The Village Tales Of Fekenham Swarberrry – Book One Continued
The following evening Elvis Linkthorpe slid into the Frog and Radiator amid a fug of marijuana smoke that gathered around him like a green/grey cloak. His red eyes gazed from slits at the assembled populace of Fekenham with a paranoia and magenta-tinted, biblical suspicion.
“Evening Vicar. Pint of the usual?” declared Arthur Bentwhistle with his normal trombone-toned voice that moved with inelegant ease up and down the vocal range like a greased sprocket on a leaky piston. The fire cackled a dry curse that sent smoke billowing up the chimney. Arthur was a robust man of a sexually predatory nature. Even though married his eye would wander, both eyes in fact and all too often in the direction of any available female.
“Yes please Arthur.” replied the addled priest.
Every evening at about eight, when all the sermons had been writ, and supplications to God had gathered weary legs and gone back into the cobwebbed dusty drawers of eternity to sit and wait until some angel or other found them, and the visits to the old folks home high on Apple Crust Hill had been dutifully performed, the good reverend Linkthorpe fretted his way into his favourite haunt for a drop of his favourite tipple from the hand of his favourite barmaid, the rotund but delectable Delores Dewhip, with skin like alabaster, a mouth like treasured fruit and divine breasts that quivered and fell with each guffaw that left those delicious lips.
Oh, how he did dream of those breasts, so plump and full and wonderful to behold as they bounced up and down behind the bar whilst Delores performed her duties. Of course the good reverend knew that he shouldn’t harbour such desires, and he tried his level best not to, but sometimes Satan plays hardball and God is crap at fielding such wayward thoughts.
He was a devout man and full of spiritual good will even if the village church goers were unsure in which specific area his devotion lay as he seemed to embrace a wide and eclectic set of beliefs. His mother hadn’t christened him Elvis, but had given him the far more heteromorphic sobriquet of Serenade Heathcliffe Austin Linkthorpe. Obviously it was a name that caused him severe grief throughout his schooldays and well into his teenage years whereupon, by deed poll, he had it changed to Elvis. Then, unfortunately for the newly named gent, the sixties happened and the name Elvis was about as cool as, well, ‘Serenade,’ actually.
Arriving in the village in the summer of 1969 fresh faced and looking like a refugee from a camp variant of some ghastly hippie commune, whereupon, declaring his love for everyone and anything that either moved or didn’t, including trees, he encamped at the local Church, St. Whipplemore’s, where he remained, preaching the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Bob (Dylan, that is). The villagers took him to their unflinching bosoms and forgave him his little peccadilloes. After all everyone has their funny ways, don’t they? They didn’t mind his dipping into Buddhism, Hinduism or even the occasional Confucian philosophy, and just because the local vicar had a lustful eye on the local barmaid, smoked pot, and swore like a back street abortionist, what of it? As the old Fekenham saying goes: “It takes a host of spanners to mend a creaky mill.”
Madge Hamfist was Farmer Hamfist’s wife. She had been his wife for the past thirty-five years, ever since the total eclipse of her heart way back when she was a ruddy-faced girl with apple-pie eyes and a complexion to match – red and polished. It had been thirty-six years ago on a windswept, cloud-hung-heavy, rain-soaked day, October the 24th, 1970, at a local barn dance when she had spotted the square jawed and muscular Will. Their romance had been of the whirlwind nature, rather windy and filled with wet moments, and the couple married soon after. Madge being three months pregnant had, of course, played its part.
They had married beneath the hallowed and vaulted ceiling of St. Whipplemore’s, joined in holy matrimony by that sainted lynchpin of the local community, Reverend Linkthorpe, he of the glazed eye and lustful underwear who stood now supporting The Frog’s bar whilst desperately trying to engage Delores Dewhip in conversation. As Madge sat with her hands wrapped around her sherry and her friend Ethel Blowvalve seated beside her, those faraway days, so romantic then, now seemed a distant memory indeed.
For Wilfred Hamfist, Will to all who didn’t want a large, knobbly fist wedged uncomfortably between their broken teeth, love had taken a lot longer to kindle. About thirty years to be honest. In fact even now he was a little unsure what all this love malarkey was about. Oh, he got a great sense of warmth and comfort from his dear old wife’s house fussiness and her delightful way with a bit of pastry but these days he’d rather milk his prize bull’s large and solid pizzle than copulate with his woman; far too mucky, what with all that squelching and all that huffing and-a-puffing and that kissy stuff. Having said that, the Hamfists had two strapping boys, Elton and Noddy, both of whom had, springing from their heads, ears and noses, the same pale ginger hair as their father. An untidy thatch that looked as if it had been up-rooted from a hurricane-struck cottage and dropped, from a great height, in an unruly and wayward mess, onto their heads. With pink-rimmed, button, badger-black eyes, ruddy faces and hulking frames, they were the pride and joy of both Madge and Will. They were also very much loved by the Frog and Radiator landlord, Arthur Bentwhistle, as they paid well, and on a nightly basis, and could hold more ale than the rest of the village put together. They would wander, along with their bulky father, into the pub at eight o’clock each and every night and wobble away again at closing time, breathing enough collective alcoholic vapours to inebriate a nunnery while breaking wind like the brass section of a very large orchestra with many a long low baritone rumble that burst forth like the sound of thunder. Looking like a ramshackle rabble or a trio of prime porkers, they would throw their arms around one another’s broad necks and shoulders, raise their heads to the heavens, and give voice to some of the bawdiest songs that ever pained the evening skies with stale abuse.
And each and every night, Miss Primrose Heathernip, the local school teacher, would mutter lame curses aimed at the trio’s black hearts. “I know I shouldn’t expect anything less from such a family, but how are decent folk meant to sleep with all that wind breaking and dreadful singing going on? One of these days I’ll report them to Cyril Updike.”
Of course ‘one of those days’ never arrived, and the Hamfists continue their nightly excursions.
The fire spat and hissed, casting a crimson stain over the carpet of Fekenham’s favoured public house and over the legs of those fortunate enough to be seated near the heat. Sitting at a round and gnarled table was Shazli Braganza-Smythe and Victor Clapp. Victor lived in Fekenham but had his business in Muckleford, the nearest market town, where he persuaded innocent passers-by to purchase his second-hand cars. Shazli was also an entrepreneur but of a wholly different kind. In 1980, Shazli Braganza-Smythe, his father an officer in the Indian army and his Mother, a surgeon from Sussex, moved into the sleepy settlement of Fekenham Swarberry. Aged nineteen, with high hopes and big dreams, Shazli or Shaz to his mates, used his family contacts to open a shop selling traditional sheet music and instruments. It was a good idea, although fatally flawed. His family had a long history of selling all things related to music and had a reputation as big as the Taj Mahal. Well, OK, maybe not quite as big as the Taj Mahal, but certainly as big as the Bengal Lancer Restaurant in Southall. The only problem that young Shazli faced was that his plan, genius as it was in concept, differed from his forebears’ in one very drastic principle. The Indian branch, and therefore the jewel in the family crown, had based its core business on selling a variety of musical instruments ranging from violins to vibraphones, pianos to piccolos, harpsichords to Hammond organs—European instruments, Indian instruments, and a wide variety of instruments with other derivations. Shazli’s brainwave, or not, depending on your viewpoint, was to open an ‘ethnic’ branch of the Braganza-Smythe empire, selling only traditional classical Indian instruments. As wonderful and beautiful sounding as these may be, there wasn’t a great deal of demand for sitars, tablas, bansuri, tambura, ghatam and the like. Undeterred by this minor initial obstacle Shazli soldiered on but only managed to sell one sitar, two Tablas and one bansuri to that backbone of Bible-bashing brethren, the Reverend Linkthorpe who, with an unbelievable lack of ability and a tone-deaf ineptitude, persisted in playing the sitar with drastic and demonic effects.
The sound of his playing was not dissimilar to that of a small goat that, having been tied up and prepared, with its testicles placed dangling into a food blender, suddenly felt the implement turned on. The shrill whoops, yelps and shrieks that rent the placid Fekenham air were often thought to be the primary factor in that year’s outbreak of sudden swarms of tsetse flies that descended on Fekenham like a biblical plague. That and the horrified, haunted looks of both the villagers and the local livestock eventually led the mayor and a bevy of councillors to ask the good reverend to desist from his arcane activities, to which he replied, “Bugger my arse with a large porcupine!” The local community would have loved to oblige, but unfortunately there were none of the prickly creatures living nearby.
At this point Shazli, seeing the error in his otherwise perfect plan, sought the help of his cousin Nicole to assist him in emulating the Indian office’s enormous success. Twenty-five years later and the UK division has branches in Shitterton, Piddle, and now Salford and no, the Reverend Linkthorpe no longer plays the sitar, but occasionally toots on his bansuri. Recently, the vicar and the shopkeeper formed a Ceilidh band, the first of its kind ever to perform in Fekenham and the first to play traditional folk songs of Albion on Indian instruments. It was indeed a very novel sound, if not a little weird.
The evening flowed. The two friends sat fanned by the fire with the slow supping of warm beer and with elbows supporting chins in the snug. The snug in The Frog and Radiator was the preferred hidey-hole of John Tuck and his long-standing friend Tom Coppernob. They sat this night, each nursing a warm pint of Widow’s Whiskers, huddled close across the aged and scarred table. The firelight threw dancing shadows that flitted across their faces like a Japanese puppet play. John scratched his arse, again. John felt awful. As a child he had suffered from virtually all the childhood ailments including measles, chicken pox and mumps. Now he had haemorrhoids, and bugger did it itch. John shuffled uncomfortably on the stool upon which he sat. In front of him sat his best pal Tom. Tom and John, old mates.
“What’s up?” asked Tom of John.
“Nuffin,” replied John as he wriggled his backside back and forth across the stool.
“Hmmm”, responded Tom to John, “How come you are shifting about like a gerbil on grease then?”
“Promise you won’t tell?”
The firelight glowed dark crimson, a sinful and secretive colour. “On me honour mate, on me honour. Not a dicky bird,” replied Tom to John.
“Yus, Piles. Emmaroids, Itches like bleedin’ hell. Terrible it is. Terrible.”
“Yus, vinegar. It dries up piles like a good ‘un. It’s what doctors advise.”
John is just a simple farm worker. He drives a tractor, a talent not often thought to require a degree in science or mathematics, though one should not be disparaging about farm workers, as most of them are upright and intelligent people. Currently, John is neither upright, (having had one too many beers), nor intelligent, (being one sandwich short of a picnic when it comes to intellect). That night John poured a solution of vinegar onto his sore and itching anus, and the inhabitants of Mildew Terrace could have sworn that something demonic, like a banshee or a werewolf, had let loose a howl to Satan himself, so loud were poor John’s screams.