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.