A Story by Steve Huckle
Old Man Harry lived in mountains that were as ancient as the earth itself. He didn’t like change much, so every morning his routine was the same; he’d wake, he’d wash, he’d eat his porridge, he’d brush his teeth, and then he’d settle down into a comfy chair on his veranda and smoke his pipe while watching the wildlife go about its day. He could set the time by when the jackdaws starting cawing, when the falcon would stoop upon its first pigeon and when the deer would begin grazing at the edge of the woods. So you see, Old Man Harry’s life was safe and dependable, and he liked it very much.
Then, one bright, crisp, winter morning, just as he was about to settle down to his porridge, Old Man Harry was startled out of his reverie by a knock on the door. This, most probably, wouldn’t have been anything particularly unusual to you and me, but Old Man Harry wasn’t used to visits and in his confusion, it didn’t actually occur to him to go and open the door. However, a second knock jolted Old Man Harry into action, so he went to see who had disturbed his breakfast.
Stood at the door was a rather plump man with a well-trimmed moustache. “Hello Harry!” said the man. He was brandishing a gleaming cane, wearing a freshly pressed overcoat, very shiny shoes and sporting a rather dapper top hat. This was Raphael, Old Man Harry’s city-gent cousin, who was a rather well-appointed gentleman used to good company, fine food, and the very best tea that could be found on the whole Indian Continent. “I’ve got a few days in-between one or two very important meetings, and I thought a breath of fresh country air would recharge my batteries nicely!” blustered Raphael as he bundled his way into the humble home. But before getting too far inside, Raphael stopped, abruptly: “Is this where you live?” he asked Old Man Harry, in a manner that implied he didn’t think much of it at all. Indeed, for the rest of Raphael’s stay, Old Man Harry got the impression that his cousin didn’t like much about country life since Raphael spent most of his time complaining about the mud, the wind, the rickety old bed and the simple home-cooked food (which was really rather good). Moreover, Raphael kept repeating, again and again, that life was much more refined and sophisticated in the big city. So when Raphael finally left, a few days later, he was as glad to go as Old Man Harry was to hear the end of his cousin’s constant complaining.
The next morning, Old Man Harry was at his breakfast table about to tuck into his porridge, when he noticed a pile of papers, marked: VERY IMPORTANT, on the floor next to the bed where Raphael had been sleeping. Old Man Harry was a good man and so he instantly began worrying that his cousin’s meetings would not go well without the papers. So despite all of Raphael’s grumblings and mutterings and that Old Man Harry was rather glad to see the back of his cousin, he resolved to return the papers. Now, as you know, Old Man Harry lived in the mountains, and this was far away from any postal service. There was only one thing to do; he would have to deliver the papers personally.
So the very next day, Old Man Harry found himself on a train for the first time in his very very long life. He loved everything about the train; there was the rhythm of the carriages as they rattled along the track: “Tickety, tackity, wickety wack. Clickety, clackety, sickety, sack”. Then there were the views that rushed by; valleys, fields, rivers, and hills. Old Man Harry enjoyed the tea that was served by the attendant and the happy sound of the playing children, who were clearly loving the ride just as much as he was.
Eventually, they arrived at a big city. After checking into the room where he was going to spend the night, Old Man Harry decided to take a stroll down the busy boulevard that led to the city’s main square. He quickly realised that no-one, other than he, was sporting a long grey beard. By the time he had made the main square, Old Man Harry had understood why, because his beard was full to the brim with all the dirt and grime of the hustle and bustle of the city streets. So the next morning, straight after breakfast, he went to the nearest barber and shaved off his beard. Afterwards, Old Man Harry felt so clean and fresh, he wondered why he had ever worn a beard in the first place! The only thing Old Man Harry missed about it was there was nowhere to save some of his dinner for later.
Old Man Harry then visited the city’s bus station and was soon on a coach for the first time in his very very long life. He enjoyed the journey just as much as the train and passed most of the time chatting to the very friendly old lady to whom he was sat next. Otherwise, Old Man Harry spent his time enjoying a film (he had never seen a film before) and, as the coach rushed by, watching the fascinating people go about their lives. So despite the journey taking many hours, to Old Man Harry it seemed to take no time at all.
Before he knew it, Old Man Harry had arrived at the next city where he was to spend the night. Just as before, as soon as he had checked-in to his hotel room, Old Man Harry strolled to the main square. This time, he noticed how well-dressed everyone was; the ladies in their beautiful flowing dresses, and the men in their well-pressed shirts and clean-cut suits. He soon resolved to discard his dusty old mountain jacket and had ventured into a tailor, who fitted him out with the latest fashion. Old Man Harry was very comfortable indeed in his new attire; he looked resplendent in collar and tie, waste-coat, jacket and trousers and it wasn’t long before you would have mistaken him for a man very used to sporting such fine cloth. Indeed, the only thing Old Man Harry missed about his mountain wear was there was no hole in the seat of his pants, so it wasn’t quite so easy to scratch his bottom.
After a good night’s rest, Old Man Harry made his way to the city port to catch a ship. In his very very long life, Old Man Harry had never been on a boat, so imagine his excitement when he had boarded and the captain had tooted a loud horn to signal departure. He enjoyed the trip very much; watching the waves break around the bow and the dolphins ride in their wake. Old Man Harry enjoyed the fresh sea breeze and the feeling of space and freedom he got from looking out to the horizon, many miles distant. He spent an age lost meditating on an albatross seemingly guiding their way as it glided on the winds of the seas ahead of the ship.
Soon the ship had docked and Old Man Harry had disembarked and checked into his room. This time on his evening stroll, Old Man Harry noticed everyone’s shoes; the ladies in their glamorous high heels, and the men in highly polished brogues. He decided they looked magnificent and that he must have a pair of elegant shoes for himself, so he had soon swapped his battered old mountain boots for the latest fashion in Italian footwear. He loved the feeling of soft leather that cushioned every step he took. In fact, the only thing he missed was the convenient hole that made it oh so easy to scratch his rather annoying bunions.
The next morning, Old Man Harry was at the airport to catch a flight to where his cousin lived. In his very very long life, Old Man Harry had never been on an aeroplane. So you can imagine his excitement as the plane rushed down the runway and leapt into the air. Old Man Harry was besotted by the sun glistening off the clouds far below. But he was soon shaken from his reverie by the thrill of the aircraft’s landing.
Old Man Harry had soon made his way through passport control and was on his way to his cousin’s house. He quickly noticed that all the men were wearing rather dapper looking bowler hats and brandishing elegant canes, and not wishing to look out of place, he bought himself just the same. In fact, by the time Old Man Harry had arrived at his cousin Raphael’s, he looked as smart as any city gentleman you could ever imagine (and nothing like an old man of the mountains). Indeed, Raphael didn’t recognise his cousin at all! Instead, he mistook him for a successful businessman and assumed he was some important dignitary. So Raphael showed Old Man Harry into the reception, fed him the finest cheeses and served him the most delicate Indian tea, and begged his guest to stay the night. Since Old Man Harry had not yet found a room, he decided to partake of his cousin’s hospitality and play along for a little while longer. So he spent the night in his cousin’s very grand Guest Room and enjoyed an excellent sleep in the magnificent, comfortable bed.
However, the next morning in the Breakfast Room (well-heeled city gents have such things, as well as Games Rooms and Libraries), Old Man Harry produced the VERY IMPORTANT papers that Raphael had left behind (which turned out not to be quite so important after all). He then owned up to who he actually was and told Raphael all about his travels and how it came to pass that he was now dressed in such splendid clothes.
Raphael was astounded; he had imagined himself to be a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, city socialite, and yet here was his cousin (who he had imagined as a poor country bumpkin) embracing every change thrown at him. With relish too! Raphael quickly realised that it was he who had not accepted change when he had judged Old Man Harry to live in a hovel.
Realising he had much to learn from his cousin, Raphael soon sold up everything and returned with Old Man Harry to live a simple life on the mountain. This time, he embraced the change with all his heart and saw the beauty of all of his magnificent natural surroundings and delighted in the rhythm of nature, just as his cousin did.
So it came to pass, many many years later, that Raphael and Old Man Harry were sat on their veranda admiring the agile falcon stoop on its prey. Raphael looked kindly at his cousin, and remarked: “Actually, nothing much changed for you did it!” Harry looked down at his rather worn fine Italian shoes, fingered the slightly tatty waste coat of his suit and doffed his somewhat misshapen bowler hat: “Well, there were some changes,” he replied, smiling. But then he looked out across to the deer feeding on the threshold of the woods, and said: “But some things just simply aren’t worth changing”. Raphael laughed in agreement. By then, he and old Man Harry had become the greatest of friends, and that was the very best change of all.