A New Shell, A New Start..
When the sleepy village of Blinkington-on-the-Treacle discovered that their local public house, The Field of Corncrakes, had a new owner; well, you can imagine the stirrings.
Set in idyllic and yawning woodland, Blinky, as it is more commonly referred to by the populace, positively cried out, nay, yearned for its oasis of comfort and confusion to be re-opened.
The massive heart attack suffered by pub landlord, Norman ‘Spoon Eyes’ Willis, had stunned everyone; not least his pet corgi Vincent, who was unfortunately asphyxiated while trying desperately to escape his owners oncoming twenty stone frame.
Essential social pleasures had been denied the inhabitants of this opulent glade since that tragic day. Gossip had been nudged to the back burner and its flame was barely flickering.
In a village the size of Blinkington-on-the-Treacle, this will never do…
Modern vehicles did little to stimulate the abnormal boundaries of Arnold Matson’s insatiable imagination. Cars today, said Arnold, had no personality. Speed, as any flailing turbine engine will tell you, isn’t everything: and as Arnold’s immaculately bees-waxed bottle-green Hillman Avenger tip-toed into the dozing village that contained his newly purchased hostelry, net curtains fidgeted and twitched.
In the mid-sixties, when Arnold’s pride and joy had discreetly mooched off the production line, we were not a nation who spread the marmalade thick as you like on a Sunday morning, tossed the bank statement aside, and nonchalantly flicked through the glossy supplements to ‘ooh and ah’ over the endless choice and temptations of this year’s model.
Four-wheel drives, diesel and turbo, were not topics of major concern.
A sad reflection then, of our so-called modern society, that the sight of such a harmless individual adhering impeccably to the Highway Code in his ageing but pristine jalopy, should be the subject of so much consternation.
Without trial, Arnold Matson had been found guilty of that most preposterous of crimes: merely arriving in a backwater as a total stranger.
‘Good Lord,’ hissed Miriam Spurgeon, reaching for another Garibaldi, ‘He’s pulled into the car park.’
‘Cars in car parks – whatever next,’ belittled her husband Alfred, whose peaceful morning saunter with a broadsheet was promptly extinguished.
Seeking solace in the biscuit-barrel proved short lived.
Alfred’s left wrist received a firm tap and he was given his orders.
‘Biscuits can wait, Alfred,’ purred Miriam, fine-tuning her pince-nez.
‘For heaven sake …’
Wisely he remained silent, and joined the commandant by the alcove.
Blinkington-on-the-Treacle may contain its fair share of like-minded Spurgeons, and I dare say their pet Pekinese and shag piles will continue to flourish for many years to come.
For now, though, they need not detain the likes of you and me.
We must press on: for Arnold is about to enter his newly acquired premises.
Best porcelain sunlight creeps uninvited through a dusty recess window; toying and teasing the bedraggled pate of Arnold Matson as it does so.
He sips hot tea as he mulls over the miracle of a spider’s gossamer
glinting on an unemployed whiskey optic.
Every man should dream, but in my humble opinion, few should be allowed through the gateway they imagine leads to paradise, for it rarely provides what the overactive imagination has promised.
Arnold Matson, on the other hand, was under no such illusion and spell as he contentedly dunked and contemplated.
Oh, excitement was unquestionably throbbing in the well harnessed ribcage beneath his straining cobalt cardigan; but when a man has been dealt life’s snorters as regularly as Arnold, he does not look to the hypothetical horizon for the comforting mirage; he is merely glad that, for the time being at least, that very same hypothesis is simply calmness personified.
No surprise then, when a single wood mouse that has been wintering in the disused chimney-breast of the dormant hostelry, is not only spared as it scampers for cover over the hearth’s dusty brickwork and scattered kindling; it is also smiled at and waved to by the contented new landlord as it momentarily sidetracks his tranquil infusion and daydream.
A smattering of the unwanted surrenders itself to the lime scaled bathroom sink as the Reverend Colin Wheatsheaf delicately trims both nasal and facial hair; a minor detail, some would say, that he ought to attend to more often.
Indeed, since the collapse, not to say disintegration of his marriage to Martha Wheatsheaf (nee Baines), it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to report that cleanliness and Godliness have, in the case of the Reverend Colin Wheatsheaf, packed their separate bags and hopped it. At the risk of venturing towards blasphemy, I would even go as far as to say that if God allowed anyone to come near his right hand with finger nails and body odour such as those possessed by our Colin, the shop steward in charge of hosannas and what have you would pull the big man to one side, demand an emergency meeting and threaten an almighty, angelic walk-out.
That is not to say we should laugh and ridicule at the demise of the ripe and high Reverend, for he still has much to offer in his present confused and self-neglected state. However, his carbolic and holy deodorant shall, for the foreseeable future, remain superfluous.
With lemon-tinted bifocals ready to fend off unwelcome intruders to his bloodshot peepers, and tattered moccasins champing at the bit as they snuggle up to threadbare cotton socks (one black, one navy blue), the Reverend Colin Wheatsheaf double checks himself in his lopsided hall mirror, begrudgingly accepts what he sees, snatches his day-glo cycling helmet from a bereaved hat stand, and is gone.
Where once a wooden bench, perhaps nestling under overhanging trees, possibly by a duck pond or horse trough, conjured up the quintessential picture of an English village green; we are now, dear reader, faced with an equally vivid, but more abysmal scenario. Nothing would have given me more pleasure than to report back to base, as it were, that the idyll, which we all remember and still occasionally crave, is alive and well.
Not so, I’m afraid, in the case of Blinkington–on–the-Treacle.
Don’t get me wrong; for I should hate to tamper with the cerebral enthralment you have fashioned for yourself in order to maintain an interest in these ramblings. Let me make it as clear as Muriel Spurgeon’s
6 o’clock g and t, that your first impression of this enchanting village was indisputably correct. Absolutely.
It’s just that…
Oh, I suppose you might as well meet them…
Ronnie and Aubrey Bickerstaff are twins.
More to the point, they are thirty-year-old twins who should know better.
As the spectacularly inoffensive retired librarian, Gerald Ashcroft, once pointed out to the pair, shortly before he was dispatched to the local infirmary with various cuts and bruises, ‘Sitting on your derrière, drinking cider all day, is not an occupation!’
Some ten years later, it would seem that Gerald was mistaken in his supposition; and as I witness Ronnie and Aubrey once more sprawled on the bench under the naked and slightly embarrassed Horse Chestnut, I personally see no sign of a hiatus in the brother’s insatiable guzzling quest of their chosen fermentation; although, no doubt you will be relieved to hear that Mr. Ashcroft made a full recovery from his horrific assault.
I was rather hoping to get an update from Gerald regarding the loathsome duo, but I was met with a firm “Clear off!” when I attempted communication through the letterbox of his cottage some two weeks ago.
He doesn’t venture out much these days, apparently; while flashbacks of duck ponds, cider bottles and menacing tattoos continue to wreak havoc.
I would unflinchingly gamble my late grandmothers surgical stockings on the fact that we are all agreed when it comes to recognizing it does indeed, take all sorts to make a world.
I mention this in passing, not merely to let you in on a little secret that the inhabitants of Blinkington–on–the-Treacle have yet to discover for themselves; but also to blow the bugle on behalf of Arnold Matson; a man too modest to tell you himself that he is not only a first rate publican; he is, in addition - and I can’t put too fine a point on this – a man who knows his onions when it comes to the business of entomology.
Now, for those of you at the back who haven’t been paying attention, an entomologist is someone who studies insects; and while I wouldn’t want to put you off your lightly coddled ovoid this fine bright morning, I’m afraid
I couldn’t think of a way to convey that particular detail to you without it appearing like a small lead weight that had been precariously perched on the very tip of my tongue, before plopping unceremoniously into your restoring cuppa. For that, I apologize.
I fully appreciate that there will be those amongst you who, having trusted the author thus far, have stumbled across the last few sentences and suddenly decided that this is where you get off; this is the station for you.
Fine, I understand that.
Your decision; no hard feelings.
Insects, after all, are not everyone’s idea of happiness and escapism when, perhaps, one was expecting some rural tale containing leafy lanes and golden Labradors.
In this instance, if you’ll forgive the expression and mixed metaphor; the prosecution has snapped me with my pants down, and I have to admit, unlike a Dobsonfly, I don’t have a single, never mind plural, leg to stand on.
But what if I were to tell you that Arnold Matson knows and understands – just by studying insects, mark you – why your neighbour’s eldest boy nearly went off the rails, almost became an anarchist, and decided against getting married and having children?
Don’t then, the cogs, which are currently quiescent and aloof, slowly begin to creak with an ounce of intrigue?
And what of the honey bee that has laboured feverishly to provide you with a treat to spread lavishly on hot buttered toast; who has worked his stripy little socks off in parks and gardens, before once more joining the throng in a buzzing waggle dance that collects, pollinates and finally contributes to an economy worth billions of pounds every single honeycombed annum?
As for female earwigs kicking their husbands out of the matrimonial home when the sprogs are born; well, that’s enough to liquefy the tear ducts of any black-hearted cynic…
Snugly cocooned beneath his discount duvet, Arnold Matson snores contentedly, blissfully unaware that an overweight moon has peeped from the clouds, winked at the village, and made off with its memories.
In four hours, Arnold will welcome his first customers.
Cantankerous spinster and ex-postmistress Edith Moseley strangles her third tea bag of the morning, settles a one-sided argument with the fridge door, and introduces a thimble of semi-skimmed to her rusting concoction.
Two sweeteners are callously evicted from their capsular home before plummeting to the murky depths.
Prudently, they are stirred, as though in a cauldron.
Her redundant teaspoon is discarded, hits the gaping basin, ricochets as if it were about to emit shrapnel, and takes refuge by the butter knife.
The quivering hands of the wall clock cower and creep towards 7.00AM.
Escapees of sand audaciously trickle through a mummified egg timer; the device appearing to freeze and hold its breath for fear of reprimand.
A fragrant stratum of talcum powder and aniseed balls compete for pole position in Edith’s slipstream as she effortlessly sashays her way towards the porch door and sacrosanct patio.
A solitary starling concludes preening itself on a branch of an unloved plum tree and is about to bask and chirrup in thin, early morning sunlight.
Uneasily observing Edith devouring tannins and disentangling hairgrips, the creature whistles a single, off-key expletive, gathers its belongings, and scarpers to a nearby rooftop.
Two snails conspire to put a spurt on as they catch sight of lilac carpet slippers and scarlet ankle socks that, from a mollusc’s precarious perspective, may as well be a giant in jackboots.
Miss Moseley inwardly declares war on humanity and wildlife for another morning, casts the dregs of her teacup towards the evergreens; then returns to her kitchen table to begrudgingly finalize the compilation of an altogether familiar shopping inventory.