Wednesday, 24 November 2010

And just how long have you been here?

A small queue had formed in front of the Village Shop one Sunday morning, everyone eager for their copies of the Sunday papers - desperate to see what might have happened in the world outside, since yesterday.

The Knights (as usual) were at the front of the queue, followed by Daisy. The door opened and they all rushed eagerly in.

"Before I forget," said Percy handing me a cheque "A gentleman gave this to me and asked me to pass it on to you - he was in a hurry to get to Church otherwise he might have stopped to give it to you himself."
I took the proffered cheque, glanced at the signature and popped it into the till.
"Oh thank you very much Mr. M." I smiled back.
"I think he said his name was Dr. R" He added, then looking at Daisy for support said "Is that what he said Daisy?"
Daisy looked down her long nose and sneered, "I have no idea who he said he was - he wasn't speaking to me. I wouldn't know him from Adam, I feel as if the whole village is filling up with Newcomers."
"It's alright Mr. M, his name is on the bottom of the cheque - it was Dr. R." I said trying to comfort the old boy, clearly surprised by Daisys outburst. I looked at Daisy and added sarcastically "He's only lived here for eighteen years."
"Oh," said Daisy, quite unabashed, "I told you the place is filling up with outsiders, it gets so you barely see a soul you recognise walking down the street!"

As she moved away, little Eva plonked her papers on the counter and looked me in the eye, "Take no notice dear," she said kindly "Daisy has only been here since the War, she married into the village then - shes from.." and then cast a withering glance at Daisy "Newdigate."
I nodded knowingly, Newdigate was at least 5 miles away and the War only ended sixty odd years ago!

Anne was next to be served. She tutted audibly, "Newcomers?" she looked scornfully at the women who had stepped aside to wait for her "My husbands great-grandmother was born in this village! He can tell you a thing or two about Newcomers."

All three left the shop together, still discussing "The Invasion", I looked up at the next customer, Chairman of the Parish Council - keeper of the Village Archives - "Don't you start." I warned.
He shrugged, "I daren't, Anne's husband's great-grandmother was fifteen years older than mine, his credentials are much longer!"

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Death Row

A wealthy land-owner bequeathed some land to the Council to build cottages specifically for villagers who had spent their lives in service in the "Big Houses", (living in tithe cottages) finding themselves homeless at the end of their working lives. The street became known as Gods Waiting Room or more unkindly (but just as accurately)Death Row.

One Bank Holiday Monday the paper boy was away on holiday so I took the short walk down Death Row, my shadow - the Border Collie - beside me.

A Daily Express for Jack and Esme. Esme, born and bred in the village, Jack moving in after they were married - Jack was quite deaf and suffering from dementia, he shook as he walked on account of some strapnel being left in his legs after an explosion during the War. Jack was sent down to the shop every Saturday morning with a simple shopping list, he managed most things on it but sometimes needed help finding items, especially if we had rearranged the shelves. Esme became ill with cancer, Jack had to go into a home - Esme made a valiant recovery but after a month or so in the home Jack had forgotten who she was, how do you forget the person you lived with for over sixty years? Jack didn't last long in the home, poor Esme never quite forgave herself for not being able to look after him on her own.

No need to deliver to Young George next door, a mischievous widower, every morning he would be waiting patiently outside for the shop to open, with his friend Percy from a couple of doors down. Georges middle name was Lancelot, so he and Percy became The Knights. George carried a ladies handbag (which had belonged to his late wife), he didn't seem to think it was at all unusual. Every winter George joined his son and his son's "friend" for a month in Portugal; on his return I said how nice it must have been eating all that lovely Portuguese food - he looked at me in horror. Apparently he had taken tins of food from home to see him through the month, although he did concede that they made quite nice bread over there.

Next door to Young George was blind Dot. She had lived in the village most of her life and for many years ran the tearooms opposite the Forge. All the old boys in the street fussed over Dot but she was having none of it - a wonderful independent, (well as independent as you could be when you were blind) old girl, but she would rely on them to come in and read the interesting articles from the paper to her!

Percy, the other half of the Knights, lived on the other side of Dot. In his late eighties he still rose at the crack of dawn, still worked as a gardener for an even older lady in the nearest town and still drove his old car, very slowly. Percy had been a farm hand, a reserved occupation, during the War - so all his War stories were about the hardships he had endured as a young man on the land. After the War he became a milkman and then a market gardener. Percys wife was wheel-chair bound and suffered with "her nerves", Percy did everything for her, cooked, shopped and cleaned. He came into the shop the day after she died, I said how sorry I was to hear his news. He looked quite surprised "Oh did you know her then?" he asked - the truth was I didn't, I had never seen her. "We were married for over 65 years," he said "So I suppose I will miss having her around." He never mentioned her again, but when his cat died he was heartbroken.

Down the path to the next house, push a copy of The Sun through Alf Mackies door; Mackie was a Scot, and although he had never returned to live in Scotland after the War he still spoke with a broad accent. He'd been a POW in Changi during the War, one of the slave labourers who built the Burma railway. Mackie came into the shop every Monday afternoon, collected his pensions, paid his newspaper bill, bought a few groceries and regaled us with tales of his past. Not all his stories were about the War, after his wife died (and apparently before) Mackie was renowned for being a ladies man, he'd been a postman and had plenty of "opportunities" for meeting women on their own, "in need of a bit of company". Every week he carefully counted his pension, tucked it away into his pocket and asked "Hae ye got yar bag packed then lassie?" Sean would look up and he'd wink at me "Oh Lord I didna see ya there Sean, but ya'll know shes all set to run away wi' me!" he'd pat his pocket "It's ma money she's after." In his eighties and still working one of the "Big Houses", opening and closing the gate for the lady of the house when she went out riding, looking after the cats and house-sitting for them when the owners went away. He had a son and two fine handsome grandsons; he was always telling me about the fortune they would inherit from him when he died. I'm sure it was true too - he collected 3 pensions from the post office every week and got paid for his gate-opening job! One day Mackie came into his little cottage to find he had been broken into, nothing taken but that act destroyed him - he moved out of the village shortly afterwards, into sheltered accommodation, where he sat staring at the walls waiting for the Grim Reaper.

Mr. Whippet lived next door - so named because he kept several of them. A thin, wheezing man who smoked a hundred fags a day, or so it seemed. He never got over the death of his wife, he became belligerent and argumentative, fell out with neighbours and his only daughter the year he died. She didn't even come to the cottage to sort out his belongings - just left it all for the Council to do.

A Daily Express for Old George. Old George in his mid nineties, too young for the first War, too old for the Second - or was he? He hobbled down to the shop on his ulcerated legs every week to pay his paper bill and post his winning ticket in the Readers Digest Lottery. He told us wild improbable stories about his war-years, a pilot stationed in North Africa. We put his inaccurate ramblings down to old age! One day he fell and broke his hip, whilst waiting for his friend to collect him for his weekly trip to the pub, he insisted on going to the pub - he knew it would be his last trip, he bought a round then went noisily off to hospital. They told him he was not capable of looking after himself and needed to be put into a home. He called in his solicitor that afternoon, wrote his will and died the next day. The Rector had to research his life story for the Eulogy and found out that George had indeed been too old to serve in the Second War - he had been an artist, a very famous one - painting the posters for West-End Shows, his little house was full of them! In his dotage he had taken on the persona of his younger brother, a pilot in the Second World War - killed in action.

A Daily Telegraph for Minnie Mouse - a tiny frail old lady who collected magazines, cut them up and made them into scrap books to take to Old Peoples Homes. When her husband died she was gifted a television, the first she had ever been allowed to own, and sat watching re-runs of Little House on the Prairie. The sweetest old girl you would ever meet, one night someone broke into her house whilst she was eating her dinner; quick as a flash she switched off the lights, rang the alarm, and clobbered the intruder. But it left her shaken and ate away at her confidence. It wasn't long before she was carted off to the Old Peoples home, to sit and look at the scrap-books?

Manfred and Hannah next along the path - they didn't take a paper; their world was each other, they had no need to know what went on in the other world. When Manfred died poor old Hannah went quite mad, she didn't stand a chance without him.

A Daily Express for Cissy - Cissy who had no children of her own, having spent all her life waiting hand and foot on Frank, her large, domineering husband. Frank who spent his life pouring after bulb catalogues, growing and showing the most beautiful flowers in the row. Frank who sat in a wheel chair, even though he was perfectly able to walk just enjoyed that poor Cissy had to push him around. When Frank died Cissy sat in her kitchen for hours on end staring at the catalogues with unseeing eyes - the papers piled up behind the door.

The Mirror for Gladys, and a small bottle of whiskey to put on the tab, paid off on pension day. Gladys always glammed herself up for a trip on the bus into town, a nice red jacket and hair coiffured. Invited Paul in every afternoon, the pair of them getting as drunk as a lords, eventually taken off to sheltered accommodation after she was found wandering around the street in her nightie in the winter.

The Mirror for Wynne - Wynne who liked her G and T, with a slice of lemon if you don't mind. Ran away from hubby number one, outlived number two; a hoard of children and grandchildren all living close by, always popping into the shop to settle Mums account.

A TV Quick, once a week, for Old Doris next door. Old Doris? Of course she was old she lived on Death Row - but Doris was the oldest, nearly 100 and still hopping on and off the bus like an eighty year old. As she approached her birthday it was discovered there was a mistake... someone checked her birth certificate, she was a year younger than they thought! The daughter and her husband moved into the tiny one-bedroomed cottage with her, shoved her into the broom cupboard and persuaded her to challenge the Council into letting her buy the property - she won the right to buy it, the first on that row to ever be sold. She then willed it to the daughter, any guesses how long she would last in the broom cupboard?

No paper for Charlie on the end. Served his time in India, loved curries - every week he came in to collect his pension and buy stamps to pay his phone bill and electricity bill. His arms were decorated with old faded tattoos, he surprised himself each year when his birthday came around again. One week he came in to collect his pension "No stamps today love.. I won't be around when they send the next bill, leave it to someone else to sort out." I laughed at his joke, then saw he was quite serious.

As the old people died off the Council decided that they could no longer keep the cottages just for the elderly and started moving younger strangers into the village. It caused resentment amongst those coming up to the age that thought they might be entitled to them, even more when those that moved in started buying them.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Fire! Fire!

Country Folk have little regard for the rules and regulations that govern the lives of Townies - and the "no-burning your rubbish in your own back garden" nonsense was blatantly ignored by all in the village; surely we couldn't really be expected to pay the council to come out, their huge silly trucks blocking the narrow lanes for hours, to remove rubbish that would take less than twenty minutes to burn away?

One day as I was walking my dogs through the neighbouring yard I spotted the Rector piling papers into an old oil drum at the bottom of his garden. Now the Rector was really a Townie but he was trying hard to embrace the traditions of the village - he had piled the oil drum high with papers and packaging. As I passed by I stopped to pass the time of day, share a joke. Just as I was moving off a glint caught my eye, a small can of petrol lying on the grass beside the oil drum.

"No!" I screamed to the Rector as I watched him light a match in slow motion and fling it into the oil drum....

"Run!" I shouted to the dogs as the oil drum whooshed into life, throwing the Rector off his feet....

An unholy oath sprang from the Rectors lips as he landed on his bottom, his beard singeing, flames leaping from the oil drum.

"You alright?" I asked - he nodded in embarrassment, he wasn't physically injured, just bruised pride that I had witnessed the scene; knowing that the story would be repeated - with embellishments for dramatic effect, and trying to remember the curse he had uttered, he wondered if he would ever shake off "That bloody Townie" appendage.

I first wrote this story in reply to Magpie Tales prompt - but as it was a true story I thought I could get away with re-posting it here where it really belongs.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Should You Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth?

The Heath was owned by the National Trust, it had been bequeathed years ago by the father of one of our worthies. The National Trust employed a Warden - living with his family in the aptly named Wardens Cottage, just behind the cricket green, opposite the Heaths carpark.

Gordon the Warden was a tall, very tall - just one inch off being categorised as a giant - thin man with long black hair and a thick bushy black beard. So thick was his beard and hair that one day hot summers day (whilst out walking the dogs) I wondered who it was walking towards me with a balaclava on!

Anyway enough said about poor old Gordons beard. He was a pleasant friendly man, he spoke with a slow West Country drawl and like me grew most of his vegetables. We had a lot of time for Gordon and his wife, Debbie, so it came as no surprise when we were invited to Gordons 40th birthday - a Surprise 40th Birthday Party Barn Dance, being held in one of Ted Cross' spare barns. Poor Debbie was having a devil of a time keeping the whole thing a surprise, Gordon was always popping up when he was least expected and to be honest he was getting a little miffed that Debbie was not making a big enoough fuss of his birthday as he thought it deserved. In the week leading up to the party a steady stream of party guests visited the tearoom, with plates of food and drink to be hidden in our fridges and freezers before the Great Day. Gordons mother arrived a few days before hand to take control and keep Gordon occupied... but Gordon smelt a rat and started behaving badly - the day before the Great Day I think poor Debbie was on the verge of leaving him! (I jest but you get the picture)

Anyway the day arrived and friends rallied around got everything organised and stood in the dark waiting for the great moment. Quite what Debbie said to lure him out in the dark to an old barn standing in the middle of a field that nobody, but dear old Ted, had access to is beyond me - but there you go it happened and Gordon was suitably surprised - the band struck up and a great party was had by one and all.

Sorry that wasn't the actual story, just the background. The party guests were mostly fellow villagers, a few National Trust wardeny types and family that had travelled up from the West Country. So over a few glasses of beer, home-made pasties and country music we were cornered by one of the village "characters" a strange looking man, with wild staring eyes, a frightfully long pedigree and enormously long double-barrelled name to match. He whispered to us in a conspirtorial way that he was having to cull a few feral sheep (feral sheep? For Gods sake what is a feral sheep?) he couldn't bury the wretches on his land anymore (new EU regulations), he couldn't sell the meat (they weren't being slaughtered in a slaughter house), it was going to cost him a small fortune to have them removed and incinerated, did we want one? "Of course" said Sean, the tearoom freezer had plenty of room now that all of Gordons party goodies had been removed. It was a chance conversation and when nothing appeared the following week we weren't really disappointed.

About a month later I was working in the shop when I saw the battered utility truck belonging to aforementioned nutter whizz into our carpark. In the time it took for the truck to screech around it was hurtling back out down the road again. I thought nothing more of it - about an hour later Sean came in from deliveries.

"Whats that great big black bag doing in the garden?" he asked.
"Black bag?" I replied blankly.
"Oh typical some stupid sod has dumped a black bag of rubbish into the garden." He stormed off to investigate. He came back minutes later shaking his head.
"Theres a bloody sheep in that bag."
Ahh so that was what his nutter-ship was doing in the car park.
"Well get it into the freezer quickly."
"I can't put it into the freezer - its a whole bloody sheep!"

Now I don't know what we were both expecting but to have a whole dead sheep chucked over the garden wall was not quite how we had interpreted the conversation at Gordons party. Neat little piles of chops and legs neatly jointed was what I had in mind. Sean spent the rest of the day rigging up ladders, hooks and ropes in order to winch the beast up with - although Sean was a big strong bloke a whole sheep was quite cumbersome for him to haul around and hook up, whilst keeping a couple of very intrigued dogs at bay. He chopped the beasts head off, gutted it and began the task of skinning it (all skills he had acquired working in the African bush for De Beers quarter of a century beforehand). The kids came home from school and turned into the yard to be greeted by this weird contraption with a sheep hanging from it, the Ridgeback running around with the head in her mouth and the Collie lying watching, (in only the way a Collie can), their father stripped down to the his shorts covered in blood, brandishing an extremely offensive weapon. I was on the vegetable patch pretending it was a perfectly normal rural sight.
An hour or so later and Sean had managed to cut the sheep up into some pretty decent joints and chops - but we weren't happy, the kids didn't want to eat anything their father had butchered, so we fired up the braai and cooked the lot there and then, and the dogs fed happily off it for a couple of weeks. The rest of the carcass we burnt.

It seems that these gifts had been distributed around the village to most of the guests at Gordons party - Pete Osborne, a villager who once worked in the local slaughterhouse, had been called in by all the others - he had spent a day skinning and gutting the poor beasts and been given a leg by each of them. His wife had roasted one of them for dinner that night. Pete had cut into it and then phoned everybody he had worked for and told them to throw it all away immediately. Maybe our nuttership wasn't such a nutter after all - he had disposed of 20 unwanted carcasses for the cost of driving around the village.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Show Chooks

One of our friends in the village bred and "showed" chickens. A hitherto unknown hobby made a sudden impact upon our lives when she suggested that our garden would be an ideal environment for her aged champions to retire to.

We were given an old coop that we patched up just in time for our first delivery of retirees. Seven fussy old girls and two cockerels. One cockerel is normally enough for any garden but one of them was a Dorking - a large docile bird aptly named Dork, the other Chicken Supreme , a splendid looking silver Egyptian Fayomi, strutted around his domain without bothering to cast a glance in poor old Dorks direction. The seven old beauty queens were (our son and daughter took on the responsibility of naming them) - Bobbsy-Bob, an Old-English black-hen (she, we were reliably informed had been placed 3rd in the National "Wet Feathered" Championships), Kentucky Fried (a bustling, bossy white hen), Chicken formerly known as Mary (always referred to by her full title) Mable (the most adventurous and luckiest hen ever), Rosa (a Chilean variety with rosy red cheeks) one-eyed Iris and Lily.

Having never kept chooks before we found their behaviour fascinating; they were let out of their coop each morning - Chicken Supreme, always the first one out, would begin his morning by raping each of the hens as soon as he could - Dork would shuffle off, preferring not to be involved in this barbarity. Once the girls had satisfied his lust Chicken Supreme would fly to the gate and begin his crowing, he was a vile, conceited, boastful specimen! He knew no boundaries and would boldly march into the kitchen then up the stairs to crow and shout from the banisters. He started to become much too bold and aggressive - as I hung out the washing he would fly at me brandishing his spurs and beak. I must have looked a sight hanging out the washing with one hand, fending this brute off with a broom handle in the other. Eventually I tired and complained to our benefactor.
"Oh for goodness sake stop being such a wimp." she told me, "You just have to be firm."
I walked out with more purpose, even took the dogs out with me for protection, but that damn rooster just saw this as an even greater challenge. The next time my friend came over I insisted she come to witness his behaviour. He eyed her up menacingly, but kept his distance,
"See, " she smirked "He knows whose boss."
She shook her head and turned her back, it all happened so quickly I can't say for certain now the correct sequence of events, maybe as she shook her head her hat fell off and she bent to pick it up or Chicken Supreme took a flying leap at her and knocked it off? Whichever he was suddenly on her scratching and pecking before she had a chance to defend herself, she shook him off and clutched the back of her neck and as she took her hand away I saw blood.
"Oh my God!" I exclaimed, secretly pleased, she really shouldn't have been so smug. "Here let me..."
"You little sh..." she cried, and before I could say another word she had grabbed her assailant and wrung his neck. I watched in horror as his body flopped into a lifeless rag. My friend raised a wry smile "Well, " she said staring me straight in the eye, "You just have to be firm. Now you don't mind if I take him home for my Lurchers do you?"

She bought us another cockerel the next morning, a golden Fayomi, Kataff. He was an absolute gent compared to his predecessor and lived happily in the garden for four or five years.
The chooks were easily tamed - Sean would call to them from the kitchen door, they would hurtle down the path, jostling each other in their haste to reach his open hand filled with pellets for them to feed off. He would stroke them and talk to them softly, telling them each which sort of sauce he would like them to be served up with. Every time he walked into the garden a little line of chooks would follow him, blissfully unaware of his evil intentions.

We kept a succession of hens for the next six years, they rewarded us with four or five eggs a day and hours of amusement, as they scritched and scratched over the whole garden. They turned my soil over in the vegetable patch every spring - but had to be chased off and netted out once the seeds were in the ground. Mabel the intrepid explorer escaped with monotonous regularity into the yard next door to rummage in the manure heap for worms, Bobbsy-Bob fended off foxes from her chicks, Lily got broody and made nests in the most unlikely of places, Kentucky Fried fussed and clucked and kept them all in order. One by the one they died or strayed too far into Mr. Foxes unforgiving reach - the last two Lily and Kataff wandering around together, an inseparable pair, ended up a little pile of feathers.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

More Neighbourly Love

The village was located in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - that's to say the area that it was situated in was outstandingly beautiful and not the people who lived in it. I came to understand that people who live in these places want to preserve it at all costs, not because of any altruistic love of nature but because it kept the price of their property ridiculously inflated.

The biggest attraction to the village was the Heath, now fully owned and under the so-called protection of the National Trust. On the borders of the Heath were a few very large rambling properties. The two end houses were owned by the son (and subsequently brother) of a peer - the other by an extremely kind conscientious doctor and his eccentric wife. The eccentric wife kept geese, a number of cats and bees; the peers brother kept piles of rubbish.

The peers brother and the eccentric wife hated each other with a passion; they hadn't always hated each other but one day a goose was found run over on the path leading to the peers brothers house and although he didn't admit to committing the crime his answer to the rather direct question "You bastard have you killed my goose?" was open to interpretation "I honked my horn and I couldn't see if it had moved."

The National Trust were responsible for maintaining the private road that led to these two houses - which meant that they were never repaired. The two neighbours bickered about everything else so it came as no surprise that they could not agree upon who was responsible for maintaining each section of the road. Of the four houses on the road two were happy to get a contractor in and split the cost between them but the other half were not. The peers brother decided to take matters into his own hands and one afternoon arrived home with a couple of buckets full of builders rubble to fill the pot holes in with. He spent the next day filling in every pot-hole on the road, much to his chagrin he had to include the potholes in front of the doctors house because it was before his own. The eccentric wife watched him from the window on the upstairs landing, occasionally throwing it open to hurl abuse at him. He studiously ignored her, but was spotted a couple of times shaking his fist at her and muttering "Crazy old witch."

Imagine his anger the next morning, when he took his car out of the drive and drove up the road, only to find the stretch outside his neighbours home was full of potholes once again. Smiling at her garden gate stood the eccentric wife, her waist length gray fluttering in the morning breeze, the builders rubble neatly placed in two piles at her feet.
"What the hell is going on here?" Spluttered the peers brother.
"I like my pot-holes, they serve as speed bumps when idiots who can't see geese drive like maniacs past my house."

This battle went on every six months for the 10 years that we lived in the village.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Neighbourly Love

The trouble with fences is that they don't last forever and when they start to crumble they need to be replaced; it happens (with montonous regularity) that the new fence isn't placed in exactly the same place as the old one - giving the person replacing it an extra few inches of land, until the fence needs replacing again....

And so began the dispute between one very large land owner and one not so large owner. Mr. Small replaced a fence in one of his fields but in doing so inadvertently misplaced the boundary - Mr. Larges son spotted the mistake and took it upon himself to rectify it. He chose not to do this under cover of darkness, so was seen by a number of people but only one stopped to talk to him. The village post-mistress out walking her dogs (again!) saw him, passed the time of day and then wondered off, the conversation forgotten, or so she thought.

A few weeks later she was attending a dinner party, Mr and Mrs Large were also there. During the course of the evening Mrs. Large suggested, well more than suggested, that the post-mistress had been in contact with Mr Small - the post-mistress could barely remember the incident, she had no idea who Mr. Small was (he didn't live in the village at that time) so she corrected Mrs. Large. It seemed that Mr. Small was going to seek redress through official channels - Mr. Large accepted that his son was in the wrong and offered to replace the fence, along the correct boundary this time, but Mr. Small was not a man to be trifled with, he was a man wronged and his outrage knew no bounds!

Whilst Mr. Large was a friendly and reasonable man, Mrs. Large was a lady with time and money on her hands. Over the course of the next 3 years everyone in the village became involved, evidence was collected, statements were taken, photographs were produced, maps drawn up, legal fees mounted.

Of course during the 3 years life also carried on - Mr Larges son got married and bought a little house in the village, the house was next door but one to the house Mr. Small let out to tenants and it backed onto the field Mr. Small owned. With the mounting legal costs Mr. Small was forced to sell his home, give his tenants notice and move into the village - into the house next door but one to Mr. Larges son, backing onto the field he owned.

Eventually Mr Small and Mr Large faced each other in Court and despite the best lawyers that money could buy Mr Large lost the case and in doing so was forced to pay Mr Smalls legal costs. Mr. Small was very excited he had struck a blow for small people!

Not long after the dispute was finally over some horses in Mr. Smalls field mysteriously kicked down a boundary fence and trampled into Mr. Larges sons garden - it came as no surprise to anyone that the damage they caused amounted to roughly the same as Mr. Smalls legal costs and a bit more.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Great Fire and the Klu Klux Klan

The first black family moved quietly into the village, well mother and two young daughters. She was the housekeeper of Mr Gordon Ramsay (not his real name obviously) who lived just behind the shop between the village pub and the Rectors house. The house was called "The Bungalow" and from the front looked like any other smallish house in the village - but that was deceptive, in the garden was a full sized swimming pool, a large vegetable plot, immaculately maintained lawns, the house was split levelled, a warren of bedrooms and massive living area leading into a well furnished games room. Gordon Ramsay had plenty of money to spare!

Gordon was a nasty, unpleasant man; he had been crippled in a car accident a few years before he moved to the village and we only knew him as a bitter, twisted individual. Before the accident he had made a fortune (rumour had it) as an Eastend gangster - his demeanour was still that of one - whats the expression? "You can take the gangster out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of the gangster."

He threw wild parties, with massive bonfires and fireworks - remember this was a rural environment, with lots of livestock around fireworks were not appreciated. He kept two large untrained German Shepherds which he refused to keep safely under lock and key. They roamed the village bothering sheep and chickens a like. Any one daring to complain was soon made to realise that nothing they said or did would make any difference - any attempt to reason with him had him raging that they were bullying a poor old cripple... the PC brigade withdrew rapidly.

So the scene is set - Mr. Ramsay, the village fiend, introduces the first black family to the village, a few of the older residents were a little shocked but by and large their arrival went unremarked upon, until the day of the Great Fire.

One Bank holiday Monday the Tearoom at the shop had been busy - the shop keeper took his dogs for their evening stroll whilst his wife cleared away and scrubbed the tearoom kitchen. When he left he noticed a thin plume of smoke coming from Mr. Ramsays house "Oh no another noisy barbecue" he thought "Wonder what time that will end." He walked the dogs for about an hour and on his return was stunned to see that Mr. Ramsays home was no longer standing.

It transpired that the housekeeper had filled the tumble dryer and switched it on, it was located in the garage next to a large selection of fireworks, she had then gone to bed for an afternoon nap, the two little girls were playing in the garden. The tumble dryer was faulty and a small fire started, someone working in his garden opposite noticed the smoke and came rushing across to see if he could help. The girls didn't hear the knocks and the mother was still fast asleep. It was lucky that the neighbour realised that they were at home and persisted with his knocking until he finally woke the mother, the house was starting to fill with smoke so an exciting rescue of the two little girls followed and then the first explosion occurred. As the fireworks exploded they burnt huge holes in the roof and even though it only took ten minutes for the fire engines to get there the house was already beyond saving.

Mr. Ramsay was holidaying in Dubai at the time of the fire - inexplicably before leaving to go on holiday he had taken his Rolls Royce out of the garage and parked it outside the Rectors house, he had also insisted that the male nurse he employed park his motorbike next to the Rolls Royce. He then had the fireworks moved into the garage from their usual storage location in the garden shed. It was apparently the second home that Mr. Ramsay had owned to go up in flames (what bad luck?) so a big insurance investigation took place - but it could never be proven that the fire was not an accident.

Mr. Ramsay moved away from the village whilst a brand new luxury house was built on the site of the old one, he married his house keeper and they never moved back to village, they sold the new house long before the start of the property market crash.

About a year after they left the village a Greek man came to live amongst us. He came into the shop one morning in a state of great agitation. He had taken a taxi home the previous evening and had been told by the taxi driver that he ought to watch the odd folk in the village - why only the previous year they had all got together and fire bombed the house owned by the only black family in the village.....

Monday, 12 July 2010

Manfred and Hannah

Manfred and Hannah, Hannah and Manfred - they were an inseparable couple. Both in their 80s, when I knew them, they had been together since they were teenagers.

Manfred was a tall man, with an incredible head of thick long dark grey hair, hanging almost half way down his back, with a thick droopy moustache and tinted heavy lensed glasses. He strode purposefully around the village, still upright and without the aid of a walking stick; not that he would ever have needed one because by his side always was the diminutive Hannah. Slim, with her long jet black hair, huge sunglasses and trendy leopard-print trousers Hannah was always on the end of his arm. Hannah never went out without completely co-ordinated outfits or her make-up applied immaculately .

Each day they would take the mid morning bus into town and wander around, taking coffee, meeting friends and enjoying each others company. Later in the day they would walk on the Heath - he in his sensible all weather boots, she in a pair of silly shiny shoes, and he would tell her about the plants that were in season, what the bird calls were that they could hear and what wild life had recently visited the ground they stood on.

Manfred claimed (and it might even have been true) that he was a prince of a long-forgotten Romany tribe, at village functions he needed no prompting to offer strange Romany blessings. Hannah, his gypsy Queen, would look upon him adoringly as he uttered his great words of wisdom - still entranced by him after all those years together.

They lived in one of the little cottages colloquially known as "Death Row" on account of them being solely occupied by pensioners. From the outside their house looked just like everyone elses - a lovingly maintained garden, clean well kept pathway leading up to the front door. But once the door was opened and you stepped inside the difference was unbelievable. Every season Manfred and Hannah would change the decor of their home. In the spring the furniture covers were yellows and blues the pictures on the walls were spring scenes, most Manfred had painted himself - in the summer light greens and yellows were in abundance - scenes on the walls of picnics and wild animals cavorting in the summer sunshine. The autumn saw the change to deep oranges and browns, again Manfreds art-work on display on the walls - in the winter stark white and grey with splashes of red, to reflect the conditions outside.

Their tiny bedroom was covered with animal prints and pictures, the ceiling was painted with all the consellations. Manfred said it was to remind him of the days he had slept under the open skies as a young man.

Hannah and Manfred loved inviting people in to admire their home and would explain why and where they had purchased, or been given every item on display. Like Hannahs carefully co-ordinated outfits, attention to every detail was the essence of their tiny home.

They had one son who lived in the next village and visited them a few times a week. I only met him three times; the week after Manfred died suddenly in his sleep his son came around to book the Village Hall for his fathers funeral. The day of the funeral Hannah was dressed immaculately in black with a little leopard skin trim on her hat, gloves and coat; the son came in to ask us if we wanted to join them for a glass of sherry. The last time I saw him was just a few weeks later when he came in to put up an advert in the shop window - poor Hannah had gone mad with grief and had been committed, the son was selling all their furnishings.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Pride Comes Before A Fall

The schedules were out for the Annual Village Flower Show and I was eagerly looking through deciding which categories to enter - I circled several before spotting the one I really thought I would enjoy, "The Heaviest Pumpkin".

The seeds were selected and planted, of the 10 seeds in the packet just over half grew; these were all lovingly nurtured and as the flowers grew, got fertilised and pumpkins began growing their progress was checked daily. I talked to my would-be prize winners a lot and after about a month I selected my favourite and gave her a name, "Patti". Patti responded to my chats and feeds by growing bigger and bigger - my family began to complain that I paid more attention to the growth of the pumpkin than I did about them....I discovered who else had entered the competition and through the course of the next few weeks we teased each other about the feeds we were giving our would-be prize winners, joked about the wheel barrows we need to transport our pumpkins to the show in but we didn't dare go to visit each others vegetable plots, for fear of having the label "spy" or "saboteur" attached to us!

Two days before the village show I went out to check on Patti and noticed a little damp spot on her side. I cut her that night and bought her into the kitchen. I cleaned her and imagined her with the winning rossette next to her - I patted her goodnight and went up to bed. The next morning when I came into the kitchen the first thing I did was to check Patti. Was it my imagination or had the damp patch grown overnight? The rest of the day was spent preparing the village green for the village day - I barely had time to think about Patti as I made sure my bread, cakes and biscuits were baked for the Cookery classes I had entered; last minute tweeks were made to the hanging baskets I was entering and the selection and measuring of my runner beans for the Longest Bean category. At about 9 o'clock that evening I went to check on Patti, the pumpkin I had lovingly tended all those months sat on the table in the larder, from a distance she looked a little lob-sided - I went to straighten her up......

The family rushed in when they heard my scream. There on the table before us all sat Patti - at my touch she had imploded! My family stared at me open-mouthed and saw tears rolling down my cheeks.....tears of laughter, the stupid pumpkin had imploded two days too soon!

The next morning I carried across all my entries to the show, including Patti. I placed her on the spot reserved for her and next to her I stuck "An Ode to Vain Lady called Jane", a short poem my daughter had written about a woman who allowed her love of a pumpkin to over-ride all else. My daughter won first prize for her poem.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Betchworth Dave

The quarry in Betchworth was owned by a big, loud, vulgar, bullying man - he amassed a fortune emptying it and then when it was empty he amassed another fortune opening it as a landfill site. He bought a farm, property, some race horses and lived the life a country gent. He had two children, a son and a daughter who he educated privately and then he wondered why they shied away from his vulgarity. The daughter ran away from him as soon as she could - the son stayed and got involved with the family business.

When I first met Betchworth Dave he was in his was in his mid thirties, he had moved to the village about six months before us and lived in the Old Rectory Cottage. The property had been gentrified with the addition of an indoor swimming pool and gym. Dave was a tall rugby playing man and liked the idea of keeping himself fit. He liked the idea of it but didn't really enjoy doing it. He was handsome, in a boyish way, but he was already getting jowly and his eyes were too often glazed. He had a tiny wife who was pregnant with her second child. He would come striding purposefully into the shop, booming out a greeting, snatching up two or three bottles of wine, flashing wads of money and then disappear. His son was born soon after our arrival - a happy round baby, lucky to be born into a wealthy family with doting parents and besotted grand parents - or so it seemed.

His wife came into the shop most days, she was a moody girl but pleasent enough and we became quite friendly. Her eldest son was already at school when the baby was born and they came in on their way home from school. The boy was a bright, friendly child - he would tell me what he had done at school each day, I liked him.

The landlord of the village pub was feuding with an element in the village and banned people for ridiculous infringements; big, loud, silly Dave got banned and transferred his business to the shop. We were forced to endure hours of his endless stories about himself and his father. Most days Dave worked down at the land-fill, but he often took time-off to go to the races, watch rugby and drink in the pubs of neighbouring villages. Every Christmas he would fly off, with his family, to join his parents in Barbados (His parents over-wintered there each year in their second home). One year he even took his mother-in-law with them. When they came back the eldest child would tell me long stories about the holiday and his mother would show me her new jewellry.

I watched the boys growing up, they adored each other and as soon as the baby could walk the two of them would come down to the shop to spend their pocket money. The older one laughing as the younger tried to work out what he could afford to have. When the younger one was about three years old they started coming down to the tearoom, often without parental supervision and always barefoot, they would sit and order cream teas - my waitresses would fuss over them and they relished the attention.

One Saturday afternoon Dave was involved in a traffic accident - he drove into a bus on the narrow lane that went through the centre of the village; he knew he was over the drink-drive limit so he jumped out of the car and ran home. He tried to persuade his wife to say that she had been driving - a hare-brained scheme considering the accident had happened in broad daylight, with a full bus of passengers to witness. Two days later she packed her bags and left him, leaving both boys behind - she came into the shop to say goodbye to me.

Dave was charged with drink-driving, he pleaded guilty and lost his driving license. He and his wife divorced, it was a messy affair - Dave and his family adament that the ex-wife should have nothing, but eventually they bought her a new house and hoped that would be the end of it. About a year later she started to demand custody of the boys and another lengthy battle began; eventually the eldest son went to live with his mother (Dave was not his natural father so it was unusual that the family thought they would have been able to keep him), Daves son remained with him.

The Rector came into the shop one day, he complained that he had started to get strange visitors in the night. The Rector lived in The Rectory and there was some confusion over the name of the houses - one night a call-girl arrived and mocked him for dressing up as man-of-the-cloth, until she realised he was one and she had come to the wrong address!

Although it was obvious to everyone that Dave had a problem the full extent of it was only just starting to be realised. A couple of months after losing custody the eldest boy the youngest one went to live on his grandparents farm. Dave stayed on a the cottage by himself - I ran past his home most afternoons with my dogs, he was often on the dirt track outside hiding empty bottles in the hedge, his next door neighbour complained about the number of empty wine bottles thrown over the wall into his garden. In a desperate attempt to help him his parents sent him to the Priory, an expensive rehabilation clinic used by the rich and famous. On his return home it was evident his stay had been futile. Daves father came to the shop and begged us to tell him if Dave was buying alcohol from us, we agreed to stop serving him. The next time Dave came in to the shop we told him we wouldn't serve him anymore; he left the shop quietly, within an hour he was back, drunk, demanding we serve him. I telephoned his father to ask him to come and collect his son. This scene became a daily ritual, sometimes Dave would beg us to serve him, other times he tried to bully us. I kept my word to his father and always turned him away empty-handed. Dave started to stand outside the shop approaching other customers to ask them to buy him wine or whiskey; when we realised what he was doing he moved a little further down the path, out of sight of the shop windows. Despite living in the big empty house with its indoor pool and gym Dave was reduced to begging passerbys to buy him his supplies. He always talked about getting better but couldn't make that first step on his own.

Dave was 41 when he choked to death, on his own vomit, in the office down at the quarry. The little boy stayed on at his grandparents farm but soon after his fathers death his grandmother died and then his older brother was taken into care (a story circulated about his mother but I didn't care to listen to the details). The last time I saw that little boy he looked at me as if I were a stranger - I wondered if he had any memories of the summers he had sat, with his chubby little legs dangling over the bench, eating his cream tea whilst everyone fussed over him making sure he and his brother had everything they needed.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A Bee in Her Bonnet

It was a lovely warm July day and everyone was walking around in summery dresses or shorts and T-shirts. The Village Hall, next door, had been taken over by the "Best Village in Surrey" panel and they were interviewing (only pretending not to be) representatives of different groups within the village community. Everyone came into the shop on their way to or from the Hall to have a quick chat - or to go through to the Tearoom, we were all caught up in the excitement of the day.

Just before lunch one of the village ladies came into the shop - she was always charming and fun to be with, tall, well groomed and then in her late-50s. She was on her way into the Hall, looking cool in some tailored shorts and a pretty stripped T-shirt, representing the horsey fraternity. As she approached the counter I noticed a wasp on the collar of her T-shirt. I told her to keep still and I would flick it off but no sooner had the words left my mouth it disappeared into the the inside of her top and stung her - quick as a flash she pulled the T-shirt off and began to shake it so the wasp would fly off. We all stood open-mouthed, none of us quite sure where to look - she had obviously been in such a hurry to get dressed that morning she had forgotten to put a bra on. The lady who worked in our Tearoom calmly ushered her into the kitchen and applied some TCP to the wasp sting. She re-dressed the lady and sent her into the judging panel. We made no eye contact until the shop was empty. "Well" she said with a completely straight face "they were very brown weren't they?"

That year our little shop and Tearoom got second-place in the "Best Village Shop" category.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Mylita Coffee Filters

When we first arrived in the village it was the cause of great excitement; everyone rushed down to see the new shop-keepers and to give us their own expert advice on how to run a successful village shop.

"Never stock those bloody French apples" a worthy elderly lady informed us "Can't abide the French - they gave us no support during the war."

A great lady of the village came in and told us the secret to success was to stock "Mylita Coffee Filters", this (previously unheard of) wonderful product would have them all hot-footing it into the shop, she would always be in if we stocked them. Keen to show willing we bought an "outer" (there were 24 boxes of Mylita Coffee Filters in an outer) and we placed them prominently on display. The next time the great lady entered the shop the coffee filters were pointed out to her "Splendid" she bellowed "But I won't take any just now - I bought some just the other day. Next time I run out I will know where to come and get them."

It is fair to say that the coffee filters weren't the great customer magnet that we were assured they would be - a mere 4 years, 7 months and 12 days later (yes we kept a record) we sold the last of those 24 boxes! The great lady bought 3 of them - about 5 months after we sold the last box she came into the shop, anxiously scouring the shelves; I asked what she was looking for "Oh yes dear, you used to have those lovely Mylitta Coffee Filters here - have you moved them?"

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Body on the Heath

One day a body was found on the Heath - nothing suspicious just some poor soul out walking their dog when their number was called in. The Police cordoned off the area though and news spread quickly through the village; it reached the ears of the Great and the Good.

Marching up to the constable left to guard the tape an important lady of the village demanded to be let through. The constable politely turned her away - enraged by this brush off she drew herself up to her full height and thrust forward her ample bosom, "Young man" she boomed, "I don't think you realise who you are talking to. I am the Chair of the Women's Institute and a Parish Councillor. The people of this village rely on me to inform them of what is going on here." Unimpressed by this formidable personage the Constable stood his ground. His number was duly noted and a letter written to the Chief Constable....

Occasionally the Great and the Good got their comeuppance.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Poor Paul

When I first met Paul he was in his mid-forties, a couple of years older than me. He was almost completely bald, the sparse red hair that he did have stuck out from under his cloth cap at strange angles, he wore an unfashionable red moustache and had thick red sideburns, his forearms were patterned with childish home made tattoos. He was a skinny wreck of a man with watery blue eyes, his flesh had the texture and colour of a dead fish. All year he wore his cloth cap and most days a thick dirty black donkey jacket. He had lived in the village all of his life, the same as his father before him. In the six years that he spent at the village school he failed miserably to master the art of reading and writing - but he could add up and work out his change quicker than any calculator. By the time he was supposed to progress to secondary school Paul had given up and rarely attended classes, he formerly left school at 15 and began working as a labourer in the village. Every job he had ever had had been labouring in the village, although by the time I met him he hadn't worked for a number of years. Every penny he had ever earned was spent on cigarettes, drink or drugs.

Paul would come into the shop every morning and put a half bottle of whiskey and a packet of cheap cigarette's on his tab, he would then give me unsolicited advice on how to stock the shop, what the government ought to do about immigration, complain about the weather, recall some trivial detail about his youth in the village, whine about his poor health and tell a childish unoriginal rude joke. Each conversation would start with a crude "Hello darlin' fancy a bit when the old man isn't lookin?" To my knowledge Pauls last girlfriend had run off at least 25 years beforehand. Just after lunch-time most days his father would wander into the shop and buy another half bottle of whiskey for him. This was the cycle of Pauls life - once a fortnight he came into the Post Office to collect his benefit, he would pay off his tab and buy a half dozen eggs as a treat for his mother, he would cook her scrambled eggs once a fortnight to thank her for putting up with him.

Following some half-baked plan to get the long-term unemployed back to work the Government made it slightly more difficult to claim benefits and it forced the likes of Paul to actually seek employment - he complained long and loud but eventually got a job at the local hospital as a kitchen porter, or "trainee chef" as he told me. I remember the first day he went to work there, well I actually remember him coming home rather than going. He was shaking like a leaf and stopped in the shop for some cigarettes. He didn't go near the off-license and for the first time ever left the without a bottle of whiskey in his hand. As the week progressed he shook more and more, his grey lifeless flesh pumped out sweat but he didn't go near the off-license. By the second week the shaking and sweating had almost stopped and his flesh was beginning to take on a whiter shade of grey. Against all odds he made it through to the end of the third week; he told me he was getting promoted the following week, he wouldn't be surprised if they made him "Up to top chef eventually", they could see he had talent. The next week he was allowed to start preparing the vegetables - as it got nearer the end of the month Paul told me he was going to buy a bike with his first pay cheque, he fancied riding into work each morning instead of the walking the mile and a half. Pay day arrived and Paul didn't come into the shop on his way home; he stopped in the village pub instead. That was the last day Paul ever worked.

Over the next year his health got gradually worse and one day he couldn't make it as far as the shop - his father bought him his supplies from then on. He took to his bed and stayed there for the rest of his life. Sometimes at lunchtime he would telephone to ask if we would reserve a bottle of something for his father to collect, sometimes he would phone to abuse us for not having his favourite brand of whiskey in, sometimes he would just telephone for a chat.

Paul was 47 when his liver finally gave in to all the abuse it had suffered; he died the day after the ambulance took him away from the village. The Great and the Good in the village organised his funeral tea, and speaking in hushed tones they referred to him as "Poor Paul" and boasted how this village "Looked after its own", the same people who had shunned him all his life, and would cross to the other side of the street rather than walk past him, suddenly remembered how he had helped build their duck pond, or put up a long fallen-down fence. All the time he lay dying in his bed only two of them ever visited him.

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Lady and the Tramp

At the bottom of the hill stood three tumbledown cottages. A wealthy property developer bought them during a lull in the market, he allowed them to fall into such a state of disrepair they got condemned - then he evicted the last of the sitting tenants; poor old Betty ... there were protests in the street the day she was carried out. The village had never seen anything like it before. The plan was to pull down the old cottages and rebuild, but before he had the chance to do the dastardly dead his third wife divorced him, suing him for every penny the previous two had not been able to get. His lawyers hid the cottages in a Pension Trust, the property market subsequently collapsed and the property developer was forced to do the minimum amount of work needed to make them habitable, he moved into one of them and rented the other two out. He knew that house prices would rise again and he would make a small fortune from the sale of those three cottages in such a prime location.

The property developer had once been a shrewd, ruthless and successful businessman - Mickey McGee. A stereo-typical Irishman, worked hard and played hard - always the last man left standing in the bar at the rugby club. He may have been handsome once but drink had distorted his features, he had a broken nose - a badge of honour following an incident on the rugby pitch, his hair was still thick, but now white and in his late 60s, he was still a wiry individual. It was drink that did for McGee, drink and three ex-wives determined that they be rewarded for putting up with him. At the time of this story he was bankrupt, living off the meagre rents the other two cottages bought in. He couldn't forget the good times though and his endless bar stories were all about himself and what a great fellow he had once been, what cars he had once driven, what houses he had once owned and what clubs he had once belonged to. He spent all day, every day drinking in the village pub. When he was short of cash he went to the village shop and bought his supplies - the cycle of drinking was never interupted.

Inevitably he got charged with drinking/driving and was banned for two years. He blatantly disregarded the sentence and before long was caught again, the second time he went to prison. Whilst he was away his cottages stood empty.

One day a particularly scruffy and unshaven man went into the village shop; he bought a bottle of whiskey and a packet of cigars "I've come to get the cottages ready. McGee is coming home." The following week he came back, with McGee, they bought two bottles of whiskey, a packet of cigars, a tin of beans and another of corned beef - their daily supplies.

Beth was an elegant woman in her late 40's; she glided rather than walked and wore loose floating dresses, her lightly greying hair was always swept back into a chixgon bun. She moved into the village with her pretty teenage daugther and they rented one of McGees cottages. Beth taught science at one of the private schools nearby, her daughter worked as a waitress in the village pub. The cottage they lived in was shabby but Beth worked hard to transform the garden, hung baskets of flowers on the crumbling walls and ignored the unsubtle advances of her drunken landlord. She was a friendly enough woman, loved rugby, gardening and her daughter. She made beautiful flower arrangements for the Church and was tolerated by most.
On her way home from work each night she would stop in the village shop, talk to the village shop keeper and buy her supplies. Her and the village shop keeper liked each other. One day on her way home she stopped, as usual, at the shop but her friend wasn't there; she didn't notice that he wasn't there until she came to the counter,
"Oh its not your husband here today" she giggled nervously.
No he had just stepped out, so his wife was covering for him.
"I'm just making a casserole," Beth giggled again, a little breathlessly, she was nervously eyeing the two bottles of wine she had placed on the counter. The village shop-keepers wife was also staring at the bottles but she was trying not to draw attention to why she was staring at them - Beth thought it was in judgement. The village shop-keepers wife picked one up and casually checked the seal hadn't been broken.
"I always like to have a small glass whilst I'm cooking" Beth continued. The village shop-keepers wife looked up, don't we all? She smiled briefly and packed the bottles into a carrier bag. Thankfully the seals had both been intact.

It was the summer of 2002 and the country was celebrating the Queens Golden Jubilee. In the village a maypole was erected and dancers came to entertain the village, a huge cream tea was served, childrens races and games organised. A marquee tent was erected and in the evening a band played, a bar-be-que supper was served and everyone danced and drank for hours. Everyone in the village was there. The school teacher was sitting at a table with her landlord, his scruffy friend, another woman and a young couple, obviously in the middle of a lovers tiff. The village shop keeper, his wife, family and friends were sitting on the next table. Beth was laughing and flirtatious, she danced with the shop keeper, with McGee, his scruffy friend and the other man sitting with them. Quiet mousy Beth let herself go and was enjoying herself; everyone said how nice it was that she was "letting her hair down".

The property market started to rise and McGee sold one of the cottages for more than he had originally paid for all three. Over the next few months the curtains twitchers started noticing that McGee was spending a lot of time in his tenant's home. Throats cleared whenever Beth approached a group, knowing looks and nods were exchanged. One day when Beth went into the shop it was noted that her hair was not as neatly gripped back as usual and she staggered as she walked to collect her casserole ingredients, she was crying when she reached the counter. She had lost her job that day - she didn't know why she said, the village keeper guessed it might have something to do with being tipsy once too often at work but just made soothing noises and suggested Beth take a local paper to look for another job. Once she was at home all day Beth no longer pretended to be making casseroles, she no longer shunned her landlord and she stopped making an effort with her appearance. It wasn't long before McGee moved into her cottage and her daughter moved out. After one long and rowdy drinking session Beth and McGee got banned from the village pub and then bought all their supplies from the village shop; they cashed a couple of cheques there but after two bounced this practise was stopped. They once produced a cheque signed by Beth's daughter, the village shop keeper kept it and walked up to the pub where Beths daughter worked, the daughter admitted she had not signed the cheque.

One day McGee was caught shop lifting in one of the supermarkets in town and appeared in court. Soon after the shop lifting appearance McGee was caught drink/driving under a ban (again) and for a while it looked like another prison sentence. Miraculously he was let off with a fine and a community service order - he had used a hospital visit to his now 'finance' (Beth) as his defence. Beth had been in hospital, her first episode of liver failure. One autumn day the roads to the village were flooded and Beth got stuck in puddle, the fire services arrived to rescue her but she refused to leave the car, the police were called and Beth was charged with drink/driving. She lost her license.

With no means of transport the pair were now almost fully dependant upon the village shop. One wet winter afternoon the village shop-keepers wife was out walking her dogs when she found Beth asleep, drunk under a hedge. She helped her up and took her home, Beth wasn't just wet from lying on the grass, she had soiled herself. She spoke confidentially to the Man of God "That loser?" the Rector said "Honestly a complete waste of time."

One day Beth and McGee entered the village shop barely able to stand, they were refused permission to buy alcohol. The pair left outraged that they had been unable to buy their supplies - it was the last time Beth ever went out of her cottage. She took to her bed that day and 3 weeks later she was found dead.

Her funeral was a quiet affair - the village shop keepers wife went alone and sat near the back of the Church. The Man of God said lots of complimentary things about Beth, her first husband said a lot more, hinting that his beautiful wife had always had a problem with controlling her drinking (nobody wanted to hear that - they all wanted to believe McGee had killed her). Her daughter sat sobbing loudly throughout the service. McGee sat a few rows behind the village shop keepers wife, being supported by his daughter and his scruffy friend. There were a lot of people the village shop keepers wife didn't know at the funeral - people who had known Beth in a previous life, people who would not have recognised the woman she had helped home when she was too drunk to find her own way there one wet winters afternoon.

McGee lived for another two or three months, he was in and out of hospital during those final months but he couldn't or didn't want to change the habits of a life time. He died quickly and quietly in a hospital bed.

The shopkeeper went to McGees funeral; the villagers were going to boycott it and he thought that was unfair. McGee was an unpleasant man but he had not been the cause of Beth's death. The Church was overflowing - full of people who had known McGee when he captained the rugby team, when he was a rich property developer - none of them would have recognised the dirty tramp that he had become. The village pub, which he was banned from during his life took more that afternoon than it had done the whole of the previous month.

McGees children had the two remaining cottages fumigated and sold them for a small fortune - McGees instinct had been correct, they were in a prime location. The Great and Good of the village were outraged.