Copper Man Turns to Gold

As I have said before, Burnthorpe is a small town of remarkable age with an old history of invasion and creation, followed by invasion and destruction and more to-ing and fro-ing through the Civil War.  Generations of competition as to who were the original settlers, which family surname survived or was  depleted by rank outsiders.

Enclosure had some effect and the early days of Industrialisation meant even closer ties between the outliers of weavers.  Following the advent of cotton mills in the region there was further thinning, or rather distribution, as those more desperate or adventurous moved away for work at those rising cotton factories.

The high hills around the town were scarps of chalk, remnants of the ocean life that covered the area millenniums ago. If you travelled a few miles away and a few hundred feet into those stiff hillsides through the white smokey chalk and flints you would have found the thin seam of coal.  Enough for a peasants winter fires.   Follow it vertically and the seam spread wider into a compressed forest.  Coal that was easy digging and firm enough to rouse local industry.

Water power as good as succumbed to steam except where the milling was fine or the engine housing could not be built on the weavers mill.  The farmers brought in static engines to their timber yards and steam tractor could plough a larger field in a day that might take a man and plough-horse five days.

So the town, with its occupants, ebbed and flowed like the sea, a just-visible line on the horizon from the hilltop.  Always there, always full of undercurrents, flotsam, jetsam and people trying to stay afloat.

The two churches stayed, emptying as the years rolled on. The Elizabethan inn remained, re-daubed and propped up on the old stable wall.  They did not demolish the stables in the yard, they just fell away. The narrow bricks finally crumbling back to their Dutch dust though the Elizabethan oak beams were usefully carried away to their final resting places as heavy mantelshelves, lintels over fireplaces, by an enterprising builder in the mid sixties.

New houses, a new area built almost as a giant lintel itself to support the old market town. Or more like a great balloon of houses with crescents galore sitting along the top line of a capital T and the original High Street the bole with short roots protruding at its base which were the original lanes and footpaths into the depths of the country.  Terraced houses wound up the hillside with their neatly tiled roofs  as a legacy from the early NIneteenth Century.  Always changed but never moved.

So what?

The Burnthorpe and District Local Historical Society was assembled in the large back room of the Jolly Puritan.  Busie Warboys, publican, sat on his high stool behind the bar and absent mindedly wiped the brass edging with a cloth while he listened to the meeting in progress.

The vicar sat back in his chair, cigarette in the fingers of the hand that his chin was resting on. The smoke from the tip of the cigarette curling up into his eyes and hair.  He blinked, shook the half inch ash onto the floor, took a final long draw and stubbed it vigorously into the  saucer by his pint glass.  He was there as a pillar of the society rather than for History, though the Civil War did have some attractions.

Madelie Carew sat beside Walter Copper, the policeman.  Both were regulars to the bar and sat in the meeting as a matter of politeness.  Busie now considered them a bit of an odd couple as they sat together whenever they were both in but never seemed to speak.  One bought the other a drink, the other passed money for a few choices on the juke box that was in the public bar but loud enough to seep into the back-room where they all now sat.

Angel came through the gap between the service area of the bars and collected four bottles of tonic water from the shelves behind the publican said feet.  He fidgeted them out of the way.

Angel looked across at the group and studiously avoided the eyes of Walter.   He was trying to decide if she was old enough to work behind the bar.  Vicar’s daughter or not, it might not be legal.  But then he knew she wasn’t drinking, Busie would see to that, so maybe just knowing where she was was enough.

The librarian continued talking, “So very little has happened in the last year.  We have re-visited the Danish Camp and done some more measurements to map out the site more fully.  There has been a request that we investigate the old timber yard. It was suggested that we might have an old charcoal burners camp there.”

“More like it is old Joe’s camp fire.”  Walter threw in the comment to break the rhythm more than be useful.

“Not exactly in the yard but up in the woods a bit. There is a small clearing that fits the criteria.”

“Is that where they did the training during the war?  I recall there was exercises all round there. Caused havoc with getting the timber out.”

“That was the 14-18 war?”  Queried the librarian.

“No, ’44, it was.  Mind you timber was a bit ropey anyway, only useful as logs, most of it.”  The gamekeeper, Sam Roach, was the fount of knowledge on his acreage, attending the meetings as a duty to his work and his employer.  Big, bluff and ruddy outdoor complexion he was a stalwart of the village.  The vicar, as the others did, knew him also as a deputy undertaker and pall-bearer.  Despite his size and strength when dressed in the sombre black of his second trade he was a symbol of consideration and care. In the fields he could wring a neck in the flick of a wrist but beside a grave his handshake wrought nothing but sincerity and consolation.

Several others sat in a half-circle set away from the main table, each man and woman a mainstay of the Society too, but as they lived in the new town and visited the Jolly Puritan only for such meetings they had felt honour-bound to take the outer seats.  Anyway, they were nearer the door so could make their excuses to leave when the business was done.

Last round the table was Lady Matilda, widow of the late estate owner……..SIr Mortimer  Rissome.  She was a loyal supporter of the Historical Society, especially where the research entailed  members traipsing across her acreage or entering the old estate church now seemingly buried in its own private copse of bramble and ivy.  And tonight it seemed the old timber yard was even considered particular in maybe having a remnant of charcoal burners.  “Hardly historic”, she thought of this last item.  She looked across fondly to the gamekeeper and was sure he would look out for the estate and herself. Then returned her mind to the librarians reporting voice.

“So we ought to continue writing up the results from the Danish Camp for the County Records and get together a group to investigate the charcoal burners site.”

“You might find it wuz gypsies”. Said a voice from the back row.

“Maybe, but no harm in checking the site.”  Replied the librarian, “A couple of us can volunteer to visit there.”

Lady Matilda closed her eyes briefly and sighed quietly.

“I will have a careful poke around if you like. Said Walter, realising too late his wording could have been better for the librarian, ” My beat takes me up there so an extra ten minutes ferreting about wont be missed”.  More errors in choice of language, maybe.  Heignored the warming glow spreading into his neck.   ” I will read up on it, and take notes.”   Hoping this would retrieve the situation for the librarian.

“Thanks, just a careful recce. then.  We can get a full group up there after you have reported back”

Matilda’s eyes closed briefly again to hide her heavenward look.

The meeting drew to its anticlimactic end.  The librarian replaced his briefcase, the outlanders called out cheery goodbyes as they slid out.  Sam Roach held the door open for Lady Matilda to follow her to the car in which he chauffeured her home and the librarian downed the last half of his beer and rushed out to get home in time for his radio programme.

“Last orders everyone. Get Busie busy for once” the vicar raised his voice and glass as a sign for refills and went to stand at the bar.  Busie pulled him a pint. Vicar dropped silver and copper coins onto the slop-mat.

“I’m off home.”  Said Madalie.

“I’ll do the same.” Said Walter. They both called goodnight as the door closed on them.

The Puritan, swinging on his sign above, one side with hand on a Bible, other side with hand firmly on a tankard, rocked gently and wondered when the young man and woman walking down the short steep to the road would start listening to each other.  He took a crafty pull from the tankard and tucked the Bible more firmly under his arm.

……………………..

PC Walter Copper called out for Joe as he rounded into the old yard.  Surprisingly Joe was not around so Walter abandoned his bike to the ground, called out again to no reply and so decided to wander into the trees in search of the charcoal-burners remains.

He followed the directions in his notebook from the recent meeting.  There was no need really as he had been there several times before to quiet the local youths having there late night party and bonfire.  Oddly enough, it seemed to have been exactly the same place as the old charcoal pit was alleged to be.    Looking around the black scarred circle, the bare earth with its tussocks scattered about and the few old logs was depressing enough. The beer bottles and a couple of the new seven pint beer tins, all empty, were scattered about. A few screwed up bags and paper plus a plentiful supply of cigarette butts complimented the scene.

“Charcoal burners aren’t what they used to be”, he tutted.  He had no real idea of what to look for but found the semi-clearing just into the woods they had talked of.  The big black circle that dipped into the ground had obviously had years of  fires in it but whether it was a slow burn, carefully stoked by watchful burners or just where years of men had kept themselves warm between cutting the war- timber, he had no idea.  Bits of rubbish spread even here and he collected some of the more obvious cartons and match boxes from the scattered area of undergrowth and threw them into the centre of the ash-black circle.

At the further end of the clearing, if you could call it that, he found three large stones sitting in the ground that reached knee height.  They were surrounded by tall wild ferns and lichen covered the tops and sides like thick velvet and only visible as he stood beside them and bent down to remove fern spores from his uniform trousers.  He stood straight, hands on hips and studied them.

Too large and heavy to be your average or just old gravestones.  Too small to match the towns symbolic large boulder at the end of the HIgh Street yet could be as old and as oddly placed. Three, close together would be a coincidence too far for dear old Mother Nature, he thought.

It’s not an outcrop. Not part of a building as far as he could judge.

He looked around for more. Parting the ferns with rustles and more spores clinging to the serge of his trousers.

‘Dammit’ he said, looking at the myriad of green spores clinging to his legs, bent down and tried to brush them off.  Bent lower as he found he had to pick them off, one by one.  He sat down on the end stone and twisted the nearest stalk out of his way, out of the ground. The first came easily so he pulled at another to get them away from his clothes, it too flicked out of the ground easily, the clump of root flinging the layer of loose mulch around.  One more cleared and he could sit and pick the green spots off his legs. With the confidence of previous success he grabbed two close stalks with both hands, fronds waving in his face and pulled mightily.  They flew out of the ground and the sudden release of their tension  flung him backwards.  The change of angle from shoulder to hip, the auto-countering reaction of his body and the lush deep padding of the slippery lichen surface sent him crashing onto the ground, face down onto stalks and fern leaves and all.

Your perspective changes quite radically when you are suddenly lying on your side.  In Walters case he could see the skeletons of curled ferns and the rising stems of this year’s growth.  To his surprise he even noticed a few ants progressing up one of them to the black aphids secreting at the branch of the leaf and a lone ant descending from them, clambering over the ascending ants with no thought that it might be vertically challenging.  He twisted onto his knees, mentally checked that he wasn’t hurt more than he was embarrassed.  Hesitated as to whether to grab at a stone to haul himself up or just push up off the ground. Looking to put his hands in a flat, cleanish place he picked at a small stone that dug into his palm.  ” Flint most likely”.

Walter could have moved his hand an inch or two but the complex of curiosity, a stubborn eccentricity as to why he should move one hand from his chosen spot (!) and the shape of the flint encouraged him to scrape at the dirty stone.  Determined, he took out his jack-knife and applied the tool for taking stones out of horses hoofs.  “One day I will learn what it is called, might even use it on a horse if the worst really happens,” he muttered as he prodded and scraped a hole round the seemingly growing flint.

He never minded the dirt on his knees or the scores of bobbed spores all over his uniform but looked around carefully before he stood up.  Shutting the tool away with a spring-snap and shoving it into his pocket, he then took out his handkerchief and wrapped the object.  It was blackened with the ingrained mulch and charcoal dust, the size of a large coin.  Convexed each side with caked mud and the size of a cartwheel penny.  Which was his guess as it was quite heavy but did not feel as solid as flint.  Checking that no one was watching, he stuffed the protected token into his tunic pocket.  A quick brush of his knees and he strolled back through the trees to the path and his bicycle.  Climbed on and pedalled on the road home. Whistling as he pedalled, returning the wave of the woman in her garden hanging washing out.

………………………..

At a special meeting of the Historical Society they all sat round the small table, tightly shoulder to shoulder so they could all get a clear view.

“It will have to go to the Coroner.”

“It’s a museum piece.” Confirmed the librarian.

“Where did you find it?” Asked Matilda.

“I was looking at the charcoal burner site.  Found by accident really.”

“So it was on the estate, then.”

“It will be in the report to the Coroner, I shouldn’t say more exactly in case people get wind of it.  It looked like a gathering of the clans up there with all the rubbish.”

“It’s the party-place.” Put in Angel from behind the bar. “Everyone goes there for a drink and a bash in the summer, most weekends anyway. ”

“I didn’t know that,” said Walter.

“Everyone else does.” Said the vicar.

Walter picked up the the object.  ” It was black with dirt.  I assumed it was an old copper coin. One of those large penny things you might get at a jumble sale.”  He turned it in his hand so the lights from the electric candles in the candelabra above their heads could catch the amber set in its centre. The insect inside seemed to wriggle a little at the movement.

“I washed it in the sink and thought it was some sort of copper clasp but that colour washed off as I rubbed it.  Well, shaving brush and soaped it.  Anyway, the green bits floated away and a bit more warm water finished up with this.”  He weighed it in his hand and they all looked harder, as if it had cleaned itself as he spoke.

“It’s not copper, its Viking gold”  said the librarian.  “I think it is a clasp for a cloak, that is why it is so big.  And when I looked at illustrations in the library I am certain it is a Viking design.  It looks Celtic but the dragons heads and twining round the stone are similar to confirmed Viking designs.”

“Is it worth much?”  Asked Matilda.

“In itself?  Maybe if it can be linked to a king or somebody particular. Obviously a few pounds but most importantly if it can be linked to Burnthorpe history in some way and not just a bit of lost property it will be valuable to the town”.

“Well, I suppose we will have to wait and see. Have a proper look at the site.”  Said Walter, putting the clasp back on the table.

“I can see the headlines now,” said Busie, ” local copper cleans up in Burnthorpe”

“Maybe: ‘Copper clasps gold at last’ ”

“Amber lights for golden copper”

“P.c’s copper becomes Viking gold”

“Copper turns up gold”

“Copper wants another drink!”  Walter picked up the clasp, stood and moved to the bar to forestall any more headlines.

……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copper gets Rusty

 

The morning was a glorious mixture of early autumn that was offering a portent of winter.
The air as still as high summer but the sun glinted low in the horizon and shimmered over the edges of frost on the long grass. A few days ago it would have been dew, drying in the warming sun, a bubble reflecting the colours of the rainbow but this morning their hard edges glittered just before they slid to the base of the stalk.

“Morning Joe.”
“Yeah.”
“Getting chilly now Old Jack Frost is poking about.”

PC Copper looked down at the huddled man and waited a good few seconds for a response. The man sitting on an old pine log remained silent as he leaned over the small fire he was tending. It was set between a triangle of three roughly equal stones and as both men watched, the flames pushed through the smoke of the damper twigs that had been laid over the original tinder.

“Looks like you’ve got it.”

“Yeah”, responded Joe, still not looking up but adding some more twigs in criss-cross fashion and finally a full set around the fire as a low cart-wheel. Smoke returned but was soon outpaced by flame and the fire was established.

Both men looked on with satisfaction.

“Cuppa?” asked Joe and lifted the small aluminium pan and settled it onto the stones.

Walter looked into it, the water looked clean but the inside of the pot was scarred with burnt remains. “Tempting but I am due back at the station and Molly gets annoyed if she can’t sell me a mug and biscuit.”

Joe said nothing.

“Getting chilly at night, I reckon. Out here in the open”. PC Walter Copper looked round the ground of the now disused timber yard.

“Got me bivvy,” he nodded backwards at the pile of timbers beside him. “an’ me dog.”

Walter looked to the half collapsed building. It was less than that, it was originally a rough-built three sided shed with a few timbers across the roof and some corrugated iron sheets nailed topside to keep the weather out. “Not seen your dog, where is it?”

“She’s away. Cuppa?”

“No thanks.”

During the war this little yard had been hastily set up as a sawmill and timber yard by the owner of the forest. It was a rough mile outside the streets of Burnthorpe but the lane it was on crescented from the end of his beat back to the start and as there were a couple of dilapidated buildings and some well used stopping places for couples to park in, Walter would sometimes use the route, especially knowing Joe was currently in residence. Twice a year, late spring and late summer a small community of gipsy caravans would also appear briefly en-route or return from Appleby. The first to arrive and leave was their original Romany caravan with its horse nobly but slowly pulling up the hill, its occupants walking alongside with arms on the frame giving small but noticeable help over the rough edges of the guttered single width lane. A colt or two, maybe a filly tagged on behind, lead reins knotted to eyebolts at the rear. The oldest youth, boy or girl, would be astride a final horse with two or yearlings, horses or ponies trailing behind for the horse fair.

This day Joe was the only one Walter could find in residence and the conversation was mostly one way. Joe was no gypsy or tinker but one of the unsettled after the Second World War, or rather after the Korean War. He had been recalled for the latter, had seen some desperate times. Finally pensioned off and back in Civvy Street he was first unsettled then unable to stay in one place, inside or out, for more than a few days. He had grown peripatetic and after ten years had found an unusual sense of peace in what had become a circular tour around the fringes of villages and towns in the county, stopping and setting a bivouac among disused works, the gardens of abandoned grand houses. Almost anywhere where people had been but had now abandoned.

“Is it draughty in there?” Walter looked across and into the back of the broken-down shed. The large rusted high-toothed wheel sat in its grimed shackles, cemented in by ridges of rust and compacted sawdust. The bench it was fixed to was outside to the right of the shed and a belt underneath, rotting but still clinging together led from the gear wheels into the shed where it twisted over and round the wheel of its petrol powered motor, hidden in the shadow, lost to its own memories.

“If it’s windy.” Joe stirred the water in the pan with a nearby stick. As it boiled he poured some water over the old tea-leaves in his enamelled cup. With the pan back on the fire he carefully dropped a couple of eggs into it and stirred the cup again.

“Cuppa?”. He asked, proffering the still writhing tea-leaved cup.

“No thanks. Gotta get back to the station, Molly’s waiting on me.”

PC Copper retrieved his bike from where it had been leaning against an old platform stacked with empty petrol drums and logs the length of pit-props carefully saved by the last of the workmen, some fifteen years ago. The platform front edge was set on brick piles about eighteen inches off the ground, the rear on one layer of bricks, just enough to level it compared to the drop in the ground at that edge. He straightened the handlebars, set a pedal to its low point, put his left foot on it and scooted over the mud to the road.

With a “See you, Joe”, he scooted faster and circled his leg over the saddle, found the opposite pedal and sat down on the wide saddle. He got into the rhythm of pedalling, settled his backside more comfortably and set about getting the heavy bike back to the Police Station.

police lampInside the Station, the desk Sergeant looked up as Walter was about to walk past. “Anything happening?”

“No Sergeant, all quiet.”
“No wonder, your radio is off again!” The sergeant was exasperated, ” Switch it on! One more failure and I will have to log it. I will be pleased to do it, you will not!”

PC Copper, Walter, immediately pushed the switch on the hand piece and then on the battery pack. The static buzz and over it the squawk of a radio officer contacting men on the beat added to the tension by the front desk. Walter sighed inwardly and went to walk away.

“Wait. Your messages, Copper!”

Walter turned back to the sergeant and was given a pad sheet with name, address and complaint, in that order.

“Third one this week. You’ve spoken to the first two? ”

“Yes, Sarg. Nothing seen, no clues. It was windy, maybe that was it. Or kids. Most likely kids and I have heard nothing.”
“Yes, especially on your radio.”

Walter stopped, listened briefly for the quiet crackle of his radio and heard nothing. Sighing inwardly he put a hand down to the box on his belt, pushed the switch again and immediately was shouted at by the receiver hooked into his breast pocket.
“1249, will you answer this blessed thing or we have to assume you’re dead or missing!”
Looking at the Sergeant, PC 1249, Copper, held the button down and answered sheepishly. After a brief but heavy admonishment of his silence he was told, ” Your beat again. This is the fourth time, second today. Go to Rita Rankin, Alwyn’s Cottage. And keep your so and so radio switched on.”

The note in his hand had an address, name and the words: ‘ stolen washing – again.’ This address was near the turning point of the beat he had just returned from and Alwyn’s Cottage almost a stone’s throw from it too. He decided that as he had not sat down, as he still had his cycle clips on he might as well go back up the road and Vicarage Lane and cut through the churchyard to the bridle path and join the road by the house of the earlier theft and then trundle on to Alwyn’s. Trusting someone would still be there and not too irritated. He briefly wondered if the children at both houses were having some sort of washing war either against each other or jointly against their mothers. He really didn’t want to be running all over the town because of children’s pranks.
The sun had moved higher by the time he reached the first house and the cycling pleasant enough up to and through the churchyard, the bridle path was uncomfortable so he stood on the pedals as he cycled. As feared, Mrs Shanks was out. She had called very early in the morning from the phone box near her house. Had he listened to his radio he would have been able to visit her early on his initial rounds. But then he would still be going back again for this second call. The incline was slight but the road quite long and he was relieved to get to Alwyn’s Cottage and find Rita Rankin looking out of her cottage window.
She saw him, waved and gestured at her door and disappeared. Reappeared at the opening front door as he pushed his bike up the short gravel path.

‘Lean it against that rose-bush. Come in. I thought you were the postman, Reggie usually arrives about now and stops for a cuppa. Kettle is on, you’ll have some? Into the kitchen with you. Leave the door, Reg will just come in.’

The heavy bike sank into the rose bush, almost lying on the ground with the thorned branches springing out from behind the frame, pedals and wheels. Walter wished he hadn’t followed her directions but politely followed her into the kitchen. He also considered if Reggie the postman could be the culprit, sticking whatever got taken into his big canvas bag as he passed through. He probably went round all the houses that had reported the clothes missing. Maybe he was a Peeping Tom too? If it wasn’t him, maybe he had seen something. Walter stopped thinking when he was offered the mug of tea and asked if he wanted sugar.

“Yoohoo! Only me, hope the pot’s still hot” called a high pitched female voice.

“Just made, Reggie, mind the bike.”

A thin, frail looking woman in well worn Postal uniform came non too gently into the room, thudding her canvas bag on the floor. ‘It’s your bike then,’ she said to Walter, ‘ MIne’s on top of yours, you might have a bother picking it up, it looks heavy. Life-saver, this tea, always is, thanks dear,’ she said to Rita.

Walter raised his cup and they sipped in almost unison. He doubted if this postie would do any thieving of any sort, let alone clean washing. He had seen her with bag and bike round the old town and its outskirts many a time. They had literally passed each with a nod and a brief ‘morning’ or whatever. Sometimes it was as if they played tag as she would catch him up, overtake then stop to deliver a few letters then maybe catch him again before repeating with more deliveries. Neither had spoken much as they met, no need. She had been a land girl in 1943 and had never left the village. He had been born in Burnthorpe, grew up there, left and now returned and so their paths had kept crossing over the years but no real conversation ever occurred. He had never heard her name either.
“He’s after me knickers, Reggie,” Rita indicated with her cup of tea at Walter.
“Really?” she joined in with a smile, “Does he know where to look? Anyway, I thought you lost them a few days ago” Neither woman looked at Walter, trying to decide how far they could tease him before the young man got annoyed.

“I lost more last week, a bra and a pinny, both at the same time. Now it’s happened again!”

“Well, I suppose you’ve got nothing to wear now!” And both women burbled into their tea cups as P.C. Copper tried to keep an official straight face and allow the joking to subside. He replaced cup into saucer.
“It’s that I’ve come to talk about.”
‘It’s not talk, it’s action, she needs.” Cooed Reggie, then she was slapped on the knee by Rita and both women creased a little as they stifled a laugh by leaning forward, heads neatly touching before they sat up and settled their faces.

“Okay, we’ve had our little laugh, you had better get on with it now.” Rita smiled, slightly remorsfully as she spoke. Reggie suppressed a quick giggle but raised her cup to drink and hide the noise by slurping her tea.
PC Copper took out his notebook, switched off his radio and proceeded to ask his questions. When, what and any idea who or why.

The nub being just after or during hanging out the wet washing, early mornings. Pinafore and brassiere had been taken off the line, she thought and she knew her knickers had been removed from the washing basket on the grass as she had gone in doors to get more pegs and then put the kettle on the gas for a cup of tea. When she went out again she noticed they were gone, and the basket looked as though it had been rummaged.

“Rummaged?” Walter spoke, trying to decide if this would look official enough if he wrote it in the notebook. Reggie took another, quick swig at an empty cup.

“That’s right, all over the place, and two of me best knickers were gone.”

“Two?”

“Me new red ones, but I’m not having to describe ’em surely?” Rita wanted to draw a line at this point.

Walter reassured her but said she might have to identify them if they were found. No comment from Rita, Reggie managed to be still this time.

“And have you seen anyone around, acting strangely?”

“In the bushes you mean?” Snorted Reggie, “Sorry, it’s not funny, sorry.” She clasped her hands in her serge uniformed lap and composed herself.

“Only that tramp chap camping up the yard. He is not that odd really. Stays up there for a couple of weeks, moves on and returns whenever it is. Harmless.”

“Joe.” Walter wrote it down.

“Yes, he always gives me a wave if he sees me. If I am walking he asks if I have any post for him. I assume he is joking but he doesn’t sound like it. Or offers me a ‘cuppa’ but I usually stop here and have one with Rita if we have the time.” She looked across and their eyes met briefly in confirmation.

” I think he goes for a walk round about most days, he might have seen something. Goes down the farm and begs or steals eggs and milk sometimes. The farmer lets him take a bottle of milk from the churns he leaves out for the dairy lorry. I know he leaves him an empty bottle or two and eggs if he is at his camp. I will have a chat with him, he might know something.”

Walter tucked his notebook into his tunic pocket after hoicking the coiled wire of his radio out of the way. Stood and took his leave of the ladies, Rita Rankin, and, remembering just in time that she was Reggie, Regina Ward. Amazing, after years of nodding and casual greetings he had never known her name, well he did now.

Outside he had to untangle Reggie’s bike first then his from the rose bush. Between them they had flattened the briars and knocked off a few thorns but he hoped the late buds were undamaged, or at least capable of hanging on there until he left. Bumping down the steps of the path to the front gap, keeping the bike angled so the pedal missed his ankle as he walked, he decided to go and visit Joe again. If he was there he could have a chat and if he was away it would do no harm in having a nose around just in case there was anything to find. He doubted, he hoped, he would find nothing, but just in case the sergeant asked…….
“What’s this, you come for lunch?” Shouted Joe as Walter freewheeled into the old yard, braked and enthusiastically swung his leg over the saddle and scooted to a stop. ” You can have a cuppa! Want a cuppa?” He leaned forward and used his stick to stir the water in the old saucepan.

“No thanks, Joe, had one down the road, at Alwyn’s Cottage.”

“Oh,” was the response. He looked a little disappointed, maybe wary, thought Walter.

Walter decided he should be in ‘official mode’ this visit so declined the offer of the upturned log beside Joe and opted to stand near the layered pile of unwanted drums and pit-props on the platform. He cast his eyes round the site, nothing obviously lying around. He ought to look in the shed, behind the tarpaulin which Joe slept and or sheltered behind but he would have a chat first, he thought.

“Wasn’t you here this morning?” Queried Joe. He poured some of the boiling water into his enamel mug to re-use the tea leaves and put the pan back on the stones, over the fire. He tucked some pieces of wood into the fire to keep it burning well then dropped two eggs into still boiling water. The water calmed, a small stream of white drifted out of an eggshell and solidified as the heat regained control and the water started to bubble again.

PC Copper watched, his feet angled downwards on the slope of the ground. Not the best of places to have chosen, he realised. The platform was raised at the front edge on now flakey piles to keep it level and the ground sloped down quite steeply for a couple of yards until it flattened out at Joe’s fire and seating area.

Joe stirred his tea with the handy stick and reached back for a milk bottle perched on the flat top of an old tree stump and poured some into the still swirling liquid. Walter could see the remnants of the tea leaves circling even from that distance and was pleased he had turned down the offer of tea.

“Dog’s back”, said Joe, put down the mug and started the job of hooking the eggs out of the boiling water by tipping the saucepan a little and then adroitly using a branched twig like chopsticks. Both eggs on a piece of cloth by his feet he then topped up his tea with a drop of the water. This time he put the saucepan on the ground beside him.

“Cuppa tea?” He asked kindly having forgotten the previous rejections.

“Joe, there’s been complaints, well, thieving really”.

“Nope! Wer’n’t me. Farmer lets me have milk and some eggs when ‘e leaves ’em out. Eggs and bottles, like”.

“I don’t think it was you but I might have to look round your things, and this place, just so I can tell my sergeant I looked. You know how they can be.”

“I am one, I know how I can be. Is he the same as me? Look all you like, me kits as tidy as you like. Boiled egg?” He had started picking off the shells, daintily wiping bits that stuck to his fingers onto his trousers.

‘No, thanks, had something down at the Cottage.”

“Alwyn’s? She waved at me this morning, just before you arrived first time. Me dog had gone off. Then you arrived here for a cuppa. Then me dog came back. She’s a good girl, good girl.” Joe bit carefully into the egg, eating it fully de-shelled and watching out for yolk escaping through cracks. That gone, he repeated the exercise with the second egg.

Walter’s ankles hurt standing on the sloping ground, waiting, too polite to ask his questions or search the broken down shed without asking first. He remembered that his radio was still switched off and looked down for the switch. The wires had come adrift from the battery at his waist so he decided to sit down to fix it. The edge of the platform behind him had plenty of gap so he took a quick step to it, swivelled and sat heavily on its edge.

He immediately felt the wood of the platform and the sudden cracking noise instantly followed by a crunching of rubble and wood mixed with his feet slipping forward as his shoulders jerked backwards and his whole body went down. Only about a foot but the surprise as his bottom fell and then hit the collapsed planking again, jarring his spine against the pit-prop logs behind him. He was left with his knees crumpled up near his face as the angle had so suddenly changed, trying to decide if he was hurt by the experience. Trying to decide if the howling was his own, or Joe’s.

Joe rushed over, ignored Walter in his uncomfortable squatting position and knelt at the opposite corner of the now angled platform, peering into the darkness. Walter looked over and could hear Joe mumbling under the staging but it was made indistinct by a part cry, part howl from underneath the platform. Walter rearranged his feet and legs, stood up, reassured himself of no ill-effects and hurried to Joe at the other end of the platform.

He knelt beside him, lowered his head to look under the boarding as Joe was.

The noise was more intermittent, Walter recognized it now as the sound of a dog in distress. Maybe hurt, maybe trapped in the back, lower corner of the now part-collapsed platform.

“It’s me dog, she always goes under there. Eats and sleeps there if she is not sitting on me feet.”

They both listened to the dog, quieter now, calmer when Joe called out. Peering into the sloping gloom they could just see her muzzle and brief reflection from her eyes when she moved her head. But she could not move towards them. They saw her struggle a little but then stop.

“She must be stuck. You’ve got to go under and help her.” Joe grabbed Walter’s shoulder as he spoke, “I can’t go in there, I can’t. You’ve got to save her, please, please.” By this time Joe was holding on to Walter with both hands, voice pleading and almost tearful.

Walter’s shoulders sagged a little as he sighed. He was aware of his duty, he supposed, just that a dog rescue would not rank highly on the heroic scale. Also, it looked pretty mucky and weedy under there, goodness know what it would do to his uniform.

He removed Joe’s still shaking hands from his sleeves and stood up. Rather pointlessly he brushed at the knees of his trousers, “I’ll get a torch,” and walked over to his bike, his saddlebag, removed the torch and checked that it still worked then walked disconsolately back to Joe, the broken platform and his duty.

He knelt at the gap, had to lie on his stomach and crawl to get in. He had done this once or twice in training but it was even worse now. Dirt, dead weeds, cobwebs – assorted sizes – chunks of stone, paper and leaves blown in over the years. Underneath him, as he crawled with the platform above getting lower and lower, was the watery earth, mud, scraping into his uniform, belt and radio. The dog watched him, it’s face turning into a shade of ginger with green eyes as the torch flashed over it. He stopped a few feet away, just out of arms length. The dog lolled its tongue out and panted, stretched head forward a little to sniff at this odd stranger approaching.

“What’s the dog’s name?” PC Copper shouted, moving his head and thumping it on the boards above. He returned to the dog, “Come on girl, let me help.”

“Rusty! Good girl. Come Rusty! Come to Joe! Here girl!” Replied Joe.

The dog did a couple of low, short barks, more like harruffs in Walters direction and started to crawl forward. She inched forward and Walter called to Joe again, “Keep calling.” And to the dog, “Here girl, it’s all right, go to Joe.”

The dog reached Walter’s hands and started licking them; Joe called again and the dog, Rusty, stopped and looked in the direction of the voice. Walter could hear the tail wagging, “Keep calling, Joe.”

Joe, just a few feet away called out again, “Come here Rusty, come and have a cuppa, come on girl!”

Encouraged, the dog moved forward again but hesitated and stopped. The beam of the torch showed the hind leg was caught in some string or tape, he could just make out that it was wrapped round the leg, possibly the other, which would explain why the dog found it difficult to move. The beam of the torch faded to a glow. He left it on the earth and reached forward with both hands to free the dog leg. With a little yelping, wriggling and licking from the dog he felt his way to pull the tapes of material from off the dog. Part unwinding, part pulling and a lot of fumbling in the grey gloom allowed the dog to scrabble forwards, passed Walter’s prone body, towards Joe’s voice and his upturned head as he peered and called coaxingly.

As the dog crawled and bobbed her way passed Walter it still had one leg knotted into the material. He grabbed a piece at it went passed. It stayed in his hand as the dog progressed. Walter heard the cheery, relieved greeting of man for his dog and started to crawl backwards to escape the claustrophobic roof on his head. Dim torch in his left hand, feeling himself turning, crablike to get his head into the daylight first, he made a tortuous journey back. En route he collected the discards from around Rusty’s legs.

Crawling out, kneeling and looking down at his uniform, his heart really sank. He picked off the leaves trapped by his belt and looked at the accumulation of several years now staining the front of his tunic. Many shades of dust, grey and muddy smears down sleeves and front and trousers to match with especially muddied knees, right down to big scuffs on the toes of his police boots.
Joe walked back to his log-seat and shared his remaining mug of tea with a tail-wagging Rusty.

PC Walter Copper walked back to his bicycle and replaced the torch, then stuffed the remnants that had been twisted round the legs of Rusty. The reasons why she had been trapped when the platform collapsed. He had noticed the coloured materials, like a nest, at the back of the platform. It had been a safe height for the dog to snuggle into before the brick piles at the front had collapsed… Before Walter had sat on the unsafe front edge…..before his extra weight caused the crumbling support to finally give up.

As he tucked them away, Walter did not expect Rita would want the pinafore and bra returned, he certainly would not go back for the knickers but felt honour-bound to take what he had collected to the Station. He assumed the other clothes were there too but he was in no hurry to look.

At least he had an explanation, could sign off on a few minor incidents, well, thefts, he supposed. All he had to worry about now was telling it all to the Sergeant and the ladies, about their disappearing washing. And his dirty uniform and getting Rusty.

He pushed his bike to the road, stiffly mounted it and cycled off. No word to Joe who was otherwise happily occupied. Walter never noticed that the coiled cable from radio to battery was no longer there, pulled off in his adventure. Cycling slowly back down the lane he was able to appreciate the quiet of it all, the expanse of fresh air around him and the sun dappling through the branches with their few remaining autumnal leaves and nearly warming his wet knees.

 

see also tags     Burnthorpe    Copper Man

Angel Lamb

“It’s so easy when there is something you want, just press the ‘confidence’ button and off you go.  It’s always been like that though I usually push the button when I don’t really know what to do.  Or say.  I just let it burst out, I suppose.”

She stared back at the dog-eyes.  Chocolate brown with black centres and a thin whirl of white at the edges.  As she stopped talking the dog cocked it’s head by fifteen degrees and grinned slightly.

“More eh?” she ruffled the wiry hair of the terrier and it swayed it’s head to the opposite angle, kept its grin and lolled a tip of tongue out between its canines. “That’s it, really.  He was just an exciting looking bloke.  Never met him before. Talked to me, asked about me, made me laugh.  Had a couple of drinks.  Said he would walk me home.  Outside, when the air hit me, I just lost it.”

She lent forward and put her hands round the dog’s head, rocked it gently and stroked, massaged, round the dog ears.  Leaned closer and whispered as her cheek brushed the soft jowls.

“It got crazy, all those colours whirling round me, I thought I was walking on the ceiling.  All those women coming at me, trying to take my clothes off.  You know, those mannequin things, all acting like scary puppets.  I was burning, just letting them. Their hands all over me.  You know, it was like I was on heat.  Jeeze, never felt it like that before.  So good, so scary, I was just shaking. ”

“I know what you mean.” replied the dog silently.

“Dad said he found me and walked me home. I know it was a long night and I kept having awful strange dreams. Mum said she put me to bed with a struggle and had to sit with me for hours keeping me in my room and trying to calm me down.”  She sat back on the big square cushion of the big square settee. “Mum told me what was happening when he found me. Dad hasn’t, thank goodness.”

Angel hoicked her legs up onto the settee and the dog licked at the frayed line of the denim shorts.  The girl pushed his head away with a moan at the warm, damp tickle and scratched under his chin to keep him off.  “Trouble is, I remember bits like a dream. Like the man slobbering over me, unless it was me being loopy, and the shop and all those people looking at me, from inside the windows. ”

She hugged herself.  “And that policeman shining his torch on me, well, us”.  Hugging more tightly as she remembered the anger of the moment but felt again the flush of embarrassment as the man had relinquished his place and scuttled away.  She could have been hidden, protected from view had he stayed but once she spoke, (she recalled yet again) saying she knew the policeman, he recoiled away from her.

She remembered almost collapsing against the door and the rattle of the chain-lock inside as the door juddered with the surprise of her weight.  The light from the torch had stabbed at her eyes and how the spotlights of the shop joined-in making white globes in her vision as she tried to look into the dark of the road at Walter.  Briefly she was aware of what had almost happened, maybe had, through the buzz of the lights and the noise of the dolls and the man she was with.  And the embarrassing ridge of dress round her waist.

Angel had needed to escape the light, the haze; her numb, brightly lit brain and the heat and itch of her body.  So she looked at the policeman as she dragged at her hem then hurried away with her best daring, defiant, teenage glare at the young man dressed like a policeman with strange white blobs glowing round his head.

And here she was, Angel Lamb, talking to the dog, remembering chunks of the evening up to when she had been whiskedinto the house from the Vicarage gate and into bed by her mother.  A night that still reared and flashed in her dreams. She had spoken to Walter the following day.  Repeating, “P.C. Walter Copper”, she smiled and shook her head slightly at the thought of him discovering what was going on.  Dear Old Walter.  Not that he was, but he was, sort of, compared to her. Several years makes all the difference.  But at least he hadn’t said a word to her father.  He might be a vicar but she knew he could get angry and she couldn’t bear it if he knew the truth.  Even if she didn’t, really, of what happened.

She coiled fingers gently into the hair of the dog. “It’s bad he died though.  He must have had even more to drink than I had.  And I can’t even remember his name.”

The dog raised its muzzle and snuffled into her face with wet nose and tongue licking at the salty cheeks. “Oough! That’s too much.”  She shut her eyes and the white globes appeared briefly, like will-o-the-wisps, before fading once again.

 

 

notes from Burnthorpe

Copper Man, Jolly Puritan

P.C. Copper: Five Nights, Four Days

                                                                     
Night one:
He preferred the night shift, it was long but it was routine.  Yes, there were the drunken events outside or inside the pubs where he sometimes found himself between a couple of brawling men.  By the time he got there they were usually held back by friends or regulars, protagonists likely to be restrained by a man at each arm and more embarrassed by their disability to fight due to the effect of alcohol than their restraints.

At this time of night the High Street was empty except for a few parked cars. It was after midnight.  Pubs closed and the slow drinkers evicted, even from the Jolly Puritan, where he had been known to have a quick drink even after midnight. He would usually park his bike outside that pub when on his rounds.  A good excuse to check in and put his back to the fire on a cold winter’s night.  With a large tot of whisky in hand to warm his return to the station and signing off. Not so easy to slink around on these summer nights though.  It was warmer, no excuse to stand in front of an empty grate but the real reason was the people.

Too many people still wandering the streets after midnight.  Often two or three straggling in a daze and weaving, close shouldered for support away from the pubs and down the road in search of an open chip-shop.  Usually a forlorn hope when even the street lights were beginning to dim.
He would have to check a couple of recessed doorways on his stroll trying not to flash his torch into the eyes of any itinerant slumped asleep.  It was not often they were there but sometimes he would see the boots sticking out and would have to check.  Torchlight skimming over the person, checking state of boots, trousers and often old khaki overcoat or heavy navy serge.  The memory of the one man he had found like this always nudged him to check.  Even after two years the glint of the medals drooping on the mans coat remained in his mind more clearly than the man himself.  Finally he would flick the beam over the face hoping he would not be unsettling a corpse.

This was a summer night and the recessed doorways held only a couple seeking a little more privacy than the open pavement.  They were the remnants of a party heading into the distance, mostly separating to manouever round the chain fence round the Waddle stone.  Except for one who was too dazed to miss a small post and ricocheted off it into a companion.  PC Copper stopped to shine his torch at the couple, swiftly moving it up their close bodies to their faces. Heads turned, eyes screwed, as the light hit them.

“Keep it decent!” He used his official tone.  Moved the beam slightly from the girls’ face as she turned her head away on realising who had spoken and left it for a few seconds longer on the man.  The man squinted in an attempt to see the holder of the torch and allowed Walter time to recognise he was a stranger.

“It’s the local bobby, he knows me”.  Said the girl, though the words carried no further than the stranger’s ears.  The policeman’s radio crackled and the central operator called him.  It was just a normal situation check but Walter hated these new-fangled things with boxes that had to be strapped to his jacket and its twisted cabling that circled down to the microphone handset he had to keep pressing to talk, or was it listen.  He often got it wrong, much to his officer’s annoyance but it was early days yet, he kept telling himself.

He stopped to talk, rather shout, into the handset and having to repeat himself as the signal crackled and broke its way back to the police station, some two hundred yards away.  Why couldn’t it wait for just five minutes when he would be inside the ruddy building and standing next to the operator.

“Progress.  It is the future.  Speed of communication.  Keeps us ahead of the game”.  Said the inspector when he overheard PC Copper moaning to the desk sergeant.

Walter fumbled his torch back into his jacket as he juggled the switch in the handset, barking into it and striding irritatedly down the inclined pavement towards the station.  All thought of the near-mating gone.  As had the couple, or the girl anyway.  She had pulled her dress down and straight and scittered away, off to her home in Church Lane.

The young man stayed leaning against the shop door.  Shoulder scrunched, eyes closed and head tattooing a frustrated rhythm on the old glass.

Day one:

PC Walter Copper, just ended his rota of night shifts, was lying in bed determined to make the most of his first rest day.  He was relaxed.  He had shaken the covers at the bottom of the bed and freed both feet.  Moving his ankles he rotated his feet clockwise a few times and then in the opposite direction.  “Exercise”, he thought, “is good for the mind”.  He stopped moving, “but enough is enough”.

He had arrived home in the early shimmer of dawn, tucked his bicycle in the covered alley between house and shed.  He had eaten the regulation breakfast in the station canteen before leaving so only had to undress, visit the toilet and pull the covers over his head to keep the light at bay and lessen the spouting noise of the cistern that was on the other side of the wall beside his head.  He had slept well, as always.

And now, ankles refreshed, he decided to go for the tea and toast before tackling his lawn that needed mowing.

By the time he started on the grass it was early afternoon.  It was still too hot really but he had promised himself an evening at the ‘Jolly Puritan’ as a reward for effort in the garden.  He was a man who kept a promise, even to himself.  Halfway through he had to remove his shirt as the sweat was making it cling uncomfortably to his skin.  Keeping his string vest on, as you do, he proceeded to push the eight-inch cylinder machine in straightish lines up and down.  People could walk past the lawn and watch his progress.  Going to the park they could see him start smartly and on their homeward journey they could see him pushing bent-backed and bright pink with effort and tentative sun-burn, re-running the tramlines in a final effort to get them straight.  He did not notice the girl from the previous evening hurry past, hesitate at his gate, look at him and then continue.

Finished, he quickly rolled the machine into the shed and closed the door thankfully.

Indoors, he ran water from the taps into the bowl in the sink and when it was full thrust his head into it.  He scooped the water round his chin and over the back of his head and neck.  Briefly cooler he stood straight and grabbed a towel to catch the bulk of the water that followed gravity with cool lines down front and back.  Hair dryer but very tousled he intended to go upstairs for a shirt but was surprised by a knock on the front door.  Opening it with a sense of duty he instantly regretted his lack of shirt and dignity when the young woman before him took a determined breath and spoke;

“Please don’t tell my dad you saw me there last night!  I don’t care, really, but he would be everso angry and embarrassed.  It wasn’t what you saw, I wouldn’t have, I didn’t even know him.  Not that I care, anyway it is the seventies.  You won’t tell him will you, please, please, please?  It was crazy, I was crazy”.

The long speech, the rush of air, defeated the voice and it fell back into the younger voice he remembered from school.  She had been a few years below him , noticed but as one of the gaggle of younger children.  He had left, become a police cadet and eventually passed out and was now established back in his old town. Still young as a policeman but well recognised generally, respect for his authority however was in short supply, especially from the remnants of the old crowd he used to know.  One of the hazards of returning to your home town, he had been warned.

Anyway, she was not the young girl he had vaguely remembered, she was the young woman he recognised all too vividly last night.  It is not good for a policeman to blush.  But then he did not look like a policeman.  He stood and looked at her. Silent.

“You remember me? From before, at school?”  Her turn to blush a little and lower her head slightly, briefly, before looking him in the eye, daring him with hers.  He nodded.

“It’s Angel, I’m Angel. Angel Lamb.  You know, remember?  The vicar’s daughter.”

“Yes, from last night, I knew it was you”.  He stopped speaking, wondering what he should say.  They had broken no laws, well, not quite, maybe he saw them in time.  Or maybe he wished he hadn’t seen them, or just her.

“You won’t tell him?  You didn’t see me last night, okay?”  She hugged her arms round her waist and bounced a little on the spot in anticipation of his answer.  It did not help him answer smoothly.  His gaze dropped and returned up to her face, her eyes.

“If you say so.  For your dad’s sake.”

“Oh thank you!” She kept her voice low and the sound gushed out in a mixture of haste and relief.  She  tepped forward quickly, reached her arms round his neck and pulled him closer as she rose onto her toes and kissed his cheeck.  As quickly, she released him, stepped away, turned and almost skipped to the low gate.  She mouthed thank you as she was through the gate and pouted a kiss at him before hurrying off.

Walter closed the door.  He sat and whiled away the time staring at the daily crossword before moving around, getting ready to spend the evening in the “Jolly Puritan”.

Night two:

Summer nights, sunlight until well after ten.  As a regular at the pub Walter was included in the lock-in.  The new Juke box in the public bar blasting the old favourites through to the ‘lounge bar’ so they had no escape from alternating Beatles and Stones and Cliff Richard music.   Walter revolved around bar billiards and darts and standing at the bar for a bit of respite from both.

The sad looking girl with the short, shaggy black hair sat at the table in the far corner.  She was there the same night every week and stayed as late as anyone. She would chat noncommittally to any that joined her table to keep out of the way of the bums and cues and darts.  Drinking lager and lime top, sometimes accepting a drink from a regular she would talk to.  Walter carried his pint to her table, nodded at an empty chair and her waved hand taken as a gesture for him to sit. They sat in mutual silence for the last twenty minutes.

“Time!  Gents and ladies.  Ladies and gents, you’ve had your quotas, now go home to your wives and doters.”

“I wish he would stop that rubbish rhyming”, she said. “You’re a policeman arent you?  Will you walk me home, please?  As a policeman, that is.”

He was slightly surprised at the request, partly by itself and partly as those two sentences were the first he could remember her saying to him.  “Yes, okay”. He hesitated slightly, “I can be a policeman, or a friend. Even a friendly policeman.”

“As long as you are not the Laughing Policeman.” she said.  No smile, but softening of tone as, “But thanks”.

Perhaps he should have asked why, but he didn’t, just looked at her as she stared into the middle distance.  The pub emptied into the street and Walter walked with the woman for the ten minutes it took to reach her house.  A small red terrace part-way up the hill.  The slope itself terraced by more blocks of houses trailing along the length of the hill.

They walked in almost silence.  He briefly commenting on the pleasant cool of the summer night and her shorter word of agreement.  They walked comfortably together, he slowing his pace to hers.
“This is me.  My house.  Thanks, it is kind of you.  I am okay now.  I just needed a little bit of company for a few minutes.”  She unlocked the door, stepped inside and turned to say,
“Thanks again, see you around, probably in the pub, eh?” she smiled briefly, keeping watch on Walter as she closed the door.

Walter retraced his journey, mulling over the quiet stroll with the woman.  He passed the Jolly Puritan and saw all its lights were still on.  He didn’t try the door, assumed it was locked and the staff were clearing up.  Saw nothing as he glanced into the window except the empty room and tables.  And so he continued his stroll home and to bed.  Easy day tomorrow, shift starts at 2p.m.

Day two:

Strolling into the station in the early afternoon was always an easy shift in Burnthorpe.  Anything that happened was either late at night or early in the morning.  Anything that set the station buzzing, that is; the usual robberies or accidents, all the various public casualties that involved the police.  His beat for the afternoon was to be a gentle stroll round the houses and the shops with the odd greeting and wave or short chat with shopkeepers.  Time at the station for a break and then a second stroll round his area which was a repeat, ending with an hour back at a station desk and the hand-over briefing for the evening shift.  It was only at this last meeting that PC Copper heard the report that a young man had been found in a shop doorway in the early hours of the morning.  Heard that the man had probably died from vomit after too much drink.  Finally that he had not been identified.  Apart from the body being discovered in the same shop doorway as Walter’s discovery a couple of years ago there was no other apparent interest.

Night three:

So, an uneventful day that progressed into an evening that held no excitement either.  Some evenings he could watch the likes of Dixon of Dock Green, which usually had a boring storyline these days but he was quite taken by the gritty stories of ‘Z Cars’.  Set in an imaginary area of Liverpool.  With it’s thick accents and no nonsense coppers it was a world he could almost be part of.  Except in Burnthope very little actually happened and he only had a bicycle, they had snazzy Ford Anglias.  Only top-brass had the cars when they visited, or the rarely visiting detectives.  Black Jags for the brass and Humbers for the ‘tecs if they could get one from the pool at the city station.
The evening, after the meal of carrots, potatoes and ham, was spent ironing the heavy blue shirt for the following day and a stiff brushing of his serge uniform to clear the street-dust.
Country-music on the radio, switch to the BBC television news as dusk approached and the hour before bed taken up with a last mug of tea and the crossword of the day.

Day three:

At the station briefing they were each given a photo.  A grainy morgue photo whose overhead lights, pre autopsy, lit the face to an even more deathly pallor.

“He had no wallet or identity papers.  No recognition to date, the sergeant’s getting the files checked but it could take days.  Ask around, Just in case he’s been about.”  Said the duty-sergeant.  “Probably died in his sick, serve him right, poor bloke.”

They tucked the photo into their notebooks and into their top pockets.  Walter’s beat for the day was in the New town and as he cycled to the side-gate of the shop where the police had arrangements to park their bikes he tried to remember where he had seen that face.  Quiffed-up hair, just like that bloke on Z-Cars, what’s ‘is name!

And another few hours spent pleasantly making conversation with shopkeeper and shoppers.  A few directions for toilets, even some cheeky requests for the time. With those he was uncommonly polite, sometimes to the disappointment of the asking child.  He ably directed cyclists off the pathways with the gruff additional “Dont let me catch you doing it again!”  They always did, he always did.

He had shown the photograph to the owners of the various shops and cafes, the man’s face getting more creased, older, every time.  No-one recognised him though the woman behind the counter at the Coffee-Cafe said he looked like one of the lads who sat around in the evenings.
And the day plodded on.

End of shift, at the station de-briefing, they were informed that the young man had a stomach full of beer, little food and many part dissolved tablets.  Apparently they could be this LSD stuff they go on about.  Big thing in London and Liverpool but can’t see it gettin’ to these parts.  The suggestion being that it was accidental mixing of too many ‘party-pills’ with the alcohol.  Suicide was most unlikely so the coroner’s report would be Accidental Death. “Just have to find a name for the lad and inform relatives”.

Off-shift and out of uniform he decided he needed a couple of pints of beer, maybe a game of darts or better still, dominoes.

Night four:

The pub was quiet.  The vicar sitting on a plump, red-cushioned stool at the bar cradling his pewter tankard they kept behind the bar for him.  He often called in after a service or funeral, keeping conversation or consolation if at a Wake.  “Adding to local colour and keeping up his service-.drinking”, he would have said to any querying soul.  He was referring to his war-time service and his memories of Arnhem but kept that part to himself.

Walter kept his promise and never mentioned his meeting the vicar’s daughter, Angel, but he did ask how she was.  “She was fine, probably in a huddle with her girlfriends in town. She came home a bit giddy and seemingly drunk a few nights ago but had blamed food poisoning at the new kebab place in town.  She should stick to that coffee-bar they all go to.  Mind you they have the juke box so loud they cant hear a thing.  They will go deaf, you mark my words”.

Their conversation to’ed and fro’ed as these words came out.  The barman, barrel shaped and apparently not much taller than the counter pulled a slow pint of mild and bitter for Walter.  He put the straight glass to the open hand, picked up the coins and with cloth in other hand wiped the overflowed drips from the polished surface.
“Thanks Eddy”, said Walter mid-gulp.

The bar stayed quiet so after a second pint Walter abandoned ideas of dominoes and strolled towards the cafes in the new part of town.  Automatically looking into the recessed doorways as he went.  Strolled past the Waddle-stone and the kids pushing against their bed-times by sitting blatantly on the stone itself and carefully swinging on the chains around it.  He was not in uniform and not in a growling mood so he let it pass.

There she was, as he expected, sitting at one of the tables, squeezed between two lads on one bench seat with two young woman on the one opposite.  The table in front of them had several tall glass mugs spilling over with coffee-stained froth and other dregged cups and saucers.  Small spoons were carefully criss-crossed like smocking along one table edge.  Angel looked a picture, but a tired picture, he thought.

Walter Copper took a breath and entered the cafe.  He wasn’t much older than the customers but he felt out of age, out of depth.  The noise was battering at first but once past the speakers blasting out the Rolling Stones he was able to hear himself think and reaching the woman tending the steaming and gasping Espresso machine found he could talk too.

When she turned he recognised her as the young woman he had escorted home. They both offered each a hesitant ‘hello’ unsure how to continue.  He broke the pause by unfolding the young man’s photo and showing it to her.

Yes, she recognised him.  He was new but had become regular.  He would often stay late drinking coffee.  He was popular, chatting to lots of people throughout the time he stayed.  Maybe he was too popular.  No, she didn’t like him.  He sort of scared her.  Maybe he was giving out drugs, some of the girls got silly, like drunk.

She squeezed out a coffee and passed him the frothing glass mug and long handled spoon.  He scooped out the froth as she spoke softly to him.
“And Angel?  Was she involved?”
“The honey girl?  No.  She was one that got silly-dizzy the last night he was in.  He acted all concerned and had to haul her out.  She was upset, sounded a bit over giggly at the same time.  She didn’t know what was happening but her friends reckoned he was alright, they didn’t mind.”

He looked over to Angel and back to his coffee.  Sipped through the froth and looked for more information.  She continued quickly, quietly, while tidying cups on the black and chrome machine.  “It was closing time anyway.  I cleared everyone out.”  She spotted his quizzical look.  “The’re a tame lot really, he was the slow one”.   She nodded to the photo.  He picked it up and slid it, with yet another crease, into a pocket.

“Anyway, I tried to follow them.  I know she’s the vicar’s daughter but lost sight of them.  I assume she got home okay.  That was it.  Day off next day so I didn’t see her.  End of the day I was in the pub.”

“You looked unhappy.”

“I was.  I was also a bit worried by that man in case he knew I followed them.  I didn’t like his eyes.  He was all chirpy with the customers but he looked at me with flint in his eyes.  That was why I asked you to see me home.  I was just too scared to leave alone.”

“They all look happy enough”, he said looking around the room at the tables and people.  Angel saw him looking and gave him a wave, then nudged the young man trying to wrestle an arm around her.  Walter looked away.

“Just as noisy but not so jumpy.  Me included”.  She said.  A group came in and lounged on the counter shouting and changing their orders before settling and sharing their coins; half crowns, shillings and pennies to reach the total. “Thanks, Mad”, said one.

‘Mad?’ he queried.

“Maddy for short or Madelie if you want formal.”

“Thanks Madelie, Maddy. See you in the pub?”  She waved her hand noncommittally as she sorted the coffee orders.  He accepted the hint and left the Coffee-Cafe.

Day four:

Sunday, in church, the vicar briefly mentioned the talking point of the week:  “I have to mention the sad fate of, as yet, a stranger, a few days ago.  Who knows what he might have done had he lived a full life.  But life might be compared to walking the plank, or a tightrope.  There is a hand guiding and supporting, ensuring you don’t fall.  Maybe this young man had lost his footing, lost his support and fell out of life.  Yet there will always be a hand on your shoulder, even in death, as there was with this young man.”……………
Night five:

‘Quiet tonight landlord?’
‘Padre…..’.  Quiet agreement from the publican as he stretched up to reach the vicar’s tankard then filled it from the bitter pump.  They said no more.  One sipped at the bitter while the other polished the dried glasses ready for custom.
They had no need for chatter, it had been worked out during the war and settled into a quiet consideration when they found themselves neighbours again.  How Eddy, short and tubby, even those years ago, managed to get himself dropped into Arnhem no one dared ask at the time.  And now, nearly thirty years later it would never be a topic of conversation.  Both men had met in the cellars and as padre and sergeant fought their way through the rubble, eventually to be trailed through the gutted streets towards a POW camp.

“How’s Angel?”

“Back to her usual annoying self, bless her”.
They did not speak of the thumping on the door a few nights ago and the one stern call of his name, “Eddy. Sergaent!”  Or the crashing of the young man onto the tiled floor through the half-opened door.

“He needs a pint before he leaves town.  Bitter seems appropriate, think of it as a gift from an angel”. The vicar picked the young man up by the scruff of his neck and shoved him into a chair.  “Empty your pockets”.

The young man, slicked hair now collapsed round his ears automatically started rifling his jacket pocket and dropped contents on the table before starting back to another pocket.  He was breathing heavily, sweating profusely.

Seeing the pile of tablets that had appeared with a box of matches:  “That’ll do. Keep your hands on the table”.  The vicar rested a heavy palm on the youth’s shoulder and he felt the shoulder cringe.

“There’s your drink before you go.  Drink it quick and you are free to leave.”
The hapless man picked up the glass but before it reached his lips he felt the claw-like squeeze on his shoulder.  “Remember to take your tablets”,  then;  “Another pint, landlord, help the sweeties down.”

A second pint appeared.  He scrabbled at the tablets, more scared of the vice by his neck than the small blocks of powder.  Tablets gone, second pint downed, partly down his striped shirt.

“Well done.  So nice to meet you”, as he was yanked out of the chair.  At the doorstep the voice in the young man’s ear whispered in menace, “If you come back to Burnthorpe you won’t leave”.

The shove propelled him yards across the road.  He heard the heavy door slam behind him.  In the street he turned, looking up to find where he was.  The creaking sign above attracted his attention.  He saw a man, stiff in black with a white lacey bib leering down towards him.  The Bible in the Puritan’s hands flapped open and fell toward his feet.  It fell closed, as black and solid as a drain-cover by his toes. The young man bent to pick up the dropped Bible and as his fingers touched the cover it heaved and curved, smoothed and glossed and scurried away with flickering cockroach legs, slithering through the lit slit under the heavy black door.

Confused, half-henching, the bitter and bile filling his throat and mouth as he lurched down the slight incline.  The lights threw themselves at him then went black, their stalks bending down to him and tripping him like giant brambles.  From each side of the street the large eyes of glass blinked at him.  Irises darkening and enlarging, enveloping him as he bumped into the harsh convex corneas.  They closed in round him as he walked blindly into corners without escape.  And he was tired.  The decorated marble tiling ate into his feet, laminated shins, melted knees and the acrid bitterness filled his mouth, his chest, his eyes.  The doorway held him as a safe, not as warm as the soldier before him but tighter.

end

view with me four nights

photo and text copyright j.Johnson Smith

Burnthorpe

See also tags: Madeline Carew, The Jolly Puritan, Copper Man,

P.C. Copper and the Inuit

Walter Copper quickly scanned the pages of the Advertiser, he was bored and needed something to keep his mind alert.  Usually he would stroll to the pub on the edge of the town.  It was not truly his local but it was near the end of his beat and he would call in for a few minutes, in the line of duty, as it were.  If it was cold or raining, or he needed to visit the gents.  It happened most frequently in the worst of the winter when the comfort and shelter of the pub and facilities were most welcome.  He could warm himself briefly, sidling to the log fire that crackled through the silence of the bar.  You could almost touch the smoke and soot in the atmosphere from a century of logs and sometimes, when pine was on the pyre their smell cut sweetly through the years and the smell of old beer. Yet here he was, at home, bored, itching to go out and do something brave, something to remembered for.  Anything to get him out of his little house and the only company he had, his wireless.  He looked up from the newspaper spread out, almost covering his small table, and across to his wireless.  It was a big square box of mahogany with a circular rattanesque central feature.  Behind it was the big speaker.  The metal rim, just touching the back of the weave, had left its impression as it vibrated and touched a million times to ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ or any similar contact from that other world.  He looked at the wireless with the dark circle of the speaker that had seeped through the weave looking like a beer-stain on its centre.  Above it was the glass etched with the stations, lit by a small green bulb from behind.  If you looked into the glass closely, and down, you could see the thin twine with its one plastic tooth inserted.  Turn the tuning knob at the bottom of the wireless and the twine would shudder gently and move slowly like a tightrope walker across a void until it was shaded by a radio station etched on the glass.  If you were lucky you could tune out the static and hear the sound of BBC Home or Third.  Really lucky, with the breeze in the right direction and you could get Radio Luxembourg.  Walter had tried holding the aerial that trailed from the jack-plug at the wireless’ back and circled along the picture rail to the window opposite, where the wires of the old flex he used were twisted round the metal curtain rail.  If he raised it off the floor he could sometimes, or at least imagine, get reception from Athlone or Radio Moscow. The advertisements on the page, writ bold and blocked in heavy squares did not enthuse him.  Evening Beetle-drives, past and future, all no doubt in draughty halls and of no interest.  Bridge clubs and jumble sales were passed over.  He briefly hesitated over the adverts pleading for enthusiastic singers for church choir and another for Gilbert & Sullivan auditions especially in need of men able to be both pirates and policemen.  He could be the policeman but as his voice was like a rasping file when he sang he quickly dismissed the idea.  Anyway, he was bored not energetic!  And it was now, not for the next two months.  Faithful to his search he continued to the bottom of the page.  His patience was rewarded when he saw the panel with the bold words, “Spend an evening with an Inuit”.  It was that very night, down the road.  All he had to do was to decide whether to walk or cycle. “That’ll do for me. A bit of the Arctic life sounds a better bet than the rain.  Is it Greenland, or Arctic?  I know they fish in ice-holes, suppose they eat whales and things.  Polar bears and penguins I reckon too.  What with kayaks and ice-floes, must be worse than walking the beat”.  All this while pulling his boots back on and knotting the laces, between finishing swigs of the small bottle of stout he had opened the minute he arrived home. He shrugged awkwardly into the heavy raincoat and peered out of the window into the night.  It was now dry and clear so he decided to walk but grabbed the scarf from the peg on the back of the front door as he opened it.  With the scarf wrapped and tucked round his neck he stepped out into the street, pulled the heavy door closed, pushed and rattled the brass knob to check it was closed properly and strolled on.  “I’ve never met an Eskimo before.  I think it must be Canada; Greenland.  Hope he’s wearing one of those jackets with its furry hood. Mind you it would be hot indoors here compared to Greenland.  All that ice and snow.  It might be polar bear skin and fur.  Cor’, fancy having to kill a bear so you can dress to go outside”.  Walter amused himself by designing questions and wondering if there would be photos projected onto a screen.  He would like that, even better if it were a film of some sort.  You never know, it could be in colour, well some of it might be!  Colour was becoming a norm at the pictures these days… He saw the board outside with its big, scribbled, ‘8 pm start’, the last of the crowd had entered as he reached the door and followed quickly, intending to get a seat near the front.  He noted that the few people in front were all women with their assorted old coats and gray hair or woolly headscarves.  “Makes a change from bingo”, flicked through his mind. “Three shillin’s tonight luv”, said the cheery young girl behind the glass panel. “oh, it’s you Walter, didn’t expect you tonight, it’s not a film you know.” “Need a bit of culture tonight, Pat”. He paid his money, took his ticket and the girl followed his back with a slightly quizzical expression. Walter strolled into the old picture-house to find a seat.  It was a cinema built at the beginning of the century for the burgeoning silent-movies but fallen upon hard times with the arrival of a big new cinema nearby with its ability to show films in colour on a big screen and with the new stereo sound.  The old cinema survived by holding regular events such as bingo, exhibitions, amateur productions and assorted entertainments on the low stage.  Such as this one. He walked down a side aisle, towards the front, looking for a seat.  He was surprised at how many people were there, must be over a hundred, he guessed. Scanning the rows he then began to notice it was mostly women in the audience, all chattering, many smoking or passing sweets to neighbours.  A few husbands seemed to have been dragged along.  There were few gaps but he spotted one in the first row and sneaked in, half crouching as the lights dimmed in the auditorium and rose on the footlights.  The spots in the far corners lit up a golden circle on the lush red curtains. Walter crumpled his coat on the floor, apologised to the woman each side of him and settled in the creaking seat as the curtains opened to a flutter of audience clapping.  Walter folded his arms, keeping his elbows to himself and looked up at the figure approaching from the wings. A tall, gaunt figure wearing a pink, knitted dress and long grey cardigan walked into the central spotlight.  Round her neck trailed a long silk scarf which she slowly pulled off and folded into squares until it was as small as a handkerchief.  She waved it to the crowd, asking for silence and smiled, nodding her head in thanks as the quiet descended. “Good evening everybody, so good to see you all here.  I do hope we can meet some of your loved ones tonight”.  She looked round slowly, then down and Walter felt her eyes dipping into his, locked.  I am an Intuit, a clairvoyant, a medium.  I am not an Eskimo, an Inuit from Greenland.  I have no kayak or fishing pole.  And for information you should also know that penguins live in the southern hemisphere and polar bears in the northern.  They never meet, not even in a zoo”.  She smiled, ” If you saw the advertisement in the paper I am sure you noticed the spelling mistake”.  She smiled at him again, “Meet me after the show, Walter.” she instructed. She looked out around the audience again, “Now, who needs to talk with me?” she closed her eyes. Walter Copper also closed his eyes and tried to shrink back into his seat.

Advent of P.C. Copper, a brief description

Walter Copper!  That is a name to hate your parents for.  Individually he had no real complaint.  Both his parents were loving, kindly, supportive and quite generous.  He was their only child and they gave him all that doting parents might. But, you may have noticed, he was called Walter!  Not in itself a particularly unfortunate name, uncommon, yes.  He might have found some satisfaction in being named after Walt of Disney fame or that poet fellow, de la Mare, surely there must be others?  He had never bothered to look.

Now, as he walked under the canopies of the shop fronts, hiding from the rain and dodging the cascades in their gaps, he wondered why he had never changed his name.

Passing the lit windows that were part-covered in condensation he would catch glimpses of his reflection.  The old oilskin cape that shimmered with the streaks of water and refracted the glow off the coloured lights.  His overlong trouser legs were tucked into black socks pulled up to his calves stopping the turn-ups dragging in the puddles.  He tried to walk quietly but even at this slow pace the hob-nailed soles and steels on toes and heels tapped like a slow dancer, or a bored morse-key operator.

Stopping in the shelter of the corner shop, he leaned briefly against its glass panelled door.  It was locked but he pulled away from it quickly as he felt and heard the wooden cross give and crack.  Furtively he looked behind him and then peered round the corner.  No people out on this wet evening only a few cars parked further up, approximately outside The Jolly Puritan, public house.  Then he clipped off the curb and clopped across the road to the awnings the other side and stood for a few moments with his back bathed in the spotlighted window of the dress shop.

Walter felt the eyes of the mannequins staring at him and counted slowly to thirty before he turned and looked back at their rouged cheeks, pouting lips and their bald heads. Their eyes watched him blankly.  They stood with arms bent up as if disdainfully dismissing him, handbags precariously slung over cracked joints.  Their dresses glittered steely.  Sequinned, like chain-mail of glittering blues and reds and golden hues that hung, hard-pointed down past hips and par-crossed alabaster legs.  They all smiled at him, fingers minutely moving, encouraging him into their little world.  He smiled a little and ruefully shook his head.  Looked at his watch, where the hand points and strolled back across the road.

The rain worsened and, decision made, he pushed open the old quarter-panelled door of the pub and stepped into the glowing room.  Two heads turned as he entered.  The man, nursing a pint of bitter.  The woman who had been staring at the scarred wall opposite.  And from the other bar, a barrel shaped man appeared and said, “Good evening, P.C. Copper, what a night, what a rotter!”

Wait for the further adventures of Copper man:

Copper Man and the Innuit

Seven Days, Nine Nights with Copper.

Copper gets the Model

The Copper Bottom Deal

Copper catches Gold

Copper gets Rusty