we heard it."


"A gentle whispering noise. A bit scary at the time, but then we found out the source of the noise. It was where we'd cut away the blocks of chocolate. The rocks were acquiring a thin brown coating. Similar to lichen on rocks, but accumulating much quicker. The coating was chocolate. It was growing back, and in the initial stages it was making the whispering noise."

"That's where the term wispachoc came from," added Frasier.

"That's right. And when it was confirmed that the cave was producing perfectly edible chocolate, we agreed to mine it, managing it properly. It wasn't just the front of the cave either. It extended further back than we usually go. A lot of wispachoc to administer."

I thought I'd better confirm that I wasn't the victim of a prank. I had hardly begun to air my doubts when Frasier preempted me. "It's not a joke, Jack."

"Really? How do you explain it then?"

"We couldn't," said Spelunker. "That's why we brought in an expert."

Frasier nodded at me as Spelunker continued. "He examined the cave thoroughly, poking about here and there, making measurements, taking notes. When he reported back he advised erecting a barrier at the back of the cave. He showed us where best to do that, writing a list of the materials to use

"He explained that there was a deep, narrow well at rear of the cavern, saying that it appeared to be a conduit for wild energies. He suspected that there must have been a particularly large surge for it to reach the cave. Apparently he considered it very unusual for it to do that.

"The barrier, assembled to his instructions, would provide protection if the energies should ever reappear." 

"These wild energies affected the cacao beans?" I asked.

"That was his conclusion. He commented that, in his experience, mountains in Sylvania tend to exhibit more unusual occurrences than flatlands. Mysterious energies are but one part."

I thought of the minerals that the Polaris family used for creating their coolsalt. I thought of Tara finding unusual plants in the snowfield mountain plateaus. I thought of the speed tunnels that began beneath the mountains. And I recalled a recent visit from Felixor from the Mist Cat tribe and his talk of wild energies. The very term Spelunker said this expert had used.

"Are you okay, Jack?" said Frasier, jerking me out of my thoughts.

"Yes. Sorry, Fraze. Chocolate mines, eh? It's an unusual story."

"All true," said Spelunker. "and that's why I periodically visit the chocolate mine to effectively harvest the wispachoc. It will form a substantial cargo that I can load onto the sea cats' ship ready for export. And some goes to cousin Frasier, of course." 

"It is impressive," said Frasier. "I went there once and Spel let me dig some chocolate out."

I stared at them, and they laughed.

"I know, Jack," said Frasier. "It's a weird world."

I had to agree. But a chocolate mine was a nice kind of weird!

o 0 O 0 o