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MCQUEEN

Hello

Here is Part 6 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part 6 – The Boarding

“Have a lovely time aunt.”

Please Francis.”

“Don’t worry; Tibby will meet you at Pitlochry. She’s so looking forward to seeing you after all these years!” He brushed egg remnants from her overcoat, checked his watch, pecked her on the cheek and left the Carriage, double checking that the suitcases were securely stowed in the luggage rack. He had plenty of time to get home for Terry’s visit.

Please Francis.” But he was gone. Within minutes the train pulled away from the platform. Eunice kneaded her hands as she wallowed in her predicament. She was alone. For the first time in living memory she was alone without the sclerotic cocoon of the Kensington house to act as a proxy friend. Fear turned to anger. Anger at being afraid. It was weak. As Father used to remind her, “Fear is weakness Eunice. Never be fearful of anything! We D’aubisson’s are exempted from this frailty!” But she was afraid and no amount of self loathing would remove this stigma as the train sped northward through the crowded suburbs of North London  in the failing December light.

A young man sat opposite her, nodding his head to the tinny sounds emanating from his Walkman. Worse still he had stubble on his chin. Criminal underclass she concluded. He was probably the father of numerous offspring from numerous council estates. She had seen his sort on the television programmes Francis watched in the morning. She heard a voice;

“Is this seat free?”

The black woman smiled as she pointed to the empty chair next to Eunice. The old woman clasped her handbag close to her.

“Is this seat free?” the black woman repeated.

Eunice nodded hurriedly, afraid to look at her.

“Thanks.” She placed a small suitcase in the overhead shelf. She took off her overcoat and placed it next to the suitcase, sat down and said, “That was a close call!”

The woman was dressed in a two piece navy blue business suit with a plain white blouse beneath the jacket. Three buttons were undone on the blouse and a large silver necklace made up of rectangular squares plunged towards her cleavage. She had expensively manicured hands and on her right wrist numerous silver bracelets rattled an imperfect tune with each movement of her hand.

“Excuse me,” The woman said. She spoke with a crisp, clear-cut Home Counties accent.

“Take anything you want. Please don’t hurt me!” Eunice replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can have it all, please don’t hurt me.”

“I just wanted to know if you found his Walkman annoying.”

Eunice had last spoken to a Negro in 1962. This experience had proved equally as traumatic. He was a Postman and she was unhappy that the post was arriving after nine thirty in the morning. She had written the following day to the Chairman of the General Post Office the following day asking for the man’s removal on the grounds of his slovenly demeanour.

The woman turned to the man and asked him to turn the Walkman down. He did so with the minimum of fuss. He smiled at her inanely and continued to nod his head in a palsied fashion to the sounds coming from the Walkman.

“That’s better,” the woman said, “I do find these things so annoying, don’t you?”

Eunice made a mental note to write to the Chairman of British Rail about the availability of train tickets for black people.

She truly was on her own, journeying to Scotland sitting next to a Negro in second class with a member of the criminal underclass sitting opposite. The disease of poverty she had caught from the coughing toddler now seemed like blessed release and she faced death with equanimity.

Scotland seemed a lifetime away. On so many levels.

Where was Bertie when she needed him?”

jolson

Hello

Here is Part 7 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The silence between Eunice and the black woman was brittle, sterile and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated the end to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice concluded that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. She imagined that he could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she turned to the memory of her hand nestling in her father’s leading her to a safe and secret world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences.

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Hello

Here is the final part of this story – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part Seven is here

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice had to admit that Tibby McVitie’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. For a woman of her age.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice enjoyed them and readied herself to immerse permanently in the past.

She thought 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

As Nanny used to say when calming the polio stricken Eunice’s fears of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt’s hate flecked speech more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.  It was his favourite film.

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kate_baby_beard

Hello

Here is Part 5 of this long short story.

To make sense of it you will need to read;

Part One here

Part Two here

Part Three here

Part Four here

Part 5 The Bench At Kings Cross Station

A woman and toddler sat next to them on the bench. Eunice shrank from the child as it had a coughing fit. Eunice whispered to Francis, “Get rid of the child. You know I’m susceptible to consumption and this urchin contains diseases of poverty.”  She kneaded her hands with gusto.

The child sneezed. Eunice calculated that the infection gained from the diseased infant would lead to her demise near Berwick upon Tweed. She stared at the child with such ferocity that it whimpered and drew into the protective shield of its mother.

A two note jingle filled the concourse, interrupting the opening chords of Away in A Manger. A female voice hovered over the station, “Great Northern Trains are pleased to announce that the 14.27 Great Northern Trains Bannockburn Flyer to  Aberdeen is now ready for boarding on Platform 1…..”

“That’s your train!” Francis said, a tad too enthusiastically for Eunice’s liking.

Not long to go now he thought to himself. Eunice clung to the sleeve of his jacket. He knew that she didn’t want to go. He couldn’t, wouldn’t allow her to stay. Months of preparation lay at risk.

“Please Francis, I’ll stay in my room if you wish.” Her brittle confidence creaked and groaned with the thought of so many strangers in her proximity. And only Tibby to greet her. Tibby. Momentarily Eunice seethed again.

“There is nothing to worry about Aunt; the change of scenery will do you the world of good. You said so yourself.  I’ll get someone to give us a hand.”

He flagged down the driver of a trolley passing nearby, “Excuse me, could you help us please. My aunt needs to catch the train on Platform One and I was wondering if you could assist us.”

“Me?” the driver replied, “I can’t. I’m not authorised. Besides I’m full of comestibles for the 15.35 to Leeds. I have a pallet of sausage rolls and Scotch Eggs in need of refrigeration.”

Francis took the driver aside, “I will give you twenty quid if you help.”

“All right then, but you’ll have to accept the consequences for these sausage rolls.”

“Sure.”

The whispered, harsh memory of “Cripple! Cripple!” returned to Eunice. She adjusted her overcoat to hide the as far as possible her right leg and was convinced that strangers were sneering at her infirmity as she began her journey. On a pallet of Scotch Eggs.

Please don’t abandon me to these ridiculers and commoners Francis. Please.”

But he wasn’t listening.

The driver was less than impressed when his twenty pound payment was made up of small denomination coins, 73 pence short of the agreed tariff and contained a number of pfennigs.

MCQUEEN

Hello

Here is Part 6 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part 6 – The Boarding

“Have a lovely time aunt.”

Please Francis.”

“Don’t worry; Tibby will meet you at Pitlochry. She’s so looking forward to seeing you after all these years!” He brushed egg remnants from her overcoat, checked his watch, pecked her on the cheek and left the Carriage, double checking that the suitcases were securely stowed in the luggage rack. He had plenty of time to get home for Terry’s visit.

Please Francis.” But he was gone. Within minutes the train pulled away from the platform. Eunice kneaded her hands as she wallowed in her predicament. She was alone. For the first time in living memory she was alone without the sclerotic cocoon of the Kensington house to act as a proxy friend. Fear turned to anger. Anger at being afraid. It was weak. As Father used to remind her, “Fear is weakness Eunice. Never be fearful of anything! We D’aubisson’s are exempted from this frailty!” But she was afraid and no amount of self loathing would remove this stigma as the train sped northward through the crowded suburbs of North London  in the failing December light.

A young man sat opposite her, nodding his head to the tinny sounds emanating from his Walkman. Worse still he had stubble on his chin. Criminal underclass she concluded. He was probably the father of numerous offspring from numerous council estates. She had seen his sort on the television programmes Francis watched in the morning. She heard a voice;

“Is this seat free?”

The black woman smiled as she pointed to the empty chair next to Eunice. The old woman clasped her handbag close to her.

“Is this seat free?” the black woman repeated.

Eunice nodded hurriedly, afraid to look at her.

“Thanks.” She placed a small suitcase in the overhead shelf. She took off her overcoat and placed it next to the suitcase, sat down and said, “That was a close call!”

The woman was dressed in a two piece navy blue business suit with a plain white blouse beneath the jacket. Three buttons were undone on the blouse and a large silver necklace made up of rectangular squares plunged towards her cleavage. She had expensively manicured hands and on her right wrist numerous silver bracelets rattled an imperfect tune with each movement of her hand.

“Excuse me,” The woman said. She spoke with a crisp, clear-cut Home Counties accent.

“Take anything you want. Please don’t hurt me!” Eunice replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can have it all, please don’t hurt me.”

“I just wanted to know if you found his Walkman annoying.”

Eunice had last spoken to a Negro in 1962. This experience had proved equally as traumatic. He was a Postman and she was unhappy that the post was arriving after nine thirty in the morning. She had written the following day to the Chairman of the General Post Office the following day asking for the man’s removal on the grounds of his slovenly demeanour.

The woman turned to the man and asked him to turn the Walkman down. He did so with the minimum of fuss. He smiled at her inanely and continued to nod his head in a palsied fashion to the sounds coming from the Walkman.

“That’s better,” the woman said, “I do find these things so annoying, don’t you?”

Eunice made a mental note to write to the Chairman of British Rail about the availability of train tickets for black people.

She truly was on her own, journeying to Scotland sitting next to a Negro in second class with a member of the criminal underclass sitting opposite. The disease of poverty she had caught from the coughing toddler now seemed like blessed release and she faced death with equanimity.

Scotland seemed a lifetime away. On so many levels.

Where was Bertie when she needed him?”

jolson

Hello

Here is Part 7 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The silence between Eunice and the black woman was brittle, sterile and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated the end to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice concluded that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. She imagined that he could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she turned to the memory of her hand nestling in her father’s leading her to a safe and secret world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences.

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Hello

Here is the final part of this story – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part Seven is here

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice had to admit that Tibby McVitie’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. For a woman of her age.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice enjoyed them and readied herself to immerse permanently in the past.

She thought 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

As Nanny used to say when calming the polio stricken Eunice’s fears of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt’s hate flecked speech more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.  It was his favourite film.

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Hello!

Here is Part 4 of this very long short story

Part One is here

Part two is here

Part three is here

I hope you enjoy it!

Part 4 – The Concourse of Kings Cross Station

A limp Brass Band rendition of Hark the Herald Angels, an admission of the approaching festive season, played over the public address system, regularly interrupted by the echoing information detailing train departures, arrivals and security announcements.

The sense of awe she recalled as a child from the steam engines was now replaced by the heady smell of diesel and fast food. The lighting gave the atmosphere a soiled, used feel. She looked down to the floor and saw it pocked with discarded chewing gum like a grubby Dalmatian pelt.

She had studiously spent most of her life avoiding these situations, eager to avoid the pitiful stares and no doubt whispered cruelties and gibes of those who saw her gait. Those paper vendors cries of “Cripple! Cripple!” were a constant menacing whisper in her imagination when she ventured into public and convinced her that a life apart was a much more satisfying path to take and thus avoid ridicule by all and sundry. As a consequence, Eunice took consolation in her own brittle company and a highly select coterie of relatives and friends who visited her in Kensington.

Now this small number either as a result of death or her insults had been whittled to one. Francis.

Eunice looked around the milling humanity seeping out of the station’s nooks and crannies.

“Nobody wears hats anymore Francis. A lack of headwear is a sure way to spread communicable diseases. People used to doff their hats too as a mark of respect. That all stopped after Suez. Where can I sit?”

Francis directed her to a metal bench near the WH Smiths concession.

“Excuse me are these seats free?” Eunice asked a man sitting on the bench.  He shuffled along the bench.

“Thank you.” She sat, tucking her legs neatly under her in a demonstrable display of poise and ladylike gentility. Francis placed the suitcases on the floor and sat, kneading his hands in an attempt to lose the stinging sensation the luggage had foisted upon them.

The beggar who had asked her for money now approached a knot of Japanese tourists.

“The beggar is after the Japs! You can almost hear their discomfort as he approaches them. But, the defensive square they have adopted to repel his onslaught would have drawn admiring glances from Wellington. Say what you like about the Japs but they are instinctive soldiers. The beggar cannot find a way to isolate any member of the group and pounce. Text book operation.” The beggar sidled away from the tourists flailing his right arm towards them and levelling a volley of oaths and curses which thankfully they all appeared to be totally nonplussed by.

She retrieved a ten pound note from her purse and held it out for Francis to take, withdrawing it slightly as he reached forward to take it. Their eyes met. “Run along and buy me a cup of tea. Exact change.”

Francis sneaked a furtive glance at the chest of an attractive woman as he waited to be served at the Coffee Shop. His thoughts turned to the pleasures of confinement over the Christmas period. She would be out of the way with the McVities. Callipered and two weeks in the box. All by himself. He checked his watch and stared at the back of the head of the tall man who stood in front of him, studying the spiral of hair running down the nape of his neck.

“You are that weather man off the telly, Ian Kidney,” an elderly woman said to the tall man.

“That’s right,”

“You ruined my cabbages this year you did – Spring frost. Ruined. All because of you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. We all make mistakes you know.”

“Especially you,” replied the woman before walking off.

Francis racked his brain for the name of Ian Kidney. Nothing registered. He ordered two teas, pocketed thirty pence in change for himself and returned to Eunice, gazing slyly at the breasts of another attractive woman standing nearby.

“Will you stop leering Francis.”

He flushed.

From his earliest days, Francis had failed to inspire Eunice. As a child, he had seemed a quiet, withdrawn and overly preoccupied with his own thoughts. He was a listless and pale specimen and she had little hope that he was to be the one to restore the family’s fortunes, still reeling Bertie’s foray into Theatre.

Francis hated his childhood visits to aunt Eunice’s often being literally dragged to the house by his mother, Eunice’s cousin,  who had accepted the importance of sustaining family ties even when faced with the belittling onslaught that commenced as soon as they crossed the threshold and only ceased when they made their way home to Amersham.

In fact the only time the pallid boy had shown any animation was when Eunice discovered him as an eight year old marching around her bedroom in her old caliper. To him it was a marvellous toy, to her a confirmation that the boy was peculiar.

Although he had received a severe admonishment from his mother about the incident, the feeling of a tightly strapped brace made a lasting impression on Francis. Confined yet supportive and strong, a feeling that he grew to love and yearn for in his lonely, reasonably pathetic adult years.

He rediscovered the caliper four years ago in the loft of the house, where he had been rummaging for artefacts that could be sold to the antiques dealer. He cleaned, oiled and polished it and felt that same feeling of security he had all those years ago when first wearing it. Eunice would hear from Francis’ room the sound of straps being tightened, the squeak of metal joint for so long still and her great-nephew crashing into his wardrobe with a stifled moan, but she decided not to comment about these nocturnal activities. Secretly she was glad of his company and allowed him his privacy.

She took a sip from her tea, “Disgusting.”

kate_baby_beard

Hello

Here is Part 5 of this long short story.

To make sense of it you will need to read;

Part One here

Part Two here

Part Three here

Part Four here

Part 5 The Bench At Kings Cross Station

A woman and toddler sat next to them on the bench. Eunice shrank from the child as it had a coughing fit. Eunice whispered to Francis, “Get rid of the child. You know I’m susceptible to consumption and this urchin contains diseases of poverty.”  She kneaded her hands with gusto.

The child sneezed. Eunice calculated that the infection gained from the diseased infant would lead to her demise near Berwick upon Tweed. She stared at the child with such ferocity that it whimpered and drew into the protective shield of its mother.

A two note jingle filled the concourse, interrupting the opening chords of Away in A Manger. A female voice hovered over the station, “Great Northern Trains are pleased to announce that the 14.27 Great Northern Trains Bannockburn Flyer to  Aberdeen is now ready for boarding on Platform 1…..”

“That’s your train!” Francis said, a tad too enthusiastically for Eunice’s liking.

Not long to go now he thought to himself. Eunice clung to the sleeve of his jacket. He knew that she didn’t want to go. He couldn’t, wouldn’t allow her to stay. Months of preparation lay at risk.

“Please Francis, I’ll stay in my room if you wish.” Her brittle confidence creaked and groaned with the thought of so many strangers in her proximity. And only Tibby to greet her. Tibby. Momentarily Eunice seethed again.

“There is nothing to worry about Aunt; the change of scenery will do you the world of good. You said so yourself.  I’ll get someone to give us a hand.”

He flagged down the driver of a trolley passing nearby, “Excuse me, could you help us please. My aunt needs to catch the train on Platform One and I was wondering if you could assist us.”

“Me?” the driver replied, “I can’t. I’m not authorised. Besides I’m full of comestibles for the 15.35 to Leeds. I have a pallet of sausage rolls and Scotch Eggs in need of refrigeration.”

Francis took the driver aside, “I will give you twenty quid if you help.”

“All right then, but you’ll have to accept the consequences for these sausage rolls.”

“Sure.”

The whispered, harsh memory of “Cripple! Cripple!” returned to Eunice. She adjusted her overcoat to hide the as far as possible her right leg and was convinced that strangers were sneering at her infirmity as she began her journey. On a pallet of Scotch Eggs.

Please don’t abandon me to these ridiculers and commoners Francis. Please.”

But he wasn’t listening.

The driver was less than impressed when his twenty pound payment was made up of small denomination coins, 73 pence short of the agreed tariff and contained a number of pfennigs.

MCQUEEN

Hello

Here is Part 6 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part 6 – The Boarding

“Have a lovely time aunt.”

Please Francis.”

“Don’t worry; Tibby will meet you at Pitlochry. She’s so looking forward to seeing you after all these years!” He brushed egg remnants from her overcoat, checked his watch, pecked her on the cheek and left the Carriage, double checking that the suitcases were securely stowed in the luggage rack. He had plenty of time to get home for Terry’s visit.

Please Francis.” But he was gone. Within minutes the train pulled away from the platform. Eunice kneaded her hands as she wallowed in her predicament. She was alone. For the first time in living memory she was alone without the sclerotic cocoon of the Kensington house to act as a proxy friend. Fear turned to anger. Anger at being afraid. It was weak. As Father used to remind her, “Fear is weakness Eunice. Never be fearful of anything! We D’aubisson’s are exempted from this frailty!” But she was afraid and no amount of self loathing would remove this stigma as the train sped northward through the crowded suburbs of North London  in the failing December light.

A young man sat opposite her, nodding his head to the tinny sounds emanating from his Walkman. Worse still he had stubble on his chin. Criminal underclass she concluded. He was probably the father of numerous offspring from numerous council estates. She had seen his sort on the television programmes Francis watched in the morning. She heard a voice;

“Is this seat free?”

The black woman smiled as she pointed to the empty chair next to Eunice. The old woman clasped her handbag close to her.

“Is this seat free?” the black woman repeated.

Eunice nodded hurriedly, afraid to look at her.

“Thanks.” She placed a small suitcase in the overhead shelf. She took off her overcoat and placed it next to the suitcase, sat down and said, “That was a close call!”

The woman was dressed in a two piece navy blue business suit with a plain white blouse beneath the jacket. Three buttons were undone on the blouse and a large silver necklace made up of rectangular squares plunged towards her cleavage. She had expensively manicured hands and on her right wrist numerous silver bracelets rattled an imperfect tune with each movement of her hand.

“Excuse me,” The woman said. She spoke with a crisp, clear-cut Home Counties accent.

“Take anything you want. Please don’t hurt me!” Eunice replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can have it all, please don’t hurt me.”

“I just wanted to know if you found his Walkman annoying.”

Eunice had last spoken to a Negro in 1962. This experience had proved equally as traumatic. He was a Postman and she was unhappy that the post was arriving after nine thirty in the morning. She had written the following day to the Chairman of the General Post Office the following day asking for the man’s removal on the grounds of his slovenly demeanour.

The woman turned to the man and asked him to turn the Walkman down. He did so with the minimum of fuss. He smiled at her inanely and continued to nod his head in a palsied fashion to the sounds coming from the Walkman.

“That’s better,” the woman said, “I do find these things so annoying, don’t you?”

Eunice made a mental note to write to the Chairman of British Rail about the availability of train tickets for black people.

She truly was on her own, journeying to Scotland sitting next to a Negro in second class with a member of the criminal underclass sitting opposite. The disease of poverty she had caught from the coughing toddler now seemed like blessed release and she faced death with equanimity.

Scotland seemed a lifetime away. On so many levels.

Where was Bertie when she needed him?”

jolson

Hello

Here is Part 7 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The silence between Eunice and the black woman was brittle, sterile and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated the end to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice concluded that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. She imagined that he could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she turned to the memory of her hand nestling in her father’s leading her to a safe and secret world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences.

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Hello

Here is the final part of this story – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part Seven is here

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice had to admit that Tibby McVitie’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. For a woman of her age.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice enjoyed them and readied herself to immerse permanently in the past.

She thought 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

As Nanny used to say when calming the polio stricken Eunice’s fears of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt’s hate flecked speech more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.  It was his favourite film.

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Goose

Thanks to everyone who read Parts 1 and 2 of the latest Tight Fisted Traveller – I hope you found it as much fun to read as it was for me to daydream about and then piece together last weekend. 

I’ve spent the day on a train full of nutters and need a pint or two to soothe me savage breast – hence this lazy cop out of a post.

I did think of a better ending though – but that pint of Donnington SBA is calling – so it can wait.

If you have any suggestions where the Tight Fisted Traveller should venture next please feel free to drop me a line. He may go there. He may not!

Enjoy…….

Hello

With the Soccerball World Cup in Brazil next year, Ma Fightback and I fancied a holiday in this Sambatastic nation. My kneecap melted when the Travel Agent told us the cost of the holiday. We left the shop dejected and a tad miffed.

Luckily around the corner, we bumped into our old friend and explorer extraordinaire, The Tight Fisted Traveller, busy hawking holed spoons to raise funds for an expedition to the Antarctic next year. When we told him of our woes, he smiled revealing his last usable incisor, fished in the crotch of his trousers and whipped out his hardback – “The Coke Smuggler’s Guide to Latin America”.

A lucky coincidence? Or maybe the fates!

Here is Chapter 23 – “Brazil It’s An Amazon Place!”

Day 1 – London – Steal a bicycle from Victoria Station – nip to French mens outfitter’s “Moi?” – purloin traditional French garb of beret, Breton shirt, moustache and string of onions – stare in shop window and practice nonplussed facial expression whilst shrugging shoulders – I am French!

Day 1 – London – Bike ride to Dover hampered by dangling onions – but I am French now so shrug shoulders and blockade motorway to protest.

Day 3 – Dover Harbour  – Stowaway on French Minesweeper SS “Mai Oui”.

A Typical Frenchman - well if you're gonna do a cliche do it properly

Day 4 – English Channel – My disguise allows me to mingle with the crew who smoke continually, argue about the true meaning of Sartre and make lots of vegetable soup which is slurped down with Gallic aplomb.

Day 5 – English Channel – The crew take me to heart after Je suis discovered akip in torpedo tube – sing the Edith Piaf classic – “A Citroen Backfires – Paris Surrenders” become overnight internet sensation on Vous Tube.

Day 6 – Cherbourg – no sign of Cher sadly – I am smuggled ashore by crew who wish to continue discussing Sartre and their nation’s affliction for permanent nonplussedness. After emotional farewells which involve mass spontaneous shoulder shrugging I cycle south for Spain.

Day 8 – Cherbourg (still) – Dangling onions still a problem and the false moustache causing further drag issues on Bike – c’est la vie – stop and blockade service station toilets in protest.

Day 9 – Cherbourg (still) – Tour de France sweeps through – Stage 14 to Reims – I join the Peloton – miraculously win the stage and claim the Yellow Jersey. Cite Lance Armstrong and Amphetamine abuse as major factors in my success.

Day 10 Reims –  I am uncovered when my dangling onions accidentally throttle leading French rider in Stage 15 – chased by baying mob of French onion loving cyclist philosophers who see this as ghastly les rosbifs attack on a French sporting institution (but the philosophers ask “is it?”) – Make good my escape by removing the onions from bike and take off false moustache – they’ll never spot me!

Day 10 – Reims- Arrested by French police. Blockade my cell in protest.

Day 13 – Reims – Released – hitch hike south – am offered a lift by Heineken sozzled Dutch shykling fansh – Wim and Piet Mine Der Gap  who are following the Tour – Their camper van roof  sports a giant detachable clog and a windmill – “Krayshee Ja!” Wim and Piet keep saying – I am hidden in Windmill as we pass through the Pyrenees into Espana. Now I know what Anne Frank must have gone through.

Day 31 – The Spanish Pyrenees – Wim and Piet spin on blades of windmill for three days singing the back catalogue of well known Dutch Prog rock band Focus – they swear rotary turbine spinning cures any hangover  – I decouple giant clog and slip quietly into the River Sangria and raft to Madrid.

clogboat

Day 33 – Somewhere in Iberia –  Sailing by clog surprisingly comfortable – draw admiring glances from Spanish Environmentalists who are protesting about tomatoes being grown in greenhouses along riverbanks.

Day 37 – Madrid – How a Brit, disguised as a Frenchman arriving in a giant clog could be construed to be the famous bullfighter “El Flatulente” is beyond me – but I am – carried shoulder high to Las Ventas for a spot of “Death in the Afternoon”.

Day 37 Madrid – Bullfighting clothes very tight on the old knackers – mince my way into the ring – confronted by a livid Bull called “El Mangler” – my bowels loosen –  prance like John Wayne with piles – realise my sword is actually a shop bought Star Wars light sabre without batteries – I have to make the droning noise myself – El Mangler sees the sword, recalls he is part Sith and then does a passable Darth Vader impression – becomes internet sensation on Tu Tube – I am carried shoulder high by adoring fans out of the arena – with only a wonky shop bought Star Wars light sabre without batteries as a trophy.

greenhouses

Day 38 – Madrid – I hitch a lift in a lorry driven by a reticent Serb war criminal, Goran – cargo is artificially grown tomatoes hidden in statues of Picasso.

Day 41 – Lisbon – scurry aboard Recife bound ship “Obrigado” – the principal cargo is buttock emollient cream, samba costumes and whistles – wriggle into a nice floral headpiece, matching sequinned bra and thong – No problems of blending into Brazilian culture when I land.

butt

Day 43 – The Obrigado – Unmasked by Boson as not “Hector” the vessel’s happy go lucky First Mate but as a non-paying transgender guest with well-honed buttocks – thrown in The Brig.

Day 43 – The Obrigado  – Brought to ship’s captain – he is an unreconstructed romantic who is in a state of high dudgeon after reading the Bronte Classic Jane Eyre – he clutches me to his swelling breast and sobs uncontrollably – “Poor Rochester,” he cries – tells me of his loon of a wife – a woman with a predilection for salty old tars – she is sealed away in ship’s bulkhead on account of her madness and “needs”.

Michael-Fassbender-as-Mr-Rochester-Jane-Eyre-2011-michael-fassbender-25911613-1920-1040

Day 46 – The Obrigado – Mass panic as Captain’s wife escapes and ravishes the ships Bursar, First and Second Mate, Boson, Petty Officer, Cook and a lad who happened to be passing in a Tuna fishing boat she spotted on the starboard bow – swam over to and ravished – she is captured and restored to her cell – the Captain sobs – I read him extracts from Wuthering Heights – “Poor Cathy,” he cries.

Day 50 – Recife Harbour-  Leave Obrigado – Captain donates lifetime supply of emollient and shiny new headwear to thank me for my support – his wife ravishes me before I skip ashore – “Poor Cathy” are the last words I hear from this doomed vessel.

Day 51 – Trans-Amazonian Highway – Sashay my way towards Belem – my bottom is revered by a nation of buttock cognoscenti.

Day 54 – Belem – Join Samba dance band impressed by my strong calves – band rooted in bizarre Marxist theory that believes buttock wobbling in camp outfits will eventually destroy capitalism – I have my doubts.

Day 68 – Mouth of Amazon – Say farewell to my Samba Band colleagues with a toot on my whistle – Capitalism still intact I believe –  chop down big tree – shape it into giant clog and paddle towards Manaus.

Useful Tip in the Rain Forest #1 Never paddle in a thong

Day 71 The Amazon – See off attack from shoal of synchronised swimming enthusiast Piranhas by dazzling them with my  sequin studded brassiere – smear myself in emollient to fend off flesh-eating insects and mosquitos.

Day 75 – Fishing village of Maracaibo – Befriended by Geoff a double glazing salesman from Cornwall who. “turned left at Plymouth instead of  right” – barter my whistle with him for a set of triple glazed French windows he happens to be carrying – lash them to clog and sail up the Amazon!

Day 80 – Manaus – Leave clog and trek into Forest – see all types of creatures – Jaguars, Monkeys, Lions, Tigers, Penguins, Polar Bears, even a Giraffe – realise I am in Manaus Zoo and head for exit – easy mistake to make. Turn left at MacDonalds and find myself deep in the Rain Forest.

Useful Tip in the Rain Forest #2 – Never walk in a thong and stilettos in the Rain Forest.

Day 84 – Somewhere In the Rain Forest – Felled by dart fired from blowpipe – fall into delirious fever – imagine erotic romps with Bilbo Baggins.

Day 86 – Somewhere in the Rain Forest – Fever breaks and awake to find short lad with big ears and enormous feet next to me! I am in Middle Earth!

Day 86 – Somewhere in the Rain Forest – Lad wakes up and smiles – he can only communicate by twanging his inordinately long nasal hairs in complex melodies – I discover his name is Whothefuckareyou? Chief of a long lost tribe who still don’t have a clue where they are – The Wherethefuckarewe?

Day 86 – Somewhere in the Rain Forest – I am the first white man in samba outfit with smooth buttocks the Wherethefuckarewe? have encountered – I am worshipped as their long lost God and christened Wherethefuckdidhecomefrom?

Day 87 – Somewhere In the Rain Forest – The Wherethefuckarewe? are a proud people – traditional costume is an Adidas Shellsuit – it is good to see that they have not been tainted by western culture –  Whothefuckareyou? organises a feast in my honour!

tribe

Day 88 – Somewhere In The Rain Forest – The feast comprises the traditional Amazonian dish of Burger and Chips washed down with a highly intoxicating liquor made by fermenting the bark of dogs – we partake in a fertility dance with a number of toothless harpies – nasal hairs plucked with such ferocity – Before passing out all I recall is  a nasal hair plucking rendition of The Hokey Cokey, followed by Hi Ho Silver Lining……..

Day 93 – Somewhere Else In the Rain Forest – Whothefuckareyou? leads me deep into the jungle – day after day I toil moving ever further from civilisation towards what? I know not – I am wilting – cannot go much further – chafed and blistered – my headgear a bit adrift – Finally he holds out a slightly wonky Light Sabre without batteries towards a clearing in the Forest.

Day 93 – Somewhere Else In The Rain Forest – A place of serene beauty – never before seen by a white man dressed in a samba outfit – giant statues – thousands of years old and bearing a remarkable resemblance to the cast of US Sitcom Friends – guard this place – I hear water nearby – Whothefuckareyou? twangs on his nose hair – the sounds tell me that we have reached the source of the Amazon – A washer is needed to stop the dripping – slightly disappointing.

I think of Simon Cowell with a sausage on his head.

simon_cowell goetta copy

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Goose

Hello!

Many thanks for all the kind comments about this story – here it is in its entirety

We return to the earliest days of the railways…………

Waving Flags

Manchester, England, November 1830

William Bleasedale was sure that the aroma of a frying rasher of bacon was the finest smell of all. An event so rare in his household that it guaranteed a special day was in the offing. And today was most certainly a special day.

As he made his way down the rickety stairs, the sound of children playing, fighting, or just being children filled the small cottage which was home to William, his wife Anne and their offspring, Cedric, Charles, James, Caroline, Lottie, Henrietta, Elizabeth, William and Florence.

For William, a man with a bent towards melancholy, it felt that the children occupied every nook and cranny of the house. He constantly fretted over providing enough for them and for Anne a sturdy, stoical woman who combined the duties of motherhood with working on the looms at Joseph Sander’s mighty linen mill in Newton Heath.

James took his Father by complete surprise as he clambered out of the cupboard where he slept. A boy clambering out of a cupboard was not in itself unusual, young Cedric slept in the coal scuttle, but it took William several seconds to recognise the boy as his son and thus part of their chaotic but effervescent home life.

Anne, dreaming of universal suffrage, tended the rashers and eggs sizzling in the pan. William watched her with silent ease,  pleased that the lustre of their relationship still shone as witnessed by the plethora of children but also in the quiet moments they shared when his humourous anecdotes and mimicry would cause his earnest wife of fourteen years to giggle and slap his arm in mock outrage.

“Morning!” William said.

“Morning Father!” the five children present chimed. The three eldest Elizabeth, William and Henrietta had already left for work hauling coal from the Pit whilst the youngest, three month old Florence, slept peacefully in her cot, a welcome relief from the croop that had caused Anne seemingly endless nights of interrupted sleep.

William sat in his chair by the hearth and examined his boots, left specifically there each morning. The soles were worn but the uppers remained in good condition and Charles had given them a fine polish. The promise of a fresh penny did wonders for the boy’s concentration.

“Well done Charles! I can see my face in them!” William tossed the promised penny to his son who stared at the coin as if it were treasure plundered by Drake himself from the Spaniards. The other children gazed upon the fortune in their brother’s hand.

William pulled the boots on and double knotted each lace. As usual the left shoe felt tight around the little toe, but that was a private discomfort and not for anyone else to know or care about. The boots squeaked as he stood and walked to the table.

Anne dished the rashers and eggs onto the plate. William cut himself a slice of bread and savoured the wonderful meal set before him.

“Enjoy Father.”

“I most certainly shall Mother!”  He ate with relish, giving silent celebration for the pig. A pig which had shared the couple’s bedroom all summer. He felt a pang of regret as Mr. Jellicoe, the butcher slaughtered the swine (whom had been christened Thomas by the children) for sixpence three weeks previously. But it meant that there would be meat to feed the family through the long winter that had now settled upon them.

With the exception of Charles who remained enraptured by his coin, the tots stared at their Father in the hope that he may cut a slither of bacon or egg for them to taste. Experience had taught them that this kind hearted man would usually provide one or two with a titbit. But not today. This special day.

Having wiped the grease off the plate with his bread, William lit a pipe. A piece of bacon rind was stuck between his two back lower molars, the only molars still in his mouth. He flicked at the rind with his tongue, trying to dislodge it.

The tobacco smoke plumed and furled in the low ceilinged room like a genie leaving its clay potted lamp. The children sniffed the air and enjoyed the giddying aroma of the Virginia Leaf.

“Shall we fetch it down now Father?” Anne asked.

“Indeed Mother.”  Anne scuttled upstairs. Lottie followed her. There was clumping and bumping on the ceiling and the sound of a door hinge in need of lubrication creaking open. Before long Anne’s heavy footsteps were heard on the rickety staircase. She returned carrying a large box, nearly the same size as her. She set the box on the table, opened it and revealed a magnificent stove pipe hat, fully two feet in height.

The children were agog to see such millinery splendour in their small home and gasped  as their father still sat at the table, placed it regally upon his head.

“My, my Father, aren’t we the handsome one!”

“Thank you Mother. Not bad for an old ‘un! Did you find the pea for my whistle?”

“I’ve allowed each of the little ‘uns to lick it for their breakfast, should keep the pangs at bay for a while. Don’t forget your flags.”

“I won’t.” He smiled at her. She returned the smile and began to fuss around the kitchen, lifting pots, wiping crumbs, cleaning children’s faces with spit and a cloth. She felt nervous for him. Her man.

“Both the green and red one?”

Yes. May I say Mother, you have excelled yourself with this canister.”

The leather canister containing the flags was Anne’s idea. It was her late Father’s who claimed he had plundered it from a dead Bonapartist at Waterloo fifteen years previous (a claim that barely stood up to scrutiny given her father was in prison for eating a stolen potato peeling at the time).

How fitting that the Old Iron Duke himself, Wellington was going to grace the day. The man who had saved England from tyranny, frogs legs and the evils of metrication. Anne found the flags fitted perfectly into the canister after she had cut an inch off the flagpoles. William had not noticed. Normally he did.

He was pleased as punch. A man who carries his tools to work is definitely man of substance. Especially on a day such as today.

William checked his pocket watch.  It was time to leave. He slung the canister over his shoulder and placed the pea free whistle in his waistcoat pocket.  Anne wiped invisible dust from his jacket lapels and looked with  pride upon her husband as he leant forward to peck her on the cheek. The stove hat fell forward covering William’s eyes, a problem soon remedied by adding paper lining to the hat to fasten it more securely to his head. Wisely, the hat was not put on until he had left the lee of the house.

Accompanied by Lottie and squeaking boot, he began the short walk to work pondering the size of his late father-in-law’s noggin but nevertheless proud of his hat and canister. Neighbours called out wishing him good luck, some with an undercurrent of jealousy that “Tippy Toes Bleasedale” as he was nicknamed, had landed such a coveted position on the Liverpool Manchester Railway.

Children followed down the street in a gaggle of ragged excitement and even Mr. Jellicoe, apron dripping from the slaughter of beasts, came to the doorway of his butcher’s shop to pass on his best wishes.

William smiled and flicked his tongue over the trapped bacon.

“This is as far as you go now Lottie, off home to mother.”

“When can I come to work with you Father?”

“Fret not child, only two years to your eighth birthday and then I’ll get you a job at the Pit.”

“Thanks Father!”

On the Station platform a plume of steam arose from the ominous engine, liveried in bright yellow, that bore the name “Rocket” on a bold brass plate. Stephenson and Locke were  fussing around the machine, staring at dials, tapping gauges, polishing brass work. Anything to pass the time. Stephenson looked above to the heavens scanning for rain clouds.

Edmonds the taciturn engine driver, selected for the task because he was taciturn, sat idly on the locomotive’s footplate, oblivious to their discussions, smoking a pipe.

Locke looked up at William as he arrived.

“Fine ‘at  William.”

“Aye Sir, was wife’s father’s afore he died. Bin savin’ it for special occasion.”

“And this is a special occasion!”  Replied Locke enthusiastically before returning to distract himself with agreeably pointless tasks around the machine.

William retired to the Storeroom, knocking his hat askew as on the lintel.  His co-worker Arnold Quilley was brewing tea, something Quilley, another veteran of Waterloo, was apt to be found doing. Brewing tea and talking sedition in the guise of Irish Republicanism were the two favourite pastimes of Arnold Quilley, native of Roscommon on the island of Ireland.

William opened the canister to retrieve the two flags. He practiced waving them in hopefully a stolid and dependable manner. Confident that the waving was up to scratch, he drank the tea.  The pair each smoked a pipe.

“Big day,” Quilley said.

“Aye,”

“I could take Wellington with one shot with me musket. One shot to free Ireland from the English yoke.”

“Are you going to?”

“No.”

“Tea?”

“Go on then.”

The heads  of people, adorned in caps, bonnets or stove pipe’s, bobbed past the room’s opaque window. The pair heard gasps of astonishment from outside. Even dogs yelped when they first set eyes upon the locomotive beast.

People were accustomed to steam engines and mechanical leviathans producing the wealth that was being spewed out of the factories and mines but to see such a magnificent machine with wheels; a machine that would transport them to Liverpool in less than an hour! Well, the collective mind of the people boggled.

William thanked his luck that Locke had been in the Foundry that day as he waved a flag to inform the smelters to release the pig iron into the ingots. A grand opportunity now lay before him.

The zealot preacher Ezekiel Pardew appeared, berating the ungodly nature of the mechanical beast before them, “The Lord’s fury will by vented upon all railers!” he proclaimed and continued a speck flumed invective against contraptions, motioning machines, traction engines and a broader assault on the scientific notions of mankind before finally desisting and gawping at the activity in front of him.

At something he or no other man has set eyes upon before.

The Rocket spewed steam, cussed and strained to move. The noises were new. Never heard before. Noises created by man. In the forge, in the engine rooms, in the imagination and the art of the possible. Man had conquered nature. Bent it to his will and this is how his triumph sounded.

The mechanised world was imminent.

The Iron Duke, Wellington, arrived with a haughty demeanour one would naturally associate with the greatest living Englishman.  He inspected the Rocket, prodded wheels and tubes with his riding crop and asked questions of its construction, nature and performance to the nervous pairing of Locke and Stephenson.

After satisfying his curiosity and perhaps allaying some of his nerves, The Duke and his retinue retired down the platform to their specially prepared carriage. The crowds of people cheered such a grand presence, Napoleon’s conqueror no less,  in their shabby town of Manchester, although one or two expressed regret that the Prime Minister was not wearing his medals. For his part Wellington graciously raised his riding crop to his hat  to accept the adoration.

Locke signaled to William. Now was the time.

“All Clear. All Clear! Those journeying to Liverpool should all board now!” he shouted. He and Arnold, the would be assassin,  pushed the crowds away from the train and carriages to allow Wellington to make safe passage.

Once the Duke was safely aboard, William unfurled his flag and waved it energetically in the manner he had hoped. Stephenson standing on the footplate with the suddenly energetic Edmonds, gave him the thumbs up. The Rocket’s whistle produced a shrill blast, causing the crowds to draw breath. Once more steamed spewed from all the machine’s orifices as she began to slowly peel away from  the platform.

William realized that he had waved them off with his Red Flag, when he had intended to use Green. In the excitement he had got mixed up. A small point to most, but to a man as fastidious as William something for him to brood upon at home that night.

Locke had noticed to. He shook his head at William. There would be a reckoning.

Slowly the carriages passed by. Wellington and William caught each other’s eye. There was a look of palpable fear on the great man’s face, not even the threat of defeat at Waterloo had caused such a base fear in him as the fear of being hauled hauled by this ghastly traction contraption, conceived, designed and built by Northerners.

On iron rails!

William had intended to doff his stove pipe to the Duke, but time, circumstances and the paper lining now made that impossible.

The train was now free of the platform, puffs of steam arose from the Rocket as it chattered and cursed in its mechanical tongue and busied itself with its journey to Liverpool.

The silence of the crowd soon gave way to cheers and roars. Even Ezekiel Pardew, who endlessly preached of the ungodliness to be found in joy let alone happiness  cheered to the rafters as the world changed irrevocably in that moment. The moment a train passed from view.

William walked back to the Storeroom, his boots squeaking in accompaniment. This time he remembered to remove his hat before entering.

He was pleased. He had set the first ever passenger train on its way and his flag waving had proved a vital feature of the proceedings. Even if the flag was the wrong colour and  the Duke of Wellington looked decidedly off with the whole venture.

Quilley was once again brewing tea.

“Could have bagged him with a single shot. I could have set Ireland free. Tea?”

“Aye,” replied William. He sat, brushed a piece of stray cotton from his hat and flicked the piece of bacon still stuck between his teeth.

It had been a special day.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Here is a song called…..Waving Flags – by British Sea Power – who are brilliant!

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fresco_rescue

I was not surprised to have a Clown sit next to me. The train route has the highest clown transit in the country, probably due to the Clown Sanctuary situated in the town at the end of the line. Clown Town we call it. You have probably seen the TV adverts for the Clown Sanctuary, where aged, abandoned clowns rescued from all over the world are sent to live out their dotage in slapstick serenity.

Trains have been modified to accommodate these mirth makers with plank storage facilities and a pie throwing carriage available for those with this inkling. Indeed, the Hogarth Tunnel, through which the train travels towards Clown Town, has been remodelled as a huge smiling mouth!

The clown was dressed in clownish garb – bright, oversized and shod in shoes that were at least three feet in length. Balloons flopped loosely from his jacket pockets and a large plastic flower, dripping from recent japery, was in his button-hole. His nose sported a red ball and atop his head a black afro wig sat slightly askew.

He smelled of tobacco. He extended a hand. I shook it and received a mild electric shock from the hidden buzzer.

“Benno, children’s entertainer, balloon contortions a speciality.” He smiled weakly, causing the unevenly applied white face paint and red lipstick to fracture slightly. His teeth where a delicate hue of smoker’s yellow.

Between his legs was a plank, about four feet in height. “Benno” was stencilled on it.

“Nice plank,” I said.

“Cheers. Made it myself.”

“Really, from what?”

“Wood.”

I nodded knowledgeably. I know a thing or two about wood.

The trolley attendant appeared at the entrance to the carriage. She had a number of stains on her shirt of the savoury variety. I presumed the pie throwing carriage was busy. He ordered a cup of tea and a packet of bourbon biscuits, giving the exact money from a yellow leather purse with a smiling clown’s face stitched on either side.

“Would you like some crisps?” The attendant was keen for a double sale from the clown. Clowns are silly with money, everybody knows that. Benno shook his head.

“So, mostly kid’s birthday parties and the like then?” I said.

“Yeah. I fookin’ hate kids. Loathe them. Noisy, thankless little swine. Seventeen years I’ve been doing this bloody job and for what? More apple pie in my face and bangers down my trousers than you could shake a stick at.”

Not a plank. Difficult to shake a plank. Unless you possess enormous upper body strength.

“Years of working with inflatables and my gift remains  unrecognised. My signs of the zodiac, particularly Taurus and Aries are something to write home about. But what do people want? Dogs! Or if you’re really lucky, a rabbit.”

“I know mate,” I sympathised, eager instead to talk about his plank.

“I’ve been to a birthday party in Peterborough. Ungrateful little bleeders. Do you know what one of them said to me?”

“Nice bit of wood?”

“No. He said I was a bit sad. He can’t have been  more than seven. And all the time they’re blowing plastic whistles, like a sheet of white noise.  Can’t they see my magical skill? No, they want to see me fall off a ladder or walk into a door. Or get an electric shock from the plug socket. Little bastards. The mother said she was disappointed with my show. Lacked spontaneity, craft, wit and any interaction with the children.  Do you know what I did?”

“Hit her on the head with your plank?”

“No. Told her to fuck off and thwacked the kid’s hamster with me plank. Hit the poor little fucker clean out of the garden. You should have seen the look on their faces. Shame the dad was a Detective Inspector. Worth it though. There still a bit of fur on the plank. Want to see it?”

“Not really. Nice shoes,” I replied trying to change the subject.

“Cheers. My Joyce made them for me. My lovely Joyce. Cobbler to the clowns of England she was. She left me for a Newsagent a year ago. Lives with him on the Isle of Wight now.  Balloon art or newspapers? I’d have thought there would be no competition. I hope she’s still cobbling though. Gifted with uppers she was.”

An aged, overweight Labrador sitting across the aisle lolloped over to inspect Benno. The aged mutt’s attention turned to the unopened packet of bourbons. Benno stood up and pottered to the toilet,  asking me to keep an eye on his plank. As he waddled away, I admired Joyce’s handiwork. Lovely bit of stitching.

I picked up the plank and held it on my shoulder. I could feel comedic power surging through me.

“Excuse me please,” the voice was calm and measured. I swung round and there was the unmistakable sound of wood thwacking a man. He moaned. He fell, crumpled to be more precise.

It was another clown. More Harlequin than clown. He lay on the floor groaning, with remnants of rodent attached to his cheek. I placed the plank on the seat.

“What have you done?” Benno said on his return, a tinkle drop clearly visible in the crotch of his trousers. “Rollo, Rollo are you OK?”

“Mmmmmnnnnhhhhh,” was the reply.

“Do you know him?”

“He’s a legend in Clown Town is Rollo. Had more bangers down his trousers than anybody else in history. Bollocks blown to buggery but he still entertains.”

“Mmmmmmmmnnnnnnhhhhhh,” groaned Rollo.

News of the planking spread throughout the train. A number of pie pocked Clowns approached Benno and I as we stood over the prone Rollo. Each carried their own plank.

The old dog wisely sidled away, a bourbon in its mouth.

The justice visited upon me was swift, harsh and brutal. And involved splinters. Lots of splinters.

Clown Town is now off limits…….

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