Busie Warboys versus Eddy Stone

Busie Warboys versus Eddy Stone

The publican rarely slept well. Maybe he was tied to his life running the pub. He had no family, no wife or relatives to call on. Just him and the pub. Himself and the Jolly Puritan.

The closest he had was the vicar, his padre from the old ‘warrior’ days like  Arnhem.  Vicars wife Maureen, less so but still a friend.  But then she was everyone’s friend, always smiling and willing to chat but not one for him to confide in.  Angel, their daughter was like family.  He would do anything for her, did, as good as.

The clock downstairs struck a stifled twice.  2a.m.   Busie lay on his bed, thick arms hoisted up and clasped under his head.  The slightly raised angle pressed his chins down upon each other but his breathing was clean and deep down into his barrel chest. His stomach muscles were still firm and serviceable despite the flab depositing all over the lower surface of his body.  Too much beer, too much food, too much hospitality and to be honest, not enough exercise.  Despite running around checking everything he was more ‘ mein host’ than active. There was the cellar-man who also worked the bar all week,  Deena who worked the bar weekends and Angel through the weekdays and a couple who took turns to help whenever they were needed.

His legs were short despite his large body. He had thrown the sheet off his body in the heat of the night so his feet caught the drift of breeze whenever it managed to sidle across the room from the open window.  He breathed fully in, his lungs enlarged like organ bellows, ribs widening, chest rising.  Pushing the air out through his mouth, allowing his vocal chords and throat to produce a deep, noisy sigh like a last gasp, he encouraged his whole body to relax. Put his hands down to his hips and hoisted his stomach and body onto his side. Settling to relax in that position.

The tinnitus shifted notes in his head as he moved. The ear muffled by the pillow helped to re-echo the pitched signal and create the short bursts of internal lightning he could somehow feel as well as see.  He moved his hand from his settling gut and tucked it under the pillow.  Positioned for relaxing if not sleep,  Busie Warboys was not the man he used to be.

……………..

He was woken by the broken chime of the clock, his first reaction was to look at the luminous dial of his watch. It was the third chime that had woken him.  3a.m.

He must have been asleep but now he was wide awake, head clear and ears as silent as the night. Lifting himself upright by swinging his legs over the edge of the bed he slowly rose up and moved to the side of the window. He didn’t touch the curtains but peered through the gap between edge and wall.

Looking down from his position he could see along the street.  Just see the footpath below his window and as he moved the inch or so needed he could check for movements from his side of the street and across the other side. His view was clear down the main street and by switching sides of the window he could repeat the view in the opposite direction.

He could see the shadows moving.  The people moving about.  Ghosts lifting themselves out of the ground, out of the rubble.  Civilians who cried as they walked from shattered house to broken house in search of something, not sure what, no longer aware if they were alive or dead.  Keeping close to the wall, Eddy peered through the broken slats, like bars, of dissembled cellar doors. His view level with and along the rubble strewn road, inches from his face.

The horizon was close. Fractured walls on each side of the street with rubble collapsing down into the street where footpaths used to be.  The church sitting at the junction of the streets fifty yards ahead had a stern facade which arched up into a neat bell tower with a small square open niche for the sound of the bells to flow round the town.  Where the roof once was he could see sharp ribs, broken spars, jarring into the sky.

He watched, fascinated as the great machine, dust ridden and pock-marked leered round the corner.  Huge, remorseless, a sloping slab of armoured metal.  His eyes seemed to be filled with the dark grey protuberance at the end of the muzzle. The black centre was fused into his brain as flame and smoke belched out of its mouth and vents, simultaneously the wall above his window disintegrated and he fell unconscious, pressed into cracked floorboards by ceiling, joists and brickwork from the room above as well as scraps of broken furniture and uniform of one of his platoon.

…………………………….

When he woke the mess and smell had disappeared but the tinnitus had returned and every muscle seemed to be quivering.  He pulled himself upright using the sill for leverage and stood at the window. A short fat man who shivered with the cold, sweated with the cold and whose beating heart crashed in his chest as he looked out on the tidy, empty village street and it’s orange dotted lamplights displaying pools  of rural midnight blandness.

“Okay Eddy, it’s only the ‘Market Garden’, it could be worse.,” he spoke out loud.

He answered, “Yes and Busie is here to keep, you sane.  The old soldier in his mind respected help when it was offered and accepted.    Calmer now, heart still fast and fluttering, he went back to his bed, laid himself down and contemplated the ceiling until the brief hour of sleep found him.

Busie awoke in time to hit the bell on the alarm clock. “Rise and shine, it’s half past five,” he recited to himself as he rolled himself off the bed and onto his feet with the aid of the brass bed-head.   He dressed and clambered down the stairs to the big kitchen.   Put the kettle on to boil and used the time to use the toilet and wash hands and face in cold water.  Timing was perfect as he ran fingers through his sparse hair to tidy it then tossed the spoonful of tea leaves into his mug as the kettle steamed.  He poured the water into the mug watching as the small leaves turmoiled and stained the water.  Kettle put on the side of the cooker after pouring water into a saucepan to be ready for a couple of eggs to be broken into and poached. A big pinch of salt and he moved saucepan onto the gas flame after a little topping up of water from the the old brass tap.

Back to his tea, a big dash of milk, no whisky this morning and a stir to the mixture, raising a storm with the tea leaves again.  And on with the eggs, on with the toast in the grill.  The routine following  minute by minute while he settled his brain for the day ahead.  Busie was in control, Eddie was resting at the back of his brain after the strain of reliving a hopeless battle he helplessly survived.

His day would start properly with the unbolting and unbarring of the cellar doors for the draymen;

with the ritual of them hauling out the empty barrels and kegs via the parallel ropes that were clipped to the outer edges for the door frame.  Outside, when the cellar doors were raised they hid the opening into the beer-cellar from the casual observer. You could not see the well-preserved slope down to the stone floor some eight feet below, up which the empty barrels were easily drawn.  When the replacements were lowered it was less easy. The large sawdust filled hessian cushion lay at the base to soften the landing of the filled wooden casks. Once in the cellar they had to be rolled carefully up the small sloping bridge onto their blocks and wedged firmly, ensuring the bungs were down and central.  Strapping was available to manouvre them if need be but years of practice had the job done in minutes. There was always plenty of time to slake any thirst the draymen may have built up.  The fresh barrels, be they mild, bitter or local brews had to sit while the dregs settled. It took a day or two before they could be used, for the finings to work, so they would usually test the previous delivery, freshly tapped the previous night for their visit.

 

“How are you today, Eddy?”  Asked the vicar, the ex-soldiers ex-padre as he joined the publican on the path outside the Jolly Puritan to watch the draymen load the empty casks and barrels onto the dray.

“Busie, sir.”  Always Busie when I am working.  It’s only Eddy when I can’t sleep, or when I do!” He said wryly.

“Yes, sorry. Busie, though I still can’t get out of the ‘Eddy’ habit. Remember I am only up the road if you need to talk about old times, good or bad.  I am lucky, I guess; don’t seem to have your troubles.  Arnhem was the worst of it for me but you went back for more.

“Maybe I should ‘ave kept me original name but I was invalided out after ’47 so I had to change it to get back in.  Seemed a good idea at the time. Still, had me a couple of years back in the ranks, got me three stripes again and then they kindly blew me up.  As good as.  All I came out with was a medical pension and a big hole in me ‘ed, out of which me mind escaped.”

They watched the last empty kegs flung by the driver and caught by his mate then piled and roped on the flat-back lorry.  “Still, always time for a beer when the brewery’s here.  Come on lads, let’s test last delivery!”  He shook his head a little as another rhyme had escaped.

‘A quirk!’ The doctor had said as he smiled at him. He had come home from Korea and the doctor at the board had signed him off with another pension, a plate in his head, tinnitus, a lost memory gap of some four years and a quirk that seemed to ensure he spoke in rhyme whenever he uttered a short sentence.  Not to mention his unwished-for reversion to his earlier persona of Eddy Stone and the rubble of Arnham.  The dreams were real whenever they caught him, he could never just turn them off just survive them. Daylight and the Jolly Puritan, that was what kept him almost sane.

“Just a quirk!” And he followed the men inside while the vicar walked away. Inside the doorstep he picked up the Bible, yet again, and stuffed it onto the shelf.

 

another excerpt from ‘Burnthorpe’

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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

Eddy Stone, Publican at The Jolly Puritan

He finished wiping the bar down and dropped the cloth into the drip-tray.  Easing it out of its well he sidled round into the other bar and swivelled immediately in the opposite direction to the back-room.

It was a kitchen, really, with the two big sinks where they washed the glasses.  On the opposite side was the narrow table where they prepared the filled roles and sandwiches and suchlike.  White utility cupboards above and next to the old green gas stove.  The rest of the room had cupboards, like wardrobes, one containing assorted brooms and cleaning equipment while the other had shelves stacked with bar-towels, ‘tea-towels, boxes of candles and a few unused table-cloths. One shelf had a large crow-bar lying at its edge and a wooden box some four inches high and almost the full length of the shelf.  It was ‘knocked up’ from an old orange box and the remains of ‘Outspan Oranges’ labels could be seen in various states of peeling in several places.

He tipped the brown mix of beers into the sink and the cloth flopped wetly on top. Switching the tap on he ran the tray under it, swilling the water out and then left the tray upturned on the draining board to dry.  He dried his hands on the towel hanging on the chair-back.

It had been a long day.  Eddy relished the silence at the end of the day.  Customers cleared out, the two staff finished and gone and his final, habitual duties of tidying completed.  He filled the kettle, lit the gas. From the cupboard at his shoulder he took down his mug and from the shelf below it grabbed the bottle of Camp Coffee and dribbled two teaspoons of its brown liquid into the mug.  The spoon leaned in the mug, the last of the syrupy coffee refusing to slide down.  Eddy went to check the outside doors of the two bars while his water boiled.  Of course they were locked.  The Lounge Bar door first.  Because of his height he could barely reach to push the bolts closed at the top of the door.  With a sort of hitch and jump he could do it but these days his girth made it even more difficult so one of his regular bar staff would usually oblige.  Maybe the last customer would do the bolts and sidle out of the back door into the gunnel. Finally he checked the Public Bar door.  Some said it was the original door, heavy oak boards cross-banded with similar oak, all aged and blacked with a lead-like layer of grime from timeless dirt and smoke.  Hand-forged bolts that originally held the planks together now just featureless juts in the ‘lead’.

As he already knew, the lock and bolts were secure.  He picked the heavy Bible off the coconut matting recessed into the floor and replaced it on the small table in the alcove next to it.  He muttered to himself, ‘Why does it fall on the floor?  Can’t be the draught when they close the door.  Maybe last one out gives it a clout!’  Eddy tutted his way round the counter to his kitchen, rescued the steaming kettle and half filled his coffee mug.  Stirred the coffee syrup and smelled the chicory in the coffee mixture.  Added plenty of milk from the bottle and stirred again then moved the mug to the small table.

As usual, in the quiet of the night his tinnitus became more insistent which in turn would make the back of his skull throb a little.  No, that was an exaggeration, more of an awareness of sensation.  The crease in his skull was the cause of both, he had been told.  The insomnia too. That had attached itself to him since his wounding in Korea.  He didn’t talk about it much.  It ended his military career.  Even fewer people want to remember the Korean War these days and he never wanted to explain that he was wounded out of the service by a tree falling on his head.  No matter that it had been exploded out of the ground by uncountable mortar rounds.

So, staff gone, last two customers gone, regular and irregular and all he had now was to while away some hours until he could grab those valuable three of sleep.

Unnecessary as he knew it was, he found it therapeutic to do some cleaning.  The one thing he had been trained to do and did, even in extremis in Arnhem and Korea, was clean his rifle and hand-gun.  So he moved the crowbar to the lower shelf of the cupboard and carried the boxwood container to the table and unclipped the lid.  Inside, cradled on its home-made felted rests were his service revolver and a dismantled Enfield rifle.  Carefully placing the brush, wadding and oil on the table he lifted out the revolver, broke it and began wiping down in a slow, gentle process.

relates to: Burnthorpe

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,

The Jolly Puritan

Sitting just off the High Street, on Dunkel Walk, the short road that leads up to the old Parish church of the old market town.  That is where you find it.

Ancient town, more like, as ancient as the church.  Which came first is a great concern for the town’s historians and amateur archaeologists.  Currently the balance is on the side of the town as being the older.

Debatable, as they count the original hamlet that was raised by the Vikings and razed just a few years later by a rival clan.  It seems that after a short period of destruction between the two sides they finally compromised, intermarried and set about the real enemy, the Angles.  And the resultant town was started.  Christianity intervened at the same time and a bespoke church was built.  So the new town and new church of Burnthorpe were born.

We still have two sides of the same coin, as it were, early Viking versus later Viking and as in all old centres of population: the memory is still strong.

So, strolling up Dunkel Walk you can see the low roofed church with its cream, lime-washed walls and the stone buttresses on each corner.  You can see the stumpy little tower above the hefty main doors with its wooden bell-tower atop.  It may be unique, or at least rare, with its thatched roof and fully weather-boarded sides.  In daylight it looks, sadly, like a small shed with its thatch and a chicken silhouette of a weathervane.  Usually bell-towers are open to allow the sound of their peals to ring clearly across the town and fields, in this case the tower was muffled during the civil war and has remained so for the passing centuries.

‘The bells that toll in darkest night
May call the Royalist into sight.
If be muffled into sleep
Then safely shall the village keep.’

The village remained safe though no-one is sure for whom the verse inscribed on the porch was actually meant.  One thing proven was that several Puritan militia men were boarded at the nearby inn through most of that war.  The self-same inn was called ‘George and Dragon’ up to the Restoration and then, once Charles II was settled on the throne it was surprisingly renamed the ‘Jolly Puritan‘.  Now, centuries later, the pub remains, unmoved, mostly unrestored and creaking with echoes of the past.

Reach the church at the top of the hill with its stone wall around it and the graveyard.  The grounds slope gently downhill to the right as a narrow lane, Church Lane, leads you down to the Vicarage.  The lane is also short, the graveyard wall is overhung with tall horse-chesnut trees.  In the spring the verge is stuffed with ‘a host of golden daffodils’ (as one of the church-wardens insists on quoting at every opportunity) and always a plentiful supply of blackbirds that ruffle the leaves and detritus in the grass.  On the other side of the lane are the backgardens of the clumps of cottages still surviving from before the Enclosures were introduced.  Their picket gates interlaced with hedging of hawthorn, blackthorn, brambles and finally a small silvered line of birch behind a low stone wall closing off the end of the lane.  Over the low stone wall, looking through the silver-clad copse you will often see sheep grazing safely on the greensward slopes.  A view almost bucolic.

The Vicarage is on that cul-de-sac, which may have been noted as you first turned into it as the road sign pinned to the church’s graveyard wall signalled: ‘Church Lane. Dead End’
Another little sign of dispute for the Parish councillors.

Nothing for it but to return by the same route, maybe investigating the church, especially if unlocked, as inside it is simply dressed and decorated with a beautiful medieval stained-glass window behind the altar and two others, small lancet windows, each on north and south walls and designed by Alfred Smollson shortly after WWII.  Once outside, back down the gentler slope, passed the pub with the large sign hanging at its eaves and the smaller, pargetted, buildings opposite, to reach the High Street again.

The sign, creaking if breezy, depicts on one side the well-known image of a black-draped Puritan with apparently awhite lace doily as a bib, implacably clasping a bible; while on the other side is a leather-clad yeomanry Puritan soldier holding a tipping, foaming tankard and obviously bibulous.

Very little moves on the Walk and Lane except the few visitors to the church and it’s surroundings or the just-mentioned houses.  Owners and visitors park their cars in the so-quiet street.  Once a week a brewer’s lorry comes and the drivers bump barrels off its back onto sack-bales and roll them into the half-door at path level. They use parallel lengths of towing rope to slow the roll of the barrel down the wooden slope built from the cellar floor up to path level.  The reverse process is used to pull the empty barrels up and out.  Of course, not forgetting the regular and casual visitors slipping through the pub door itself.

On the High Street the buildings have been modified and a very few demolished and rebuilt in more current style.  Plaster covered wattle and daub nestles with brick and Georgian buildings.  A couple of mid-twentieth Century constructions with their two upper mock-tudor storeys badly balanced by their modern plate glass frontages below sit near the corner.  Along further and the New Road crosses the ‘T’ of the High Street and it is here the world splits into the Twentieth Century for Burnthorpe as along each side of this new thoroughfare was built ‘The New Shopping Street’ to cater for incomers.  Here are the latest shops, pizza places, assorted fish and Chinese and Indian establishments; the library, the police station and the bus station. Behind that the new housing estate, the street lighting and schools.  Some older inhabitants of the town still never walk this road.

At the junction of old and new roads stands the ‘Waddle Stone’ on its island, protected by a knee-high chain on heavy cast posts.  Another place of interest for historians.

After a gentle stroll to inspect the Waddle Stone the best option is to turn and stroll back to the Jolly Puritan. This time, as you turn the corner, the man sitting sternly on the sign sways a little, the Bible slips in his hand and eyes follow as you push the door and enter.

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