Sunday 24 May 2009

How Strange

People fascinate me. When I was at college (on two separate occasions) many years ago I studied psychology as well as numerous other subjects. And boy, was I out of my depth. A village boy with no experience of life I had no real inclination as to what the lectures were about. I remember one learned academic, a right clever so and so, using a tiger going round and round until it turned into butter (where was this story from) to illustrate her pearls of wisdom. Don't ask why, I never did find out. But as the years went by I watched, listened and learnt. And I came to realise 'There's Nowt so strange as Folk'. Which just happens to be the name of a book of short stories I wrote a year or two back. Almost daily I am reminded of this truism.
I drove through Heanor recently, a nondescript if pleasant enough little place. Nothing out of the ordinary except for a fleeting glance of one particular unusual bystander. Male, seemingly aged around seventy, dressed in combat boots, military fatigues plus a bandanna, he invited at least a second glance. The questions invited, who and why.
A large black car embellished with the inscription 'State Patrol', complete with roof light used to park in the next street to mine. It would not have looked out of place in Colorado, but it gained far more attention as it cruised the streets of Derby. And I must admit the rather ancient pseudo ambulance, complete with blue light parked in Leyburn market place in April puzzled me somewhat. Is there something I don't know.
A rough public house of my acquaintance had more than its fair share of unusual customers. The lady who frequently appeared and insisted on reading poetry on every conceivable occasion was at least different. Plus the gentleman with the worst ginger wig I ever saw was difficult to ignore. It sat on his head at an angle that suggested it had just fallen from the sky. I found myself staring with fascinated awe, pretending to look elsewhere whenever he glared menacingly in my direction. But the star for me was the customer who was a security man. At least that's the occupation he claimed. That he was of below average height was of no consequence. His uniform was immaculate and from his belt dangled one of the largest bunches of keys I have ever seen. Yet there was something about him that suggested something was amiss, not quite fitting with his chosen, claimed profession. Was it perhaps the fact that he had one leg considerably shorter than the other, making him sadly extremely lame; walking was for him difficult and laboured, making any occupation difficult and some impossible. There again, who am I to judge my fellow men.
A distant relative once painted his house in stripes whilst in an out of control fit of extreme temper. Yet he was an important man in the mining industry, highly respected and important. A teacher colleague insisted on putting newspaper on any seat prior to him sitting down, This included benches, chairs, even a ride in any vehicle, the most pristine car included was precluded by the obligitory sheet of paper.
So much obscure behaviour. Where does eccentricity end and mental illness begin I wonder. A teacher I knew used to turn his deaf aid off in the classroom. Pandemonium reined supreme, but he was oblivious. Another colleague used to line pencils up and sharpen each in turn. Only he had to have each point exactly level; so he sharpened, over and over again. The former eventually retired happily, the latter was pensioned off and eventually incarcerated in the local hospital.
So many questions, so few answers. At best our differences create variety and help make the world go round. Sometimes, just sometimes there is an edge that we would not willingly go beyond. Do you know individuals who forever remain in your memory. Or are you perhaps one of those individuals who lighten the life of others, however unintentionally!

Thursday 14 May 2009

May Miscellany (Grumpy's Alternative News)

Last month I devoted this space to the animal kingdom. Not surprising when one considers the sheer stupidity and crass bigotry of the human race. For instance, The Trinity Cross of the Order of Trinity, awarded by the Queen in Trinidad (now forty years old) has been declared unlawful as some Muslims and Hindus find the Christian name and cross insignia offensive. Recipients in the past include Garfield Sobers, Brian Lara and the novelist V.S. Naipaul. Add this to the news that a judge at a seminar on domestic violence in Saudi Arabia deemed it OK to slap a wife for lavish spending. 'If her husband slaps her she deserves that punishment.' Normally I tend to avoid contentious issues but surely such cases are fodder for any insidious far right group.
Fortunately there were good stories around. For instance Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Moore will become the first woman pilot to join the Red Arrows when she starts her training in September.
Well done, as a sexagenarian who has never flown in an aeroplane, I salute you.
I'm not so sure about the lady from Brighton fighting Marks and Spencer over its refusal to scrap a £2 surcharge on bras larger than a DD cup. Maybe that's just my male ignorance of the matter, if you wish to 'support' the young lady in question, the campaign is called Busts 4 Justice.
I have sympathy for the 22 stone grandmother who got stuck on the bath for five hours in County Durham, but very little for Tom Riall, aged forty nine. He was banned for doing 102.92mph on the A14 near Newmarket. He is after all a chief executive with Serco, the company that has installed and managed over four thousand speed cameras in Britain since 1992. Plus it was his third speeding offence in two years.
Safety issues seem seldom out of the news. Irish troops serving in Chad have been banned from playing football because of health and safety issues. Evidently the ground is far harder than the ground in Ireland. Now there's a surprise. Soldiering and fighting, fine, no danger, but football, no chance.
Also on safety grounds, Ealing Borough is placing bags on traffic lights at seven junctions. The idea is that motorists and pedestrians will negotiate these junctions using 'eye contact'. (Traffic evidently flowed better the day the lights failed.) Evidently another Boris initiative. Last time it was speeding up the crossing time allowed via the new digital system. I await the results with bated breath.
But once again the animal kingdom excelled when smiles were the order of the day. Urjan, an orang-utan in Heidelberg Zoo has learnt to whistle. (Record coming out in June.) I know plenty of humans who have not mastered the art of whistling. His companion orangs, Gisella and Pujan can't whistle, but they are also talented, both being finger painters. Though probably not as talented as twenty seven year old orang Karta of Adelaide Zoo who used a branch to scale an electric fence and escape.
Contrast these talented animals with Chaddy the Owl, Oldham Athletic's football mascot. He decided to do wheelies on a bicycle before the match at Carlisle. Only he fell off and had to be taken to hospital.
Finally a plea to my reader or readers. Anyone recommend an above average strimmer. We seem to get through more than our fair share. Evidently we are doing it all wrong. The trend now is to go for a wallaby in order to keep your grass down. All you need is around half an acre and a large fence. Cost, male £150, female £600, (albinos are more expensive) and you need one of each as they are social animals. Job done, plus one hell of a talking point at your next cocktail party.
Finally, finally this piece is I hope free from spelling errors. (There are two ways to spell sexagenarian.) Morrisons have withdrawn alphabet building blocks imported from China. Evidently the words 'umbella' and 'yatch' were included in the alphabets words. Only two in twenty six, could be worse!

Monday 11 May 2009

Swine Fever. A Message to the Nation.

We are seemingly in the throes of a serious worldwide pandemic that threatens our very existence. Not since the dark days of the Second World War has our nation seen such a threat from beyond our shores. I refer of course to the invidious Swine Fever. We need to fight on two fronts.
Firstly we need show the world our normal British, Churchillian spirit, adopted in times of hardship and extreme duress. In times of war the bulldog spirit comes to the fore, we become an invincible spirit feared of no one. I believe once again the time has come for us to lead the world. Our leader, Mr Brown whitters on, seemingly in control, smiling benevolently. But, to paraphrase the spirit shown by Dad's Army, 'Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Whittler.' We need firm leadership if we are to survive.
We need action based on sound, modern, scientific facts. Times have changed but so have we. All is not lost. We have at hand modern technology. We have also at our disposal the latest in survival techniques. Plus, most important, we have the ability to draw on our past glories. Let it never be said that in times of calamity Great Britain was to be found wanting. Mindful of the governments dithering I offer the following, well tested survival advice.
To you pig owners out there, check your animals carefully for any unusual signs. Mine are pale, perhaps due to the cool weather we have been having of late, but they are perfectly healthy. Perhaps a 'rash' statement in the circumstances, but I am assured this is so by the leaflet issued by the government think tank hastily convened this week. (Pork Rearing Answers Temporary Solutions. Think tank known as PRATS for short.) Plus the majority of the population who are not pig breeders should avoid the temptation to run around muttering 'swinehunt' under their breath. It is not helpful and merely shows an inability to forget the past.
Secondly we need to use common sense allied to modern, trusted British equipment. Stay indoors to avoid contact with the dreaded lurgy. If you can afford it, turn on a gas or electricity fire. If not, chairs, tables and interior doors burn well; this after all is an emergency.
Keep a close eye on any changes in your skin colour. If need be photograph yourself daily. I am sure most of you have a darkroom. After all, who can afford to light every room nowadays. Take your blood pressure hourly. If there is any change, take to your bed and stay there, modern technology makes a stay in bed almost pleasurable!
The problem where children is concerned is obviously of the utmost importance. Again take advantage of modern technology. Weigh any infant daily, and do not be seduced by silly metric measurements. Remember, fourteen pounds is one stone, two stone is one quarter and so on.
There should be no problem with children's health providing you are an organised mother. You will of course have to hand basic medicines, castor oil, rhubarb and magnesia and a pot of jam to help these down. Children need a daily bath (cold water in summer and tepid in winter.) A large brown pickle jar filled with water and equal parts of bay salt and Tidman's sea salt added to a child's bath, coupled with good wholesome food should ensure a child's well being whatever the hardships endured. Find ways of passing the time. A few lantern slides will provide collective amusement, whilst your stereoscopic pictures will make any incarceration more bearable.
A singsong will help pass the time, and more important will help morale. The young amongst you will no doubt gustily join in renderings of We'll Meet Again, As Time Goes By or A Bicycle Built for Two. Very modern choices, but remember, granny and grandad might well prefer the likes of Down at The Old Bull and Bush, Burlington Bertie from Bowe or Who Were You with Last Night. They might be more anxious than you in these troubled times, always remember, you too will be old one day!
If, and only if you have, for any reason to leave the comparative safety of your four walls I must reiterate the importance of dressing accordingly to keep this scourge of the 21st century at bay.
Stay by your wireless and wait for the government's pronouncement that all is well once again. I am sure they are working on it to the utmost of their ability, at least that's what I'm afraid of!
Keep a stiff upper lip and combined with perhaps a little divine help we can once again ensure 'They'll always be an England'. And if all else fails send for Joanne Lumley. Thank you.

All together now
'When Britain first at heav'ns command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain;
Rule , Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves:
Britons never shall be slaves.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Tell me a Story, Please.

I am engaged in an autobiographical work concerning the years 1945-1959. I am particularly interested in the jokes that we as small children and adolescents found funny. If I remember right the jokes became smuttier the older we became. I am also interested if the ladies told jokes to the same extent as their male counterparts. If anyone is willing to share their childhood humour I would be grateful. The fact that perhaps you belong to a different era as myself is not important. It's the fact that they are examples of childhood and adolescence that is important. How much have times changed, I wonder. And were the jokes dependent on where we lived, plus how universal were they. Any help gratefully received.

The following is the blog concerning the subject I wrote on the July 2008. My apologies for repeating myself. (Again!)

I think that's Funny
My grand daughter, aged six told me two jokes.
"Why did the banana go to the doctors?"
"I don't know, why did the banana go to the Doctors?"
"Because he wasn't peeling very well!"
"Doctor, doctor, I don't feel very well, I feel like a pair of curtains."
"Pull yourself together."
Interestingly enough, the doctor joke I remember from my own childhood, which set me thinking. Do children in general still tell jokes, if so, have they changed in the main from my childhood?
We tended to tell jokes that began, "There was an Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman." They all finished with the Irishman being the butt of the joke, definitely politically incorrect nowadays. Some of our jokes were smutty, repeated away from adult ears as we knew they would not approve. I recently asked a delightful young lady of my acquaintance, aged sixteen to tell me the kind of joke circulated amongst her peers. The result was a very funny story but unrepeatable, enough I suspect to make a hardened navvy blush. In our early adolescence our humour too tended to reflect our growing occupation with sex. An example is the following story, deemed rude by ourselves but mild by today's standards.Three cowboys walked into the local store to buy provisions. An attractive young lady stood behind the counter.“Can I help you?” she asked.“A bag a’ raisins” requested the first cowboy.The young lady moved a ladder to the shelves behind the counter and proceeded up it until she could reach the top shelf, showing a large expanse of stocking as she did so. She returned to the counter with a sack and gave it to the cowboy.
She looked at the second cowboy. “A bag a’ raisins,” he too requested. The young lady returned to the ladder and proceeded upwards, showing even more stocking and flesh. She returned to the counter with the sack and turned to the third cowboy.
"A' raisin?" she asked.
"No, just a' twitchin," replied the cowboy.
I have asked many of my contemporaries for stories from their childhood. With few exceptions virtually none can now be remembered which in a way is a shame. The cowboy story was told to me by a village friend of more than fifty years ago. I personally remember only two other repeatable jokes beside the doctor joke from those childhood days.
Firstly a joke I probably considered sophisticated in my early grammar school days.
Two lions were walking near Trafalgar Square in London. One turned to his mate and said, "Isn't it quiet for an Easter Monday."And last but not least my favourite joke for at least the past sixty years.
This couple always wanted a child and they were thrilled to have at last a baby boy. An unusual child, different in that, instead of having a belly button, he had a small golden nut and bolt, a half inch Whitworth nut and bolt. (We were of course unaware of the more delicate term navel for belly button. Of any case belly button was good enough for us.)People came from far and wide and his parents would roll down his nappy so that they could view this amazing sight. But as the child grew up he became embarrassed by the fact that he was different from other children. Girlfriends were amazed, but also amused and it wasn’t doing his sex life any good. So he visited his doctor. The doctor was worse than useless, so were other specialists in The National Health Service. He was desperate, willing to visit anyone who might be able to help. There appeared no way that conventional medicine could help. Which is why he found himself consulting a witch doctor in darkest Africa.“My son,” said the witch doctor, “there is only one cure for your condition. You must find a field of ripe corn. On the night of the full moon you must lie down on the ground. At exactly midnight you must pull down your trousers and wait."With mounting excitement he returned home. Summer came and he found a field matching the witch doctor’s requirements. On the right day, an hour before midnight, secretly he lay down in the centre of his chosen field. He rolled down his trousers and waited. At exactly midnight the clouds parted, the moon shone brightly and a little angel, holding a white napkin floated down from the sky. The angel alighted amid the corn and carefully unwrapped the napkin, revealing an exquisite gold spanner, a half inch Whitworth spanner. Expertly handling the spanner, he proceeded to unscrew the nut and remove the bolt.He placed them carefully in the napkin, smiled at the young man and flew silently away. The young man lay in the corn and joy overcame him. He could not believe that at long last he was the same as anyone else. His troubles were surely over, and he joyously jumped to his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “Look at me, look at me, I’m cured, I'm cured.” And then his backside fell off.
Presumably children all over the world still tell jokes and stories. Any examples gratefully received. You never know, we may be able to blog in the future with your examples.
Posted by Grumpy Old Ken at 10.7.08
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Friday 1 May 2009

Blast From the Past number Four

As has become my wont (habit, custom) another blast from the past. It came to mind because of the pathetic story telling, spin, falsifications, call them what you will pouring forth from polititians of all denominations. My grandson Tommy will hopefully grow out of storytelling.
Most politicians never will. The story involves three men, Ernie, Harry and Michael. If I convert
my story into a stage play, can you suggest three politicians who might play the roles involved?

Our delightful grandchild Tommy is picked up by dad after a day's childminding at grandma's. "I've been in the pond" he announces triumphantly to a bemused father. Ponds and four year olds don't exactly go together. A fact of which grandma is well aware, the story is a porky of the first order. "I fell downstairs, from top to bottom" was last weeks pronouncement, again a happening only in his obviously fertile imagination. Many years ago as a full time youth leader I had the acquaintence of Dennis, a non too bright eighteen year club member. One day he regaled me in great detail regarding an accident in which he had been involved. Riding his motorcycle he had collided with a car, a Ford Consul. The driver evidently a large distinct ginger haired individual wearing a red jacket, brogues and corduroy trousers was cooperative enough and had given him a phone number to contact in order to make arrangements to mend the damage to the motor cycle. Only the phone number was non existent. I was very concerned, for Dennis could ill afford to pay for other people's damage.I didn't see Dennis for a while until he wandered into the club a fortnight or so later. "Hello, Dennis, and how are you?" I offered. "How did you go on concerning the accident?" Dennis looked even blanker than usual. "What accident?" he replied. "Can I book the snooker table?"As far as I can ascertain, children tell fibs and most adults either at best deal in falsehoods or simply misrepresent the truth. And dare I say it, some including the worst politicians simply lie. An inbuilt genetic trait we all possess or is it learnt behaviour than makes life more interesting. Take your pick. I wrote the following short story to pay homage to all the con artists, romancers and down right liars I have met over the years. Incredibly I am still as gullible as ever to their stories. Some of us never learn.

“Tell a lie and find the truth.”Spanish Proverb


The old men sat around the table, pints in hand, seemingly deep in thought. The landlord stood behind the bar in close proximity. The clock struck the hour.“He were an unusual man, were Arthur my grandfather.” Old Ernie broke the silence.“In fact he were an unusual child. He could tie a knot in a length of string with his toes at three. At four he were playing a penny whistle with his nose. An avid reader from the age of five, a child who delighted in attention, little Arthur devoured information the way other children devoured cream cakes.
At seven he knew butterflies were once called flutterbies; that King Charles the First were only four feet seven inches tall. He knew that camelhair-brushes were invented by a Mr Camel, and of any case weren’t made from camel hair. And he knew, although he’d never been there, that Chile had no public lavatories.
At ten years of age he pondered the great philosophical questions of his day. Why does a man’s bike have a crossbar? What’s the difference between chutney and pickle? Why are dusters yellow and where does the wind go when it’s not blowing? He were before his time, were Granddad.” Ernie lapsed back into sombre contemplation.
Silence reigned again, but not for long.“He were a lucky man, your grandfather.” Old Michael, known as ‘Bony M’ on account of his gaunt frame, took up the challenge.“If he’d had the start in life my grandfather had, he’d never have bothered. Not a pretty child, the midwife took one look, stuck him under the bed and ran out of the room screaming! Determined to do well in life, despite social and physical disadvantages, he tried hard to succeed. But the fates seem to conspire against him.
Adolph was not the best choice of names for a sensitive child. Neither was an upbringing in a family devoid of normality. Illegitimate, his father was reputed to be the local squire and prospective Conservative candidate in forthcoming elections. His paternal grandfather had been one of the earliest persons in the area to be sentenced to penal servitude in Australia, fourteen years for arson, churches being his speciality.
His mother was well known for favours bestowed locally on dignitaries for little or no cost, no role model for an adolescent child. His brother Deidrie grew up sexually confused. He wore a suit and tie in his job as clerk in the local railway offices; and was beautifully turned out in a dress and bonnet at church on Sundays.
Not surprisingly Adolph grew up scarred mentally. Ashamed of his background, he vowed never to reveal his families’ secrets, particularly that his father may have been a Conservative!” Old Michael too lapsed into silence as he contemplated his lineage.
“Unlucky, unlucky, you don’t know what bad luck is.” Old Harry took his chance with enthusiasm.“My great uncle Jake didn’t choose to be one of life’s losers, but life chose him. All his life he suffered from ailments, imaginary and real that meant he could never participate in those pastimes others found normal.
Frequently hospitalised, he was treated for dozens of conditions previously unknown to mankind. Sadly typical was the time he suffered peculiar thumping sensations whilst in bed. Exhausted after days without sleep, he was subjected to every conceivable test. But even the most comprehensive X-rays and electrocardiograms failed to diagnose the cause. Not surprising, since the problem was eventually found to be the thermostat on his new electric blanket! Regular work was a rarity. So, with an income barely above subsistence level, Jake spent his time attending establishments that offered free entertainment or education. Unfortunately his luck didn’t change. Carrying more books than was wise he fell down the stairs of the local library and was hospitalised for two weeks.Visiting an exhibition by RoSPA in the Town Hall, he tripped over his shoelaces and collided with a table displaying items concerned with danger in the home. Unable to keep his balance Jake hit the floor with a resounding crash, grasping the cloth from the table in a desperate attempt to lessen his demise. This in turn brought crashing down on the unfortunate Jake the items previously displayed on the table: an iron, frying pan and a canteen of cutlery; a vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, toaster and a glass fronted first aid cabinet! This time he was hospitalised for a mere eight days.”
“Now, now, you two, your families don’t have a monopoly where bad luck is concerned. Granddad Arthur succeeded in spite of adversity.” Ernie was not one to admit defeat lightly. “The end for Arthur’s brother alone would have destroyed lesser men than Arthur. A brewer with a Burton Brewery, he fell into a vat of beer at the height of his brewing success. Beer contains ethanol, which has a lower density than water, so not surprisingly he drowned. It is not true that he got out twice to sober up. It is true though the brewery was upset that the entire batch had to be thrown away!”
Michael seized his opportunity.“Adolph’s brother Deidre also met an unfortunate end. Plagued by doubts concerning his sexuality, he decided to end it all. After downing a bottle of brandy he placed cushions on the floor, turned on the gas, put his head in the oven and promptly fell asleep. Six hours later he woke with a splitting headache. Cursing the inefficiency of modern North Sea Gas, totally befuddled, he fumbled in his pockets, found what he was looking for and lit his last cigarette; in fact he lit his last anything! The explosion destroyed Deidre’s flat, the bookies below and the chip shop next door. Deidre definitely went out with a bang.”
If these sombre observations were intended to deflect Harry from his pessimistic telling of Jake’s misfortunes it was unsuccessful. Harry continued unabashed.“Browsing through a local antique salesroom, entrance of course free, Jake made two exciting discoveries that he hoped would change his life forever. He discovered, almost simultaneously, a violin and a painting, both so faintly signed as to be almost indecipherable.
Cunningly examined so as to avoid the attention of connoisseurs in the antiques world, he realised with mounting excitement the signatures were of immense importance. Jake had discovered a Stradivarius and a Rembrandt. His joy was boundless, for his troubles were surely over. Unfortunately not, for the painting was by Stradivarius and the violin was a Rembrandt!” Harry shook his head at the thought of the cruel misfortunes heaped on poor Jake.
'"All that Glitters is not Gold,’” said Ernie, “‘Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1615.’”

“‘Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched’. Aesop, 570AD” retorted Michael, determined not to be upstaged. Ernie pondered the misfortunes of the illustrious Jake.“Arthur could never be considered unfortunate, certainly where money was concerned. Niche markets were his speciality. He owned a small factory producing left handed cups that were a great success. He bought a large consignment of contraceptives, seconds that is. He resold them to Roman Catholics with the promise that they had the blessing, so to speak, of the Pope. He sold, by mail order, 78 records that purported to contain the entire work of Marcel Marceau. He became a rich man. His innovative spirit knew no bounds. And he would undoubtedly have continued to prosper, had his fortune not become his misfortune, so to speak.
A rich young man who could afford any leisure activity of his choice, he was one of the earliest riders of a motorcycle in his district. Arthur was the proud owner of an AJS, named after the maker, Mr A J Stevens. Before the age of sophisticated motorcycle clothing, any long coat sufficed, worn back to front to keep out the cold, and buttoned up before a journey by helpful friends, often of the female gender. A leather helmet and goggles, a scarf and long gauntlets completed the transformation. Throwing caution to the wind, Arthur was often seen hurtling through the villages, drawing admiring gazes from love struck young maidens, and fearful curses galore from those aged and infirm.
He had minor accidents, mishaps inevitable to so fearless a rider. And he would have no doubt continued in like vein, except for an unfortunate mistake by a pair of country bumkins, unaware of the ways of the world, the motorcycle world, that is.
Dashing down a country lane on a warm summer evening, Arthur encountered with both wheels a cowpat of particular lushness. In full view of two straw chewing yokels, seated on a farmyard gate, the out of control rider and machine flew through the air. Both cleared a stone wall with consummate ease.The motorbike sailed into an uninviting duck pond and Arthur landed face down with no small impact on a grassy bank. Arthur stared into the ground, no doubt tasted the grass beneath him and was probably thankful to be alive. That is, until the helpful yokels arrived and viewed the prone figure. Helpful to the end, that is Arthur’s end, the two yokels, with great difficulty, but equal determination managed to realign his head!” Ernie grimaced at the thought of Arthur’s unfortunate end.

Michael nodded in sympathy.“Granddad Adoph had a funny life but at least he had a peaceful end. A humble, inoffensive little man, he worked quietly, almost invisibly as a railway clerk for many years. His life was one of drudgery and utter boredom.He did in fact marry, but it was not a success. A big, slovenly, idle woman, his wife bullied poor Adolph unmercifully. He used to tell himself, “My wife’s a light eater, as soon as it gets light she starts eating!” But he was afraid of course to make such an observation out loud. His life was one of poverty, chastity and obedience. But even a worm turns.
A week before his thirtieth wedding anniversary, Adolph secreted a bag containing clothes under the stairs.On the morning of the anniversary Adolph made his wife’s breakfast as always. She sat down to a full, very large meal and Adolph made his way unnoticed to the hall. Eating greedily she addressed her subservient husband out of sight in the hall. “Don’t think you are going to get away cheaply this anniversary,” she bawled down the hall, “I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before.” “Try the kitchen!” came back Adolph’s reply. They were the last words Adolph ever spoke to his wife. When she looked in the hall he was gone. That night he settled into a new life in a Franciscan Monastery. Exchanging a life of poverty, chastity and obedience for a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Only this time he was a willing participant.”
Michael and Ernie turned to Harry inviting a response. Not one to disappoint, Harry took up the challenge. “As Lord Byron said in 1823, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’ Jake continued to find life a struggle. Finance, or rather the lack of it continued to dog his very existence. Depressed, near suicidal, Jake received news that would undoubtedly change his life forever. A maiden aunt summoned Jake to her presence. She had, she informed him, watched his troubled existence for many years. She had the means to help solve his problems forever. Having no children, she wished to bequeath her house and considerable fortune to Jake on her death. She asked only one thing. Having fond memories of Skegness as a child, she wished to visit one more time. On her return she would write a will, completely in Jake’s favour, finishing, at the stroke of a pen Jake’s life of hardship and toil.
Feverishly ecstatic, Jake, after a diligent search for the right vehicle, ‘borrowed’ a limousine from a nearby showroom forecourt, intending of course to return it eventually. On a hot summer’s morning shortly afterwards, Jake lovingly, carefully placed his elderly, frail would-be benefactor into the back of the pristine limousine he had so thoughtfully acquired.
The air conditioning was magnificent; a credit to Mr Rolls and Mr Royce and the journey was uneventful. Great Aunt Maud thoroughly enjoyed her time on Skegness beach. The sun beat down but she was oblivious. Any discomfort experienced due to two or three layers of clothing she ignored. The constant flow of ice cream, courtesy of the ever attentive Jake nectar to the euphoric Great Aunt Maud. As the crowds drifted away at teatime, the contented, rather pink, or rather very pink Great Aunt Maud was lifted into the back of the limousine for the last time. The very last time; definitely the very last time! For as Jake checked Great Aunt Maud prior to starting the journey homeward every conceivable emotion flooded his mind: horror, disbelief and not a little fear.
It was rather obvious that Great Aunt Maud had experienced her last visit to Skegness beach. Still, quiet, silent even, open mouthed, eyes staring, Great Aunt Maud had gone to that resort in the sky where the sun always shines and the ice creams are free. She was in fact dead, very dead!
Jake glanced furtively round the car park, seeing only families hurrying home to tea, happily reliving their day on the beach. More important, everyone was obviously unaware of Jake’s problems. Jake’s mind was racing, but, heart pounding, he adopted an air of casual normality as he eased the limousine down Skegness High Street and on towards home.
The return journey home was as uneventful as that made only hours before. Admittedly Jake’s passenger was not much company but Jake was, of any case, preoccupied. Approaching Nottingham he still had no idea as to his next move. A large public house on the edge of the city beckoned. Jake parked up and entered, leaving Great Aunt Maud hidden from public view behind the darkened windows of the Rolls.
Jake bought himself a glass of stout and agonised over the problem of the late, Great Aunt Maud. There seemed to be two distinct choices. Ring the police and confess all. Including of course the facts concerning the ‘borrowed’ Rolls Royce and the lack of a driving licence and insurance documents. Not to mention concealing a death, an event in its own right serious enough to probably warrant incarceration at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Alternatively, take Great Aunt Maud home, somehow get her into her own bed and await discovery of the unfortunate deceased, an event hopefully unconnected to nephew Jake.
Undecided as to which course of action to follow, Jake finished his drink and returned to the car park. At this stage a bad day got decidedly worse! The limousine and its passenger were nowhere to be seen. And, put simply, that was that!
Jake never forgot that day in Skegness. Getting home was comparatively easy. Getting over the whole traumatic episode was less so. On many a cold winter’s night Jake shivered in bed and wondered whatever happened to Great Aunt Maud; and for that matter, the Rolls.
The house and fortune eventually passed to the state, for there was of course no will. But not until many years later. For no-one seemed to know where Great Aunt Maud had got to; of any case a missing person cannot be presumed dead for all of seven years. And Jake was hardly in a position to help, was he? Poor, poor Jake!”
The clock again struck the hour. The three old men lapsed into silence.After what seemed an eternity they looked in unison towards the landlord, who had remained nearby during the whole discourse.
He pondered for a moment, walked from behind the bar and presented Harry with a bottle of his best malt whisky. Michael and Ernie knew that this year’s winner of Tall Story Club was undoubtedly Harry.“Well done, old man,” said Michael graciously.“Definitely well done.” echoed Ernie. “And what did become of poor Jake?”
“He too died,” replied Harry, “leaving his children half a million pounds.” Harry’s audience were taken by surprise.“Where did the money come from?” Harry anticipated the question in everyone’s mind. “From a life insurance. Jake decided to end it all, and, at the same time, make provision for his children. A suicide note was found in his house showing his intention of drowning in the local river. Hey presto, end of Jake’s financial problems!”
Old Michael jumped to his feet as fast as an eighty-year-old can. “Not possible,” he shouted triumphantly. “All life insurance policies have a get out clause that excludes paying out in the event of a suicide!”
“Quite correct,” said Old Harry. “But who said Jake’s death was a suicide?”
“You did,” retorted Old Ernie. “You said a suicide note from Jake indicated he was going to the river.”
Harry too rose to his feet.“So I did,” replied the venerable Harry. “But the river was searched to no avail. Jake’s body was found, in a ditch, half a mile from the river. He had apparently tripped over the wire fence in the dark and drowned in eight inches of water. The inquest’s verdict was accidental death, not suicide! Good night gentlemen. See you next year, God willing.”