Ah Oui! Tonight and every night Josephine!

You are what someone else drank

Today you will swallow at least 500 molecules of water that passed through Napoleon. Strange but true. Oh, and you’ll swallow a similar amount from Hitler.  And from Boadicea, Cleopatra, Napoleon’s lover Josephine, and anyone else you care to name who has been dead for some time.  People dismiss this as an urban myth, but apparently it’s true.  There are lots of explanations on the world wide sewage system.[1]

This strange fact came to my attention several years ago and the notion hibernated like a malignant mind worm in my cranium, finally burrowing back into the conscious sphere as part of a response to a commission from the Lancashire Writing Hub in 2012.  It can now be heard featuring in an exhibition as one of the Notes from a Precarious Landscape.[2]

“It’s good to keep hydrated,” he said.

“Water is what we mostly are,” she replied.

Evidently, sixty per cent of our body, and three quarters of our brain consist of water molecules.  You’ve got Napoleon on your mind – literally.

Tom Hartley on farm 2
My father, Tom Hartley, at Dixon’s Farm near Grimsargh, north of Preston, Lancashire. Date unknown but probably late 1930s.

When you get right down to it, we are just custodians. We incessantly recycle the miniscule particles of the universe.  We are not only the progeny of our direct ancestors, we are the living fabric of all our antecedents.  We are not only person; we are also place.

She never surfaced and the water that had already been within her slowly mixed with that which had invaded her. 

Tom Hartley (left) on farm
My father (left) probably during the 1920s

It stands to reason that there must be at least a slightly higher proportion of molecules from our immediate surroundings in our self than there is of the trace elements from far away.  We are bonded to our home environment more strongly than we think.  We are both local and universal. We are temporary and permanent.

As well as living in the landscape, we move it around. We move through the world and the world moves via us.

around Preston spring 10 011Preston owes its providence to the river. The river not only quenched the thirst of our forebears, it fed their fields, their forts, factories and fantasies.  Consequently, our settlement became a town, a city and an urban sprawl.

She reflected on the river, and savoured its enigma: never stopping, always there, constantly changing, always the same. The river awakened the memory of an urge to drink, to wade, to wash, to watch. She saw the eternal in the ephemeral and knew that she was both.

We need homes, but we need meadows as well. We need shelter and we need space.  We need freedom, but we need boundaries too. Napoleon discovered that the hard way. No need to drink to his memory; you’ve already done that today.



I remember when all this were fields

The first line of this verse work was one of the favourite sayings of my father who ran a one-man milk delivery service from our home in Deepdale.  He was old enough to be my grandfather, and as a youth he had worked on a farm north of Preston between Ribbleton and Grimsargh and that is now somewhere beneath luscious crops of concrete and cement.

It will feature in the Notes from a Precarious Landscape exhibition.

The Curator

This story was written in response to a commission from the Lancashire Writing hub and first appeared on their website in 2012. It is now part of a collection of short fiction entitled The Atheist’s Prayer Book.  Along with several other pieces, it was principally inspired by the view of the Ribble looking eastwards from the old tram bridge in Avenham Park. (Picture above) It was infected by reading that we all contain molecules of water that were once inside Napoleon.

It will feature in the Notes from a Precarious Landscape exhibition.


Doctor Syntax is confused

This short story explores these ideas by mingling them with an exercise in word ordering. It was published in the Lancashire Post on Saturday April 28th 2018 and is to be found in The Atheist’s Prayer Book.


[1] For example: http://www.peterallport.com/molecules.htm

[2] Details of the exhibition from: https://twitter.com/InCertainPlaces?lang=en&lang=en


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