Behind the marmalade
You will remember that Patricia kept a journal, Alky was almost in bed, and that Rex sometimes spoke to graves. Inky, meanwhile, had no idea of how to address a vicar(!), Mrs Post endured a ridiculous enquiry, Mrs Pump endured Lord Jo, and the holly berries in Misty Longings were as red as the freshly painted phone box.
We find Lord Jo eating sausages for breakfast.
Lord Jo – or “Lord New Money of Misty Longings” as Mrs Post called him – always has sausages for breakfast, and has done, ever since he drove JCBs in Spatley and Dilkington. He started driving them at the age of fifteen, which was slightly against the law, but not as bad as murder or fare dodging. That’s where he’d discovered brown sauce as well. Everyone in Spatley had brown sauce with their sausages, and with most other things as well.
“What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander,” he was once memorably told.
(Mrs Pump didn’t call him Lord New Money to his face, obviously. Just in case you were wondering how he reacted. He didn’t react to it, because he never heard it.)
Nowadays, instead of driving JCBs, Lord Jo owned them. He owned a hundred of them to be precise, with their shovels at the front, and ground-breakers at the back. And it was high bloody time they were out working! He was on his mobile as Mrs Pump put his sausages in front of him.
“Brown sauce?” asked Lord Jo.
“Behind the marmalade,” said Mrs Pump, as she wiped down the sideboard, and watched Patricia approach the pillared front door of the Old Manor House.
“Now what’s she doing visiting at this time?” wondered Mrs Pump.
Everyone else in the village thought Patricia was wonderful, but to be honest, Mrs Pump thought she was an interfering bitch, which is strong language in anyone’s book.
Mrs Pump continued to watch her right up to the door. She looked quite the glamour queen, and it wasn’t even 7.00am!
The door bell rang.
“I’ll get it,” said Mrs Pump.
But Inky didn’t get it – he didn’t get it at all. He’d just discovered the hole, as any road user was bound to do. It was almost as wide as the road, for goodness sake! Yet what was going on?
“Father priest reverend! What about the hole?!?” he called down the street, but was too late. Rex had already entered the café, and closed the door behind him. This left Inky alone in the High Street, with a massive question on his mind, but no one massive to ask. He was also wondering why Rex hadn’t stopped to ask the same question.
“Didn’t he see the hole?” wondered Inky incredulously, shaking his head in disbelief. But even as he shook his head, a new thought appeared in it. It was a thought which if posed by a professor in Oxford University, as opposed to a butcher’s boy in a field, would probably be regarded as quite scientific or philosophical or something:
“In a way,” thought Inky, “a hole by definition is nothing, so how could anyone see it?” Perhaps this was why Rex had walked past it without appearing to notice it.
Inky was just wondering whether you could see nothing, when the meat delivery van appeared at the crossroads at the bottom of the street. Crikey! Inky jumped on his bike, wondering what was the fastest speed ever achieved on earth, on a bicycle. And on a different, but related, theme, whether he would get the sack for being late.
“And it’s going to get worse, according to the forecast,” said David, wiping the café sideboard with a grubby cloth.
“Oh, I never trust weather forecasts!” said Rex, sipping his tea. “They’re always wrong! Especially the bad ones! Any of your lovely sandwiches available?”
“The bread delivery is late.”
“Oh, that’s a shame.”
“I’m still waiting.”
“Perhaps a cake then.”
“They’re yesterday’s, mainly. And they weren’t great fresh.”
“Looks like it will have to be another of your lovely iced buns then!”
“Yes, they really were a very poor selection,” said David, still pondering the cakes.
“No matter,” said Rex. “As I say, I’m very partial to an iced bun.”
“The iced buns come with the bread.”
Rex paused, slightly deflated. One of the problems of being a priest was being relentlessly cheerful in the face of setbacks. Other people were allowed to collapse, but the priest was meant to weave a rainbow of hope in every situation. And frankly, that could take it out of you.
“You know, David, if I wasn’t a regular customer, I might have been put off by now!”
“I just tell it as it is,” said David.
“No – you tell it as you see it,” said Rex. “The two are not the same. Our perception is not a clear glass. In fact, we each see through a glass darkly – and some more darkly than others.”
Harsh words, maybe. But surely the priest must sometimes play the prophet, even in a village as beautiful as Misty Longings? John the Baptist probably came from a nice home somewhere, yet still spoke with destructive force.
The door then opened, and a bearded face appeared.
“Ah, Dr Hafiz!” said Rex warmly, because all men were equal, and he paid no heed to colour. “What brings you here?”
The eyes of Dr Hafiz were all a-twinkle.
“I am always attracted by the sound of love and laughter,” he said.
“So we ask again,” said David. “What brings you here?”
Amid such Café banter up the road, Reality Jane stepped out of her front door. Rose Cottage might look a little tumbledown, but she had spent £20,000 of her savings last year on the roofing, and expected now to be kept dry until the grave.
“For that money, you should have had immortality thrown in,” said Mrs Pump, and she had a point.
“I suppose you can’t take it with you,” said Jane.
“No. But you could at least have it here. What have you got left now?”
To be honest, Jane didn’t have a lot left now, and it was a cause of concern to her sometimes.
But not this particular morning. Jane tended to notice things, as we shall see, and this morning, despite the deep dark, she was aware of both a smallish orange ladybird on her sleeve, and a fine new spider’s web across her garden gate. The damp air had left wet droplets on the thin silvery threads, and it looked rather glorious.
“What an intriguing start to the day,” thought Jane, as one event exploded into another. “Ladybirds! Spiders! Silvery thread! What ever next on the roller coaster of life?”
Next for Algernon was definitely sleep. He hadn’t bothered to change into his pyjamas but collapsed on his bed fully clothed, and was soon snoring like a man denied sleep for a thousand years. The scene had its own irony, of course, if that’s the right word. For just as everyone else was waking up, Alky was dropping off! While everyone else said “Good Morning!” Alky was saying “Good night!” Village life certainly threw up its share of comic situations!
There wasn’t much comedy at the Manor, however, where Mrs Pump, having watched the approach of Patricia, now went to answer the bell. She didn’t hurry. She would let her stew a little. She would be distracted on her way, and let Patricia ring Lord Jo’s bell once, twice, three times – and still wait a little before answering.
“Answer the bloody door!” grunted Lord Jo.
Finally, Mrs Pump obliged.
“Can I help you?” asked Mrs Pump, barring Patricia’s way through, with her ample body.
“Oh, hello Mrs Pump! I was just wondering if I might have a quick word with Lord Jo?” asked Patricia. “If it wasn’t too much trouble.”
“Lord Jo’s not available at the moment,” said Mrs Pump.
“Then I’m ever so happy to wait,” said Patricia. “I don’t want to be a bother. I know you have a lot to do!”
“By all means wait –”
“– at home. Wait at home. And then ring to find a convenient time. It’s always best to ring. Now good day to you, Patricia.”
She closed the door, and muttered “hawkers” on returning to the kitchen, where Lord Jo cleaned up the fat on his plate, with his bread. He’d always cleaned up fat with his bread, ever since he was a fat boy, bullied.
“Bloody good sausage, Mrs P,” he said.
Mrs Pump liked doing for Lord Jo, and she really did him good and proper. He never missed things – but then, were they really his to miss? Those who possess, do not necessarily own. And she would also make it her business that he never missed Patricia.
After his happy chat with Rex and David, Dr Hafiz had decided upon an early morning walk in Buttercup meadow. It was on his way there that he met the glamorous Patricia. She appeared to be coming from the Manor. Dr Hafiz did find her rather beautiful, and caught her scent on the wind. But on this particular morning, he wished to be alone with the sky and the wood pigeons.
“Ah, the village rose!” declared Dr Hafiz.
“Oh, I’m not sure about that!” said Patricia.
“Well, you know,” said Patricia coyly.
“Is the village rose wilting a little?”
“Oh, no, no! Far from it.”
“You appear a little – I don’t know – distraught? Has some event unsettled your soil?”
“I’m very well; very well indeed, Dr Hafiz. You must attend to the sick, not the healthy. I’m just ‘taking the air’, as they say – my father used to take the air. He’d leave early – often before we were up.”
“Because even the finest rose needs the encouragement of light,” said Dr Hafiz, slightly ignoring her last remarks. “I wish such light for you, my dear. Light for the village rose!”
He smiled, bowed and walked on, leaving Patricia full of too many thoughts. And it wasn’t just the obstructive Mrs Pump. Last weekend, she had made the mistake of travelling by train to meet her imaginary father, the one she dreamed of, only to be met on arrival by her real one. Why did she always forget? Why did she keep imagining and then find herself let down? It had been a difficult weekend, because really, he could be quite impossible, and she returned as disappointed as ever. As usual, he had asked about boyfriends.
“Oh really, father – there’s more to life than men!”
But for Billy, not that far away, it felt that there was no more to life; that life had come to an end. He could see the speckled moon – that was a good thing. But other things were not so good. Just once, before he died, he’d like to have been heard.
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