Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Mrs Mullett and the Cloak of Gaia: A Cumbrian Myth by Angela Locke. Bookcase. £9.
The Cloak of Gaia is wondrously grand. One sweep of its hem and all the weathers of the earth appear in rapid succession, the sun and the clouds, the moon and the stars, the wind and the rain, the tropics and the Arctic. The Cloak of Gaia is the troposphere, that narrow, slim, fragile slip of atmosphere in which we live.
That magic cloak is waved and worn by Zeus himself.
But even old father Zeus is ageing. He senses a diminution of his powers. His magical cloak is old and worn and there is a large hole developing in the hem and another in the shoulder. Zeus knows that “If these holes get any bigger, soon there will be no ozone layer left to protect the Earth.”
Zeus is trapped in the Elysium Health Farm on Olympus. The fiery, possessive Mrs Zeus keeps him there. But he has to escape. He has to mend the hole in his cloak.
He clutches a newspaper cutting. It concerns the world champion darner, a Mrs Mullett. She has beaten off all comers with her “Champion sock and Invisible Mending of two elbows on a tweed jacket.” He has left Mrs Zeus a note: “Gone to find Mrs Mullett. Best wishes, Your Beloved.”
Mrs Zeus is violently jealous - “glowing tears began to course down the terrifying if beautiful face”. She sends a delinquent cloud, Napoleon, who knows the Mulletts of old to find Mr Zeus. He has a month to find him. If he fails it will be the Disintegrator.
That ancient rivalry of the gods descends to a humble Cumbrian valley and is woven into the lives of some very ordinary people.
This is a multi-layered Cumbrian fairy-tale. The playing with the gods is imaginative, inventive and delightful. Mr Zeus can conjure up fantastic weathers and Mrs Zeus can rise up “into the sky emitting more lights than Blackpool Tower”. And the mischievous little puff of a cloud called Napoleon who gets covered in farmyard slurry is a worthy messenger for the immortals.
Down on earth is down in an upland Cumbrian valley somewhere below the mysterious Tarn of the Immortal Fish. Mr and Mrs Mullett are as Cumbrian as rum butter and a farmhouse kitchen smelling “of baking scones and warm washing”. Mrs Mullett has been “hanging these same old long johns over the same old stove” for fifty years. For fifty years she’s “cooked a Good Roast, bottle-fed them la’al orphan lambs twice a night” and no end of other chores and she asks whether it has all been worth it, whether Mr Mullett out in the fields with his tractor will remember their Golden Wedding Anniversary.
The Mulletts and the other people of the valley, poor old Ms Prendergast, Mrs Wilkinson who runs the Post Office, the vicar, the doctor and Old Ted, are affectionately observed. You know exactly the sort of people they are and you can readily imagine this small farming community as though it was yesterday.
And the extravagant plot carries its own magic, incredible yet down-to-earth, light-hearted and frivolous but also realistic and with a serious message.
Angela Locke’s earlier venture with these characters, Mr Mullett Owns a Cloud, created its own distinctive Cumbrian myth.
In Mrs Mullett and the Cloak of Gaia the gods leave Olympus and come down to Mungrisdale for a second time. It is a lovely, witty fantasy that will delight young and old alike.