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.


  1. So touchy… I love the way u write abt ur villages…
    We only see the the cities in TVs.. It’s the first time I am readin abt English villages… would love to see those places..

    Do u love ur village or do u feel stuck in there?

    The deterioration of the rich and powerful!!! Very painful…

  2. We moved to the village in 1998 - it was in a very beautiful part of this country and at first I did love it - but then the darker side of real life crept in and I found it stifling, the judgemental obsession the self-righteous have with their neighbours! I will write more - it wasn't all doom and gloom!

  3. Yea... in the urban set up you have the right to do whatever you want to. No one gives a damn.

    But in a rural area, you are open to scrutiny and you might have to rein in you fantasies/thoughts , right?

  4. Whatever you do in a small community is witnessed by at least one other person - I remember once my son walked past someone he didn't see and with in minutes it was reported to me that he was giving himself airs and graces; thats a silly observation but typical of how petty some people are.

  5. Please dont mind me asking....how about sexual freedom. Are the young ppl there free too see anyone they wish...are they allowed to cross bboundaries?
    Are illegitimate relations toleraated? What abt gay/lesbian relations

  6. I think that even in rural England people are free to follow their inclinations quite openly. There were many "families" where the parents were not married (at least not to each other). Divorce is so common place here now that people have stopped making comments. There are always elements within the community who will pass judgement but mostly people now try to be more open-minded. The population of the village was mostly white (sorry I am presuming that is what you are asking) although there were some mixed race relationships, and the children were not discrimated against. People are still not as tolerant of others religious views as they ought to be. Please feel free to ask whatever questions you wish

  7. I was born in the UK and lived there until I was 24. It seems to be a thing in England for everyone to mind everyone else's business. I lived in suburbia but the twitching of curtains let you know that you were being watched! In OZ nobody cares what you're doing as long as it's not hurting anyone else.

  8. Sadly your observations are correct Sue. I lived a nomadic life until coming back to the UK 12 years ago and was struck by the curtain twitchers!

  9. I once worked with a woman whose sole topic of conversation at the morning tea-break was what the neighbour had on her kitchen windowsill. Apparently the neighbour kept things like wash powder and dishwashing liquid on her sill. It was tantamount to treason in this person's eyes. Get a life! I also lived next door to a woman who took it upon herself to tell me when my windows needed washing! Again.......
    Housework is not my forte! :))

  10. Can you imagine being so desperate for things to do that you check your neighbours window sill?