Visits to the Merlin of Coombe Hill
By Phil Hall
Con lives in the house he was born into more than 60 years ago. Everyone notices it from the street; partly because it looks run down and partly because there are sometimes cats in the front garden.
One of the cats was bitten by a fox when it was a kitten and its little pink tongue hangs out. Con tells me that foxes eat kittens, but they do not eat full grown cats.
The cats are wary of people. They walk towards you on the pavement as if they were about to ask you for something and then lose confidence and dive off into the hedge.
The cats are at home in the green. The sunlight comes through and illuminates a small table. There is an orange and white cat on the table and underneath the table there is a kitten.
I was standing there, looking at the cats when he came up to me. I had to explain that I liked his cats. He told me it was his house and we starting talking about singing to the deer in the park.
Con, who looks like an ancient druid, and who has bright blue eyes and ginger hair, said:
I sing to the deer, too.
I think of Con as the Abdal of Coombe. Just as my uncle Mike is the Abdal of Yeoville. The Abdal is the person put there by God to conserve the spirit of a place and protect its soul. It’s an Arabic word.
I have two of the tallest trees in London in my back garden. He said. I have animals visiting me in search of a small piece of the wild. The people examining Google Maps are probably shocked. There is a dark green blob in the middle of suburbia.
Con had a farm in Surrey with cattle, then he had a herd of horses and offered horse-riding classes in Richmond Park. But he went out of business and took to playing the Bodhran in the streets.
He is open to friendship. Once, when I visited Con, he was with his good Peruvian friend, also a street performer; an artist. The artist had just got back from a stay in Galicia, where he survived on the earnings from his paintings; and from fishing for pulpo, (octopus) in the cold Atlantic waters.
The Peruvian artist had lived in Mexico for a while and we talked about it, but he mispronounced Popocatepetl. After I corrected him, he started referring to me as ‘The Mexican’. Which I am. Kind of.
Once Con played a trick on me. He said. A white fawn has come into my garden. Come and look, but don’t make a noise. I crept into the garden and saw the fawn and it was about five minutes before I understood that the fawn was actually a statue.
Con has memorised reams of poetry and many songs. The other day when we stood in the street outside the Methodist Cafe he sang me a military song.
My thumb stick is a great prop, you see. I can march with it and pretend it is a rifle.
Con and I like to talk about Shakespeare. In Venus and Adonis, Adonis is ravished by Venus. Con said. It is not the man who ravishes, but the Goddess. Naturally, he can recite the poem by heart.
Con has a great secret about Shakespeare which he will one day reveal to the world. He has all the proof and the evidence. Con is a great Shakespeare scholar. He is biding his time. He is considering the possibility of publishing this secret soon.
If Merlin were alive in 2023, he would be rather like Con. He would be creating a little well of life, a deep and sustaining oasis in primeval Surrey.
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