This time we did something a bit different. We had to write the story of a nursery rhyme. We had to use all the elements that made up the rhyme, but we had to pretend that everything was real. I decided to write about "Mary, Mary, quite contrary..." partly because it is quite short (which I felt would make the task easier) and partly because I thought of a dirty meaning for the rhyme, and that tickled my sense of humour.
After youve been at sea for a few weeks, youve really got only one thing on your mind when your ship comes into port. "How are you planning on spending your shore leave?" Nathan asked me as we moored at the Liverpool docks.
"As soon as the Captain lets us go ashore Im heading straight for Contrary Marys place," I told him.
"Whats Contrary Marys?" asked Nathan.
I stared at him, astonished. "Have you honestly never heard of Contrary Marys?" I asked. "Its only the best bordello in the whole of Liverpool. I thought everybody knew about it."
"Ive never been to Liverpool before," said Nathan. "I dont really know anything about its attractions."
"Why dont you come with me?" I asked. "Ill see you right. Honestly, you havent lived if youve never been to Contrary Marys."
"Sounds good," said Nathan, rubbing his hands together. "Lets do it."
"Mind you," I said, "she is a little bit eccentric."
"Who is?" asked Nathan.
"Contrary Mary," I said. "She puts all the profits from her business back into her garden. Its the only thing she really cares about. Her prize winning roses are just stupendous."
"Everybody has to have a hobby," said Nathan. "I cant see anything wrong with having a nice garden."
"Neither can I," I said. "But she does take it a bit to extremes. She gives all her customers a fifty percent discount if they go and pee on her roses when theyve finished doing their errr main business of the evening."
"That sounds rather eccentric," said Nathan. "Why does she do that?"
"She says that male urine is the very best fertilizer a rose can have," I explained. "Female urine doesnt work nearly as well, apparently. I imagine its something to do with hormones." Nathan made a very obvious and rather tasteless joke which I ignored. "Clearly shes doing something right," I continued. "Her whole garden is just spectacular, and the roses are something else again. Ive watered them a lot over the years. After all, a fifty percent discount is not something to be sneezed at."
"Dont you have to be careful of the thorns?" asked Nathan.
"Not really," I said. "Youll be fine as long as you dont get too close to the pricks."
Nathan made another very obvious and rather tasteless joke. I ignored him again. "Why are you ignoring my very obvious and rather tasteless jokes?" asked Nathan. "You laughed at them in Kuala Lumpur."
"We arent in Kuala Lumpur any more," I pointed out, "and Contrary Marys is a much more high class establishment than that rather dubious knocking shop you dragged me to when we docked there."
"Oh," said Nathan.
* * * *
We arrived at Contrary Marys just after 8.00 oclock in the evening. The cockle shells strewn over the path that twisted its way to the entrance crunched under our feet as we walked. When we reached the front door I announced our arrival by ringing the carillon of silver bells that hung from it. Mary herself answered the door. "Terry!" she shrieked as she recognised me. "I havent seen you in ages! Where have you been?" She gave me a huge hug which I returned with interest. Im very fond of Mary. She reminds me of my mum.
"Here and there," I said, answering her question, "And back again. Mary, this is Nathan. Hes a shipmate of mine."
"Hello Nathan," said Mary warmly. "Its nice to meet you. Come in, both of you, and take the weight off your feet."
She led us into a sumptuously furnished lounge where pretty girls sat all in a row, chatting among themselves and taking occasional sips from champagne flutes that were probably full of soda water. Music played softly in the background; something classical with a lot of strings. There were flowers in vases and the soft scent of lavender drifted in the air.
"Can I get you a drink from the bar?" asked Mary. "Youll definitely need it if you want to water the roses later on."
I asked for a beer and Nathan ordered a glass of wine. When wed finished drinking, we walked over to the row of pretty girls. Nathan held out his hand to the first girl. She smiled at him and took his hand in hers. They walked upstairs together. Then, spoiled for choice, I dithered for a few seconds before I finally chose the girl who was now at the head of the row.
The evening passed slowly and delightfully. Nathan and I caught up with each other again an hour or so later, out in the garden. While we watered the roses, we compared notes and we agreed that wed both had a great time. "The roses will be delighted with us," I said, "and so will Mary."
"Im sure they will," agreed Nathan. "And the discount will be good for my wallet. I just wish it didnt hurt quite so much when I pee. Id almost rather not water the roses and pay the full price instead."
"How long have you been hurting?" I asked, edging away from him in case I got splashed.
"Ever since Kuala Lumpur," he admitted.
"Im going back in to get another beer," I said. "Then maybe Ill water the roses again later."
"Im done for the evening," said Nathan. "Ill see you back at the ship."
When I got back inside, I went over to Mary and explained what Id learned in the garden. Mary was delighted. "Oh, thats wonderful!" she said. "All those bacteria will add a nice bit of body to the soil. The roses will absolutely love it."
"Shouldnt you warn the row of pretty maids?" I asked.
"Why?" asked Mary, sounding puzzled.
"I know you dont normally insist on the men taking precautions," I said, "but perhaps you should. At least until you know whether or not the girls are still clean."
"I cant do that," said Mary firmly. "Its against the rules."
"Rules?" I asked. "What rules?"
"Im living in a nursery rhyme," said Mary. "Surely you must have realised that by now."
"Yes," I said tentatively. "But whats that got to do with anything?"
"Nursery rhymes codify the rules and regulations that govern the lives of people like me and my girls," explained Mary. "All nursery rhymes are actually firm instructions which have the force of law as far as we are concerned. I will agree that interpreting the law embodied in the rhymes is sometimes difficult because the rhymes themselves can be ambiguous. But that just means that weve often got a bit of wiggle room. Unfortunately the rhyme that describes the rules of Contrary Marys house is quite unambiguous. So therefore my pretty maids and I have absolutely no choice at all about the way we have to behave."
"What nursery rhyme is that?" I asked. "Ive been racking my brains but I cant think of any nursery rhyme that would stop the girls from telling their customers to take precautions."
Mary giggled. "Its this one," she said. And, in a little sing-song voice she recited:
"Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get the poor postman a letter.
But when she got there
The cupboard was bare.
So they did it without.
It was better!"