Simon Parke  
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Down at the 'Dog and Whistle'

CHAPTER 7

In the last episode, Mrs Post was quite busy: she kept Alky’s phone ringing; read a poorly written address on an envelope, and told Cadbury she really wasn’t angry. Patricia caught up with Mrs Pump, the Kid felt unaccountably happy, and Algernon assaulted Cadbury with a bed side lamp, and left her in a ditch.

We discover Lord Jo on the phone to Mrs Pump. Or rather, she was on the phone to him.

Lord Jo was a bluff, no nonsense sort of a man, who called a spade a spade, and called a fleet of JCB’s, a very decent wodge of readies. ‘Everyone needs a JCB at some point in their lives,’ he’d say to people. ‘If you don’t have a hole at the moment, you’re bound to need one soon. And if you do have a hole at the moment, you’ll want it filled the day before yesterday! Either way, you need me! No wonder I’m rich!’

So when Mrs Pump rang him on site, to enquire about his supper arrangements, – his supper arrangements, would you believe?! – Lord Jo was not best pleased. What were his supper arrangements to do with her? She was his cook – not his mother! And when she then asked him if he’d seen the hole in the village High Street, he said he’d seen a million holes, most of which he’d dug himself, so hardly needed to see another:

‘And if some fool hadn’t involved the authorities,’ he added, ‘I’d have had it filled by lunchtime!’

So that was telling her, though people normally lived to regret speaking to Mrs Pump in this manner.

*

At least Billy, the fury boy, could celebrate the conversation recorded above. They would not be traditional celebrations, involving Morris dancers, pretty girls and cider a-plenty, for he was barely conscious and broken-boned in a crevice. But we must look on the bright side: had Lord Jo filled the hole by lunchtime, then Billy would have been filled in too and definitely dead. So hello silver lining! He was exhausted by pain, but unburied! You’d have to say this was a champagne moment.

It’s almost always good to know you will live beyond lunch.

Cadbury was not dead either. More champagne! Sure, she was in a ditch, and losing body heat fast, but alive enough to feel despair, which must be considered good news in its way. It does mean you’re alive, and as I say, we must always look on the bright side and not let everyone down with our dark and brooding thoughts.

Yet how David felt let down! He sat alone at the window table, in Café Disappointment, drinking black tea. Why black tea, which is an odd drink at the best of times? There had been no milk delivery. That’s why! First, no bread delivery and now no milk delivery. What a morning! Could things get any worse? Yes, they could. The drip, drip, drip on the table, just to the left of his cup, suggested a serious leak in the roof. And how he was going to pay for that, he had no idea.

David decided to think rationally about the situation unfolding before him:

The hole in the road was going to cause problems for the village; that was a fact, and that was his first thought. What would delivery vans do when they couldn’t get through? Perhaps he would never get bread or milk again. Perhaps those were now the good old days – the ‘good old bread and milk’ days. They may not have felt good at the time, but with hindsight, he could feel them growing in wonder.

Yet as David thought further, a new truth emerged:

‘Here’s another truth about life,’ he thought. ‘If it isn’t this, it’s that; and if it isn’t that, it’s the other; and if it isn’t the other, it’s this and that and the other, all joining forces, and often creating something even worse!’

Such were David’s reflections, which could only lead to one conclusion:

‘Fill in the hole, and something else will probably go wrong! Something worse.’

Yes, the more David thought about it, the more it became clear that the hole option was the best option for the village. It was terrible, and really quite ugly. But at least you knew where you were with a hole. It didn’t promise anything, and so it couldn’t let you down. Fill it in, and people would start expecting new things from the road – expectations which could never be met. A hole, on the other hand, was reassuringly and consistently bleak.

From here on, David would be pro-hole.

*

In the Dog and Whistle at lunchtime, Algernon could not see what the fuss was about.

‘So there’s a hole in the high street! What’s all the fuss about? There are countless holes in the world, and now we have another! I quite fail to see the rationale behind such obsessive concern. Stick a name on it, like ‘Hole’ or ‘Sad Road’, and call it a work of art! Some gallery would probably pay a fortune for it.’

Algernon was reckoned to be the village art critic, having been to Tuscany, and so his view carried some weight. ‘They call them ‘installations’ these days,’ he added, as the gin lubricated his mind. ‘They used to install boilers – now they install culture!’

There was some wise-apple chortling from other arty drinkers, but Rex wanted to refocus things. This was not a laughing matter.

‘My main concern is with the safety of our village folk,’ he said, sipping again at his tomato juice. He was known never to drink alcohol. ‘I was wondering if temporarily, we might be able to cordon it off. It’s a health and safety nightmare.’

‘The hole has improved safety, in my estimation,’ said David.

‘And how exactly has it done that?’ asked Rex, pointedly.

‘Traffic calming,’ said David. ‘The hole could significantly lessen road deaths in the village.’

‘It would be hard to lessen nought,’ said Mrs Pump, who put in a lunch shift behind the bar. She used the money to buy nick-knacks for her poor grand daughter in Much Needing. ‘That hole is an eyesore on the village landscape. The sooner the authorities deal with it the better.’

Rex was relieved to hear the authorities’ involvement confirmed. In the meantime, though, the church could make a stand about safety issues. It was good to have a flag to wave, when no one seemed to be noticing you – and no one really was noticing the church any more. The trouble was this: nothing, and no one, could be more beautiful than the village itself. After all, who could outshine the sweet dappled lanes and petal-velvet gardens of Misty Longings? Not Rex. Not the church. Not anybody.

*

‘Aggghhh!’

They all heard the terrible groan, which seemed to rend the very heavens. But they couldn’t immediately place it.

‘I blame the parsnip soup,’ said Alky, who thought it came from the toilet.

‘Someone’s not a happy bunny!’ said Rex nervously.

‘It could be anyone,’ said David, not wishing to narrow down despair.

Dr Hafiz ran a popular afternoon surgery in the pub’s function room. Perhaps in the course of healing, he had just misplaced a needle, with very painful consequences!

And then there it was again, only louder this time:

‘Aaaggghhh!’

‘It’s amazing the effect of too much lentil on the bowels,’ said Algernon.

‘Whoever it is, they’re not getting any better!’ said Rex.

‘Does it ever?’ asked David.

‘Hey, guys!’ said Patricia, appearing at the door, and breathless with excitement.

‘Oh, its superwoman,’ said Mrs Pump.

‘There’s some one down the hole!’ said Patricia.

Someone down the hole? Someone down the hole in the road? Rex’s greatest fears concerning health and safety appeared to have become terrible reality.

‘This terrible reality was always my greatest fear,’ he said. He had no wish to appear wise after the event, but it was either that or appearing stupid after the event. This was not a hard choice. ‘The prophet in the wilderness is vindicated – reviled but vindicated,’ he added.

A discussion broke out about Rex’s ‘John the Baptist’ fixation, but it was brought to an abrupt end.

‘Well, aren’t you going to do something??’ asked Patricia.

They all got up.

‘I think it’s Billy!’

They all sat down.

‘What?? Is no one going to help me?! Is no one going to help him??’

This hole in the road was certainly asking tough questions of the village community. Could they rise to the occasion?

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